Review: Children’s Film Foundation Collection – Scary Stories / Cert: PG / Director: James Hill, John Krish, Andrew Bogle / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Sarah Hollis-Andrews, Gabrielle Hamilton, Michael Carter, Andrew Keir, Barbra Ewing / Release Date: September 23rd
This latest BFI three-movie release from the archive of the legendary Children’s Film Foundation suggests that there was, from time to time, more to the CFF’s output than sunny day hijinks and knockabout fantasy romps. Scary Stories, a timely compilation surely aimed at the much younger end of the Halloween market, sees the CFF putting away childish things as it attempts to creep out its impressionable audience of 1970s and 1980s nippers.
Whilst there’s nothing here likely to even remotely disturb today’s sassy kids weaned on ultra-violent computer games and downloaded Hollywood horror movies, each of the three tales presented on this latest compilation are classy, if quaintly dated, affairs which veer towards the safer side of the supernatural. No vicious knife-wielding killers or vengeful ghosts in Scary Stories, just friendly spirits out to right some historical wrong or provide a warning from beyond the grave. Opening effort The Man from Nowhere ultimately isn’t even supernatural at all; it’s an atmospheric Victorian Gothic thriller, directed by James Hill, in which a feisty young orphan girl is terrorised by a mysterious bearded stranger who, if this reviewer isn’t mistaken, is voiced by the late Michael Gough. The resolution is pure Conan Doyle but it’s a beautifully told, gripping tale which might still startle the odd nervous tot. The remaining stories are more contemporary (i.e., 1980s) thrillers and both feature wholesome ghosts making contact with the living for benign reasons. In Hunters of the Deep an American businessman plans to reopen an old Cornish tin mine where dozens of miners died in a terrible accident years previously. The American’s boyish daughter teams up with local lad Josh, who’s being guided by a ghostly figure trying to prevent history repeating itself. Eeriest of the trio is Out of the Darkness, set in and around the famous Derbyshire ‘plague’ village of Eyam, where the past comes back to haunt a family of newcomers and a mystery from centuries ago is about to be solved at last.
Scary Stories is the best and most consistent run of BFI CFF compilations to date. Well-made and intelligent, these charming and enjoyable stories are another reminder of a long-gone, much more innocent age. Today’s kids won’t be won over by their tame charms but adults who spent happy Saturday mornings entertained by the CFF will enjoy basking in Scary Stories’ warm, nostalgic glow.
Extras: Illustrated commemorative booklet