Horror-comedy short based on an improbable pub tale from the North East of England. A man walking home from his local one night is tormented by a terrifying sound: The Nicky Nack. Starring Alun Armstrong.

Director’s Vision for ‘The Nicky Nack’

I first heard the story of the Nicky Nack in the perfect way: sitting in the back of a pub, one cold October evening. It had all the markings of a great British pub legend: a clear structure, improbable plot, absurd anti-climax. There was something instantly compelling in the idea of a ghost story without a ghost: the ghastly antagonist that scares our hero to death revealed to be nothing more sinister than the broken heel of a shoe. The fact every person we came across while looking into the story’s origins swore it was true only added to the intrigue.

The Nicky Nack has many different versions, depending on who you ask: The Devil appears in one, someone else assures you there was more than one victim, another that it was a practical joke gone wrong. I love the fact our film will add yet another version, and speaks to the nature and reliability of storytelling. Having the opportunity to shoot at The Daleside Arms (formerly The Nicky Nack) in County Durham, the real pub from the story, makes the film feel closer to the folklore, becoming a small part of its rich history.

Though there are clues pointing to our story taking place in the present day, our intention was very much a sense of timelessness: this might be taking place fifty years ago, or yesterday. I wanted the film to feel part of the same world as the Brit rural horrors of the 70s and 80s: Jonathan Miller’s Whistle and I’ll Come to You (1968), Lawrence Gordon Clark’s The Signalman (1976) and John Landis’ American Werewolf in London (1981). This informed our decision to shoot 4:3, as well as having such a powerful screen presence in lead Alun Armstrong, an actor who works so superbly in the small.

It was a project full of exciting creative challenges: moving away from the long-winded nature of the conventional pub tale, we wanted our story to feel economical and direct. We decided early on that there would be no dialogue in the film (except the words: ‘nicky nack’), placing emphasis instead on visual storytelling, and the brilliantly disconcerting work of our sound designer, Timo Säilä. Given that the Nicky Nack is so central to the local folklore, we knew this was a story that should be told by filmmakers from the region, with the majority of our magnificent cast and crew coming from the North East of England.