DVD Reviews: CLASSIC GHOST STORIES

PrintE-mail Written by John Knott

Review: Classic Ghost Stories / Cert: 12 / Director: David Bell / Screenplay: David Bell / Starring: Robert Powell, Michael Bryant / Released: October 28th

Like a bit of M. R. James? Of course you do. The BBC, on the other hand, absolutely loves the work of the old provost. So much so, in fact, that since 1968, no less than 92.7% of the Beeb’s drama budget has been spent on adapting his incomparable ghost stories for its Christmas television schedules [No it hasn’t – Ed]. These have usually been top-notch dramatisations of James’ scholars doing scholarly things in picturesque parts of Olde England, only to find their rational worldviews tested to breaking point by spooky goings on. However, on a couple of occasions they kept the budget down with simple readings of James’ stories, illustrated by the odd picture and/or some actors wordlessly performing key scenes. Think Jackanory for grown-ups and you’ll get the idea. They most recently did this in 2000 with Christopher Lee but this DVD features the Robert Powell readings from their 1986 Christmas series Classic Ghost Stories.

To be honest, despite the BBC’s sterling and often-groundbreaking efforts on their fully dramatised versions of his work, this is actually how M. R. James was supposed to be experienced. We’re in an academic’s office that simply “must tell us” of some rum goings on that came to his attention in a diary or down his club. It’s all about old-fashioned storytelling, and despite the lack of visual majesty, these are quite possibly the most enjoyable adaptations of James the BBC has done. Pick of the bunch is almost certainly that James classic The Mezzotint. It’s about a picture that changes when nobody is looking at it and this is the perfect medium for the tale. There’s also The Ash-Tree (with some surprisingly scary live-action “creatures”), Wailing Well (made all the more chillingly authentic with actual old photographs), The Rose Garden and that old perennial Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad (which the BBC have now done at least three times to this writer’s knowledge). The quarter of an hour length to each is just right for both the format and for the source material that never feels the need to spell out exactly what went on; there’s no needless exposition in a James story. The atmosphere is perfect and, if Big Chris will forgive us, this batch is far superior to the more dated 2000 versions. We really can’t think of anything better to watch before bedtime at Christmas.

The disc also features three episodes of Spine Chiller, which really was part of the Jackanory series and feature Michael Bryant reading three more James stories (although The Mezzotint is one of them) in slightly more abridged and lower budget versions for children. Despite being lower-rent (there are no illustrations or enacted scenes) they’re still very effective.

So in these days of high production values and CGI wassitcalleds, we’re recommending a DVD of just a bloke telling you a story? Yep, you bet we are.

Extras: Spine Chiller


Suggested Articles:
Long before Robert Downey Jr. or Benedict Cumberbatch ever portrayed Sherlock Holmes on our screens
Polish writer/director Walerian Borowczyk was quite the card. In a 40-year career (he died in 2006),
Getting a new release from the BFI following their recent Scorsese celebration, Alice Doesn’t Live
Make no mistake, this isn’t competing with the likes of The Abyss or Das Boot, either for expansiv
scroll back to top

Add comment

Security code
Refresh

Other articles in DVD / Blu-ray Reviews

SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION 22 March 2017

THE STORY OF SIN 20 March 2017

ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE 20 March 2017

THE CHAMBER 20 March 2017

THE WARTIME CHRONICLES 20 March 2017

PIECES 18 March 2017

SOLARIS 18 March 2017

WHO'S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR 18 March 2017

THE DOCTORS: THE JON PERTWEE YEARS 17 March 2017

FRIGHT NIGHT 14 March 2017

- Entire Category -

Sign up today!
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner