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Film Details

Directed by: Lawrence Gordon Clark

Produced: 1972

Countries & Regions: United Kingdom

DVD Details

Certificate: 12

Studio: British Film Institute

Length: 95 mins

Format: DVD

Region: Region 2

Released: 20 August 2012

Cat No: BFIVD960

Extras:
Languages(s): English
Interactive Menu

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BBC Ghost Stories: The Stalls of Barchester / A Warning to the Curious

Cast: Robert Hardy , Peter Vaughan , Clive Swift , Thelma Barlow , Harold Bennett , John Kearney , David Cargill , Will Leighton , Julian Herrington , Penny Service

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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

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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 ’A Warning to the Curious’ (1972) Mr Paxton (Peter Vaughan) travels to English seaside town Seaburg hoping to find the last of three Anglo Saxon crowns belonging to the Agers family whose last descendant has recently died. When he uncovers the crown, however, he finds himself haunted by a ghostly figure. In ’The Stalls of Barchester’ (1971) Dr. Black (Clive Swift) is cataloguing the Barchester Cathedral Library when he comes across an old diary belonging to Archdeacon Haynes (Robert Hardy) who died mysteriously. Whilst reading the entries Black soon discovers that Haynes may have been cursed upon the death of his predecessor after which he was tormented by supernatural goings-on.

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.

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