Directed by: Lawrence Gordon Clark
Countries & Regions: United Kingdom
Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 95 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 20 August 2012
Cat No: BFIVD960
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BBC Ghost Stories: The Stalls of Barchester / A Warning to the Curious
Lawrence Gordon Clark directs this double bill of horror dramas adaptated by the BBC from two of M.R. James’s classic ghost stories. In... Read More
As the sixties segued into the seventies, big-screen horror underwent a fundamental sea-change. Thanks to a relaxation of censorship on both sides of the Atlantic, the shivery yet subtle chills of The Innocents (1961) and The Haunting (1963) were abandoned in favour of as much graphic gore as special effects would permit.
But there was one regular producer of authentically old-fashioned horror during this period, offering scenes where the protagonist can’t quite identify the only other living thing on an otherwise deserted beach, where there’s unmistakable evidence that he hasn’t spent the night alone despite his hotel bedroom being firmly locked, or where he expects to touch stone but gets warm fur instead.
From 1971 to 1978, and again in 2005-2006, the BBC produced an annual ‘Ghost Story for Christmas’, all ten of which have now been anthologised in a new five volume DVD series. These are bookended by the 1968 and 2010 adaptations of MR James’s classic chiller ‘Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ that comprise volume 1. The first was adapted by Jonathan Miller, and remains one of the greatest small-screen horror films ever made, with Michael Hordern’s fusty, mumbling academic uncovering a long-buried flute and making the mistake of blowing it to see what happens. The remake casts John Hurt in the same role, adds colour and widescreen and also a new subplot about his senile wife.
MR James also fuels the two stories of volume 2, both featuring Clive Swift as the researcher Dr Black. In the previously unavailable The Stalls of Barchester, he pieces together the tale of the Cathedral’s Archdeacon (Robert Hardy), and works out how he met his untimely death, while in A Warning to the Curious, he meets a clearly terrified archaeologist (Peter Vaughan) and learns of his discovery. With three further volumes coming out before Halloween, lovers of spine-chilling tales have plenty to celebrate.