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Showing posts from December, 2013

Interview with the BFI’s Sam Dunn and Rhidian Davis

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Throughout this month I’ve been looking at various Christmassy horror titles, many of which were made by the BBC and have been released for the first time by the BFI as part of their Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film season.

With recent releases such as the surviving episodes of the long thought lost Dead of Night, a creepy BBC anthology series, and the Ghost Stories for Christmas collection, which includes many adaptations of the work of M.R. James, the BFI has provided access to long sought after and historically significant horror rarities. These releases have been part of a staggering array of BFI film screenings and special events throughout the UK this year, all in celebration of our Gothic cinematic heritage.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sam Dunn, the BFI’s Head of Video Publishing, and Rhidian Davis, Season Organiser of Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film. 

Head over to Diabolique to read it.

Curious Warnings and Ghostly Visions

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Some artwork inspired by the writing of MR James...
















The Tractate Middoth

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2013
Dir. Mark Gatiss

When a young librarian is tasked with locating an obscure Hebrew tome for a sinister gentleman, he has a terrifying experience in the library. Soon afterwards he becomes embroiled in a search for the last will and testament of the spiritually corrupt uncle of rival siblings…

Since the early Seventies the BBC has had a tradition of broadcasting ghost stories during the festive period, predominantly adapted from the work of medieval scholar and former Provost of Kings College, Cambridge, MR James. James wrote many of his, now classic, ghost stories to be read aloud on Christmas Eve to his friends and colleagues.
The BBC series drew to an end in the late Seventies but was revived again in the Noughties with adaptations of James's Number 13, A View from a Hill and a reinterpretation of Whistle and I’ll Come to You. This year’s instalment, another James adaptation, marks the directorial debut of writer/actor Mark Gatiss, best known for his work with The League of…

Whistle and I’ll Come to You (2010)

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Dir. Andy de Emmony

After placing his senile wife in a care home, retired astronomer James Parkin (John Hurt) heads for the coast to revisit their ‘old haunts’, including the now out-of-season hotel they honeymooned in. By day he is stalked along the windswept beaches by a spectral figure dressed in white, and by night he is terrorised by strange sounds and someone, or something, attempting to enter his room…

In the 2000s BBC4 attempted to reignite the old Ghost Story at Christmas tradition by adapting MR James’s A View from a Hill (2005) and Number 13 (2006). This series was seemingly short lived though, as their next outing wasn’t until 2010, and an unusual reinterpretation of James’s classic chiller Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad. While de Emmony’s direction captures the atmosphere and tone of James very well, this film differs significantly from other adaptations, including Jonathan Miller’s supremely unsettling 1968 take.

Neil Cross’s screenplay only incorporates certai…

The Treasure of Abbot Thomas

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1974
Dir. Lawrence Gordon Clark

Part of the BBC’s annual series A Ghost Story for Christmas, which ran from 1971 to 1978 and featured some of the small screen’s most chilling moments, The Treasure of Abbot Thomas tells of a scholarly Reverend and his young protégé’s search for hidden treasure said to have been buried within a monastery by a disgraced abbot. Much to their detriment the duo ignore ominous warnings of an otherworldly guardian protecting the treasure…

The Treasure of Abbot Thomas is a rather typical James story in that it unfurls as a cautionary tale involving the unearthing of a mysterious - reputedly fabled - buried object, only for the excavator to fall foul of the supernatural entity protecting said object. In adapting James’s short story for television, screenwriter John Bowen (Robin Redbreast, The Ice House) introduces the character of young scholar Peter Dattering (Paul Lavers), who accompanies Reverend Somerton (Michael Bryant, The Stone Tape) during his investiga…

The Ash Tree

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1975
Dir. Lawrence Gordon Clark

Part of the BBC’s annual series A Ghost Story for Christmas, which ran from 1971 to 1978 and featured some of the small screen’s most chilling moments, The Ash Tree was the last of several MR James adaptations directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark. Written for television by David Rudkin, it tells of Sir Richard, who after inheriting the family estate from his great uncle, finds himself overcome with visions of his deceased ancestor’s role in the hanging of a local woman accused of witchcraft…

With a slim running time (just over 30 minutes) The Ash Tree is one of the shortest entries in the series, but it is also one of the densest. The amount of detail and information packed in, without compromising or diluting the impact of the source material, is admirable. Clarke manages to convey events and flashbacks by utilising an interesting narrative structure and some beautifully subtle editing.

Various scenes are linked by unbroken conversation or certain locati…