I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Spinechillers, Darkness, and a Walk Down Memory Lane (At Midnight with a Bunch of Goths)

by May-Lee Sia
Aug. 19, 2012

Hearken ye who walk amongst the Shadows, unafraid of the darkness that lies within! 

“Goths” is an episode from the short-lived BBC series Spinechillers (2003), which attempted a slightly wonky blend of comedy and horror. As a card-carrying ex-goth who still likes to whip out the fishnets every now and again, this episode was a definite guilty pleasure and a walk down memory lane. Who hasn’t spent at least one sweaty teenage night awash in the smoke of clove cigarettes, longingly swaying to industrial 80s beats spun by a DJ with a name like DJ Nightshade, or DJ Lucius, or DJ Necrofucker?

Grishnack of Mall, played by Mackenzie Crook, is an adorable baby goth who, along with Tim (Tim Plester, and “more of an industrialist, really” than a goth) scour some place in gothy England (waaaay more goth than Tampa), in search of romance, acceptance and a shared flat that Tim’s mom can afford. They meet potential future landlord Balfus, brilliantly realized by Mark Heap, who presents them with a flat (which is, by the way, British for “apartment” and therefore very goth!) supposedly previously inhabited by Jeffrey Dahmer... or was it the BRITISH Jeffrey Dahmer, Dennis Nilsen?

Nilsen was discovered in 1983 to have killed 15 men and boys. After having run out of ways to dispose of his victims (his cupboards and wardrobe held garbage bags filled with human organs), he cut the bodies into pieces and flushed them down the toilet (after first removing the heads, hands and feet and boiling them to separate the flesh from the bone). When a drain cleaning company arrived at his home in response to a drain blocked by what were initially thought to be pieces of chicken, the jig was up.(1)

Now, if you want to know why Nilsen killed, you’re going to have to read his autobiography. Good luck with that, though. Only 3 known copies of the autobiography exist, and it will likely never be published while Nilsen lives, owing to British laws against criminals profiting from sales of stories about their crimes. Written in prison and titled The History of a Drowning Boy, it’s a self-analysis unique among serial killers, described by Nilsen as an attempt “to probe the secret recesses of my personality in the hope that I may understand the engine of my actions and effect solutions to problems in a non-destructive way.”(2)

I digress, but it relates to our story – Nilsen explores the reason for killing, for becoming a murderer, in his autobiography. But he never killed as a form of human sacrifice or for the purpose of occult gain. Pivotally, the suspiciously well-preserved Balfus hints at servitude and dedication to a certain “He with No Name,” in exchange for his youthful appearance. Balfus is an übergoth indeed, and when he gives Grishnack and Tim permission to redecorate, the two throw themselves into the task, no doubt at least partially to assert themselves as worthy undergoths and tenants. A charming scene of black black black black #1 overkill ensues, complete with a Grishnack nipple shot that makes you want to tongue him all over his candle wax pale flesh. Should you be so inclined.

On the subject of preservation of youth and the search for eternal life: ironically, Mackenzie Crook had to take human growth hormone for 3 years – “As a teenager the last thing you want is to look young for your age”(3). All this before he became an aphorism-spouting nitwit pirate with a wooden eye in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

Our two goths throw a house-warming party (or shall we refer to it as a Black Mass?), whereby the industrialist Tim tries to impress the “I just like the clothes” goth Sian by asking her to pierce his ears in front of the crowd of partygoers. In the dark days before Hot Topic and widespread navel piercing a la Claire’s, this lucky writer got to witness a live, at-home, DIY ear piercing. You need an ice cube, a cork, and a needle threaded with 7 knots tied into it. First you sterilize the needle and the participant’s earlobe using rubbing alcohol. The earlobe is then numbed with an ice cube. Placing the cork behind the lobe, you push the needle through the earlobe with the cork behind the ear. When you have successfully gotten the needle through the earlobe, you pull it through (with thread, mind you) until you reach the first knot. You then tie a knot on the back side of the earlobe. As the hole heals, you pull the thread through the hole from one knot to the next on each passing day for the first week. This supposedly made it so that you would get a new, clean piece of thread daily and the ear would heal up nicely enough to put an earring through it by the end of the week [that doesn't make it any less gross though. -ed].

Though a few of the gags are now standards (think “Goth Talk”), they are not the less enjoyable for it. And there are countless flashes of real comedic brilliance – this was one of those rare comedies that got funnier on each viewing. As a goth-stalgic trip through the 90s (I know the show aired in 2003, but let’s not forget that goth is eternal!), “Goths” is a treasure trove of clothes, music and the odd dislodged personal memory, sure to delight viewers of the gothic persuasion. In closing, I myself can impart the following advice: If you should find yourself alone with a man with a tattoo that says, “Do What Thou Wilt,” then by all means, proceed.




May-Lee Sia has no writing experience whatsoever and blagged her way to an illustrious position as a Network Awesome writer via barefaced nepotism. Raised by wolves in the Jumbles (it’s a kind of world puzzle) and kept in an Austrian basement for the last eight years, May-Lee likes having fun. Because apparently you have to state that explicitly in your OKCupid profile nowadays, or people assume you enjoy suffering.