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Ghost Stories for Christmas - The Definitive Collection (5-DVD set)

Whistle and I'll Come to You (1968 & 2010 versions)

The Stalls of Barchester (1971)                      A Warning to the Curious (1972)

Lost Hearts (1973)                    The Treasure of Abbot Thomas (1974)                    The Ash Tree (1975)

The Signalman (1976)                        Stigma (1977)                      The Ice House (1978)

A View From a Hill (2005)                       Number 13 (2006)

The British Film Institute’s GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS: THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION actually contains two separate releases. The first is THE M.R. JAMES COLLECTION which includes all of the original Lawrence Gordon Clark-helmed M.R. James adaptations for the series (he also directed CASTING THE RUNES for Yorkshire Television, but that is not included here) as well as the 1968 OMNIBUS adaptation of WHISTLE AND I’LL COME TO YOU (often lumped in with the “Ghost Story for Christmas” films), a 2010 adaptation of that story, as well as recent adaptations of A VIEW FROM A HILL and NUMBER 13, and three episodes of GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS with Christopher Lee. The DEFINITIVE COLLECTION also contains a separate single disc feature the three “Ghost Story for Christmas” films that were not based on James stories (Charles Dickens’ THE SIGNALMAN and the original stories STIGMA and THE ICE HOUSE). All five discs were released individually earlier in 2012 by BFI.

(aka "Whistle and I'll Come to You (1968)" or "Whistle & I'll Come to You (2010)")

 

directed by Jonathan Miller (1968 version) and Andy De Emmony (2010 version)
UK (1968 & 2010)

 

In M.R. James' "Oh, Whistle an I'll Come to You, My Lad", Professor Parkins takes a seaside golfing holiday at a resort next to the ruins of a Knights Templar cemetery. He is given a bedroom with two beds (because there is nowhere to store the other bed). Wandering the nearby cemetery, Parkins finds an ancient whistle upon which is engraved in Latin "Who is this who is coming?" He experimentally blows the whistle, and the subsequent nights are filled with nightmares and evidence that the other bed in his room is being occupied during the night.

Although commonly classed in with the GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS tales, Jonathan Miller's 1968 TV adaptation - simply titled WHISTLE AND I'LL COME TO YOU - was actually produced for the long-running anthology OMNIBUS (a program which featured narrative films and documentaries, including several early films by Ken Russell). Miller's adaptation dispenses with the Templar background, and instead focuses on the subtle psychological unraveling of the self-satisfied, intellectually-arrogant Parkins (Michael Hordern, DEMONS OF THE MIND). While several of James' protagonists are antiquarians, the professor in the story is not (he in fact seems not to think too highly of the antiquarian who tells him about the Templar cemetery in the prologue) and we assume that Parkins in the film is not either. Does he feel guilt as an academic at having "excavated" the whistle? Does he blow it in anticipation that someone is coming (after all, he's got a second unoccupied bed in his room...)? When he rambles on to his fellow boarder the logic of why ghosts do not exist, is he trying to convince himself? For two-thirds of the film it seems that Miller merely chronicles Hornden as he sets up his own character's downfall before taking over for the final third with flashes of Parkins' nightmares, creepy sound design, and a simply-executed yet chillingly-effective final shock. Photographed by Dick Bush (TWINS OF EVIL), this monochrome TV adaptation looks for the most part like visually comparable to some of the British non-Hammer genre feature films of the earlier half of the decade more so than some of the black and white videotaped genre TV product of the time.

Lightning doesn't strike twice with Andy De Emmony's 2010 television remake - scripted by Neil Cross (TV's LUTHER) - in which Parkin (John Hurt, 1984) finally puts his wife Alice (Gemma Jones, FRAGILE) into a rest home and is talked into taking a holiday to get used to having time to himself. Parkin decides to stay at a seaside inn where he once stayed with his wife (and is given a room with a double bed in error). Wandering the off-season beaches, he stumbles across a ring with the inscription "Who is this who is coming?" and thus begins the nightly visits from someone trying to get into his room (although he is the only guest) and nightmares of being pursued by a figure in a white shroud.

The 2010 adaptation takes so many liberties with James' story that one wonders why the filmmakers even bothered attributing the source. Bearing more of a resemblance to THE CHANGELING or THE HAUNTING OF JULIA or just about any other ghost movie featuring a protagonist whose sense of loss leaves them vulnerable to haunting (when he comes upon the ring, before even reading the inscription, he asks "How long have you been waiting for someone to find you?"), the fifty-minute story feels endlessly padded with the only good moment coming when Parkin expresses his belief that bodies that have outlived the existence of personalities are far scarier than the possibilities of souls that have outlived their bodies. One is uncertain whether Parkin is being haunted by his wife (whose shell resides in the rest home) or projecting her onto the haunting force (one also ends up not caring either way).

Eric Cotenas

DVD Review: The British Film Institute - Region 2 - PAL

Big thanks to Eric Cotenas for the Review!

DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

Also available individually:

Distribution

The British Film Institute

Region 2 - PAL

Runtime 1:33:58
Video

Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 7.13 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (1968 version); English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo (2010 version)
Subtitles English, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: The British Film Institute

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic -

Edition Details:
• 'Whistle and I'll Come to You' (1968; 4:3; 41:54)
• - optional introduction by Ramsey Campbell (4:3; 15:39)
• 'Whistle & I'll Come to You' (2010; 16 :9; 52:04)
• - Jonathan Miller and Christopher Frayling Interviews (16:9; 3:24)
• - Neil Brand reads MR James' original story (16:9; 41:36)
• - Ramsey Campbell reads 'The Guide' (16:9; 26:41)
• 47 page booklet for volumes 1, 2, 3, and 5
• 21-page booklet for volume 4

DVD Release Date: 29 October 2012
2x Amaray in slipcase

Chapters

 

Comments

The 1968 version has been transferred from original 16mm materials (rather than an existing video master). The image has been cleaned up, but persistent spots on the image could not be entirely obliterated and appear transparent (they are more noticeable on the exterior scenes). The Dolby Digital mono audio is clean and sometimes vivid (I thought the distorted heartbeat sound during the nightmares was coming from outside my window rather than the speakers). The 2010 version is, of course, shot in HD and is presented in 16:9. The frame is matted to 2.35:1, and that appears to be how it was broadcast as the matting doesn't harm the compositions (nor does it really add to them either). The 2.0 stereo track is more active than the older film, but less effective.

Composer Neil Brand reads James' original story in its entirety over stills, while author Ramsey Campbell reads his James-inspired story "The Guide". Campbell also appears in a lengthy optional introduction preceding the 1968 version that frames James' work in the context of several examples of other supernatural fiction of the period, subsequent literature inspired by James, film adaptations (including Jacques Tourneur's NIGHT OF THE DEMON) and films inspired by James (including Michele Soavi's THE CHURCH - aspects of which recall "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" - and RINGU), as well as BBC's "Ghost Stories for Christmas" here. When addressing the 1968 version of "Whistle and I'll Come to You", he offers a Freudian interpretation and suggests reasons that this adaptation may be the least favorite of some James fans. 1968 version director Jonathan Miller and writer/film critic Christopher Frayling appear in a brief interview segment on the film and source story.

Disc one of the set is also available individually (HERE). BFI also released a disc of the 1968 version in 2001 (HERE).

  - Eric Cotenas

 

The 5 Discs are sold as a set - or individually:


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(aka "The Stalls of Barchester (1971)" or "A Warning to the Curious (1972)")

 

directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark
UK (1971 & 1972)

 

Disc two comprises the first two of Lawrence Gordon Clark's M.R. James adaptations: THE STALLS OF BARCHESTER and A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS. In the first, historian Dr. Black (Clive Swift, TV's KEEPING UP APPEARANCES) while cataloging a church library comes across a chest containing the letters and diary of the late Archdeacon Haynes of Barchester, who died under mysterious circumstances fifty years before. From the diary, he learns that Haynes (Robert Hardy, TV's ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL) may have gone to criminal lengths to replace his aged predecessor (Harold Bennett, TV's ARE YOU BEING SERVED); after which he experienced persecuting seemingly supernatural visitations taking the form of a black cat and cowled figure (carvings that flank his choir stall). Looking into the background of the carvings, he discovers that they were fashioned from a tree known in pagan times as "The Hanging Oak". Is his guilty conscience getting the better of him, or does something more evil lurk in the Barchester cathedral.

Like the protagonist of M.R. James' WHISTLE AND I'LL COME TO YOU, Haynes is a rationalist who insists on attributing his experiences to a physical affliction within himself (even though others have seen or heard the same things). Hardy underplays the character's arrogance, and director/writer Clark relies more on Black's observations gleaned from Haynes' diary to convey much of the archdeacon's character (unlike Michael Hordern's protagonist in the 1968 adaptation of WHISTLE who conveys his character's self-satisfaction through an unending string of clucking and chatter). The framing story unfortunately makes the chills seem less immediate, but the fact that this is shot entirely on film and on location (as opposed to mixing 16mm location footage and videotaped studio scenes) gives a different feel from some of the other British genre TV of the time (including Clark's Yorkshire Television adaptation of James' CASTING THE RUNES).

In A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS, amateur archaeologist/clerk Paxton (Peter Vaughn, STRAW DOGS) arrives in Seaburgh in search of one of the three crowns of East Anglia. Legend has it that the three crowns were buried along the coast to ward off viking invaders. One crown was found and melted down, another buried further by the encroaching sea, but the third is rumored to still be buried somewhere along the coast and guarded by the eldest son of the each generation of the Ager family (the last having died twelve years before around the time of the mysterious murder of an archaeologist digging in the area). Despite evidence to the contrary, the locals - other than the vicar (George Benson, HORROR OF DRACULA) and a fellow Londoner - claim to have never heard of the Ager family, and Paxton has reason to believe that his movements are being watched. Under the pretense of having to interrupt his holiday, Paxton takes the train back to London but gets off after a few stops and walks back up the coast. Under the cover of night, he excavates a sand dune and finds what he believes to be the mythical crown. From that point on, he begins to feel supernaturally persecuted and is stalked by a tramp (John Kearney) who may or may not be the last of the Agers, and who may or may not be a ghost.

As with THE STALLS OF BARCHESTER, A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS' hauntings include apparitions seen by both the haunted protagonist and other characters (as well as some seen by everyone else but him). The desolate Norfolk locations are more effectively employed than the Gothic locations of the previous film, and some moments recall Jonathan Miller's adaptation of WHISTLE AND I'LL COME TO YOU. The tramp isn't a very scary figure (shown in full view from the start) but the film is most chilling when focusing on Vaughn's apprehension; however, this works to leave the audience unprepared for a climactic shock that should have been obvious. Writer/producer/director Lawrence Gordon Clark incorporates THE STALL OF BARCHESTER's Dr. Black character (again played by Clive Swift) as a fellow vacationer in whom Paxton confides (also allowing for a final sting).

Eric Cotenas

DVD Review: The British Film Institute - Region 2 - PAL

Big thanks to Eric Cotenas for the Review!

Distribution

The British Film Institute

Region 2 - PAL

Runtime 1:35:21
Video

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5.65 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Subtitles English, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: The British Film Institute

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:
• 'The Stalls of Barchester' (1971; 4:3; 45:14)
• - optional introduction by director Lawrence Gordon Clark (16:9; 9:30)
• 'A Warning to the Curious' (1972; 4:3; 50:06)
• - optional introduction by director Lawrence Gordon clark (16;9; 12:07)
• 'Ghost Stories for Christmas with Christopher Lee':
• - 'The Stalls of Barchester' (2000; 16:9; 29:31)
• - 'A Warning to the Curious' (2000; 16:9; 29:32)

DVD Release Date:

Chapters

 

Comments

BFI's booklet says that THE STALLS OF BARCHESTER and A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS were both transferred from the original 16mm materials (A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS was the only one transferred in high definition). Since these TV films have previously been exhibited in the form of video masters, I'm going to guess that the rare scratches and vertical lines have more to do with the processing and perhaps the storage than multiple runs through the projector. The title sequences look a tad softer, but that may be because of the opticals or they may have been grafted in from other sources. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio (320 kbps) is fairly clean and does not exhibit any digital noise reduction artifacts.

Both films are preceded by optional introductions by director Lawrence Gordon Clark. On THE STALLS OF BARCHESTER, Clark discusses his documentary filmmaking beginnings and being surprised when he was given the go-ahead to do the adaptation. He says James wrote his stories with the understanding that the ghosts were not only in the mind of the main character, and that actor Hardy warned him of his tendency to overact. On A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS, Clark talks about the advantage of being your own writer/producer/director and scouting your own locations (making it easier to revise your own script), his attempt to make it a virtual silent film (the camera tells the story with the dialogue as counterpoint), and the changes he made in adaptation (carrying over Dr. Black from the previous tale, the prologue, and the surprise ending). Since the intros feature spoilers, viewers should skip them the first time they watch the episodes. He also mentions taking inspiration from Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST in emphasizing terror in wide open spaces (although he does not mention how some of the images of pursuit shot with long lenses recall the nightmare sequences in the 1968 version of WHISTLE AND I'LL COME TO YOU).

Also included are "Ghost Stories for Christmas with Christopher Lee" episodes of the stories in which the actor (who was at Eton while James was provost) plays the author telling the stories over brandy with a handful of students at Kings College (with cutaways to various relevant props and settings but no actors). Not entertaining on their own, but useful for comparing the more faithful readings to Clark dramatizations.

Disc two of the set is available separately (HERE), and A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS was released on its own by BFI in 2002 (HERE).

  - Eric Cotenas

 

The 5 Discs are sold as a set - or individually:


DVD Menus
 

 


Screen Captures

 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 


(aka "Lost Hearts (1973)" or "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas (1974)" or "The Ash Tree (1975)")

 

directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark
UK (1973-1975)

 

The three episodes of GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS on disc three were made with the full resources of the BBC drama department (as well as the participation of more experienced dramatists). Although still shot on location and entirely on film, they are a bit slicker than THE STALLS OF BARCHESTER and A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS. They are also slightly shorter at roughly thirty-five minutes each (compared to the near fifty minute running times of the first two entries) which - combined with the shorter shooting schedules - require an overall more economical approach to the narrative and technical aspects of storytelling.

In LOST HEARTS, orphaned Stephen (Simon Gipps-Kent) goes to the countryside to live with long lost uncle Mr. Abney (Joseph O'Conor, OLIVER!) who seems extremely excited that Stephen's twelfth birthday will occur on Halloween. Stephen's days and nights around the creepy estate are filled with sightings of a young boy and a teenage girl, who may be the respective ghosts of an Italian orphan and a gypsy girl who Mr. Abney took in years before (and who mysteriously disappeared). LOST HEARTS introduces some startling graphic violence to the series, but the story that is already quite unsavory with intimations of child abuse and molestation (and is all the more disturbing thanks to O'Connor's cheery performance). The nighttime apparitions of the grey-skinned, long-nailed versions of the children are as creepy as anything in American TV horror of the era.

THE TREASURE OF ABBOT THOMAS is the finest of the three adaptations on this disc. While consulting the church archives, Reverend Somerton (Michael Bryant, THE RULING CLASS) comes across accounts of the infamous Abbot Thomas, whose dabbled in alchemy and is rumored to have hidden a fortune of transmuted metal somewhere on the abbey grounds. The curious of Somerton's pupil Peter Dattering (Paul Lavers) for the cryptic clues left by the abbot proves infectious, especially when Paul solves one of the clues and a photographic plate he took of a stained glass window reveals yet another. As the two get closer and closer to proving that there is indeed hidden treasure somewhere in the abbey, Somerton's professional interest begins to be superseded (by greed? by ego?) and his nightfall lone search for the final clue (the "stone with seven eyes") may be his downfall. Bryant played a similarly arrogant character encountering the supernatural in Nigel Kneale's masterful THE STONE TAPE. John Bowen, who adapted the story, also wrote for the series DEAD OF NIGHT (only three episodes of which seem to have survived), MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION, ARMCHAIR THRILLER, and would also script the final GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS episode THE ICE HOUSE.

In THE ASH TREE, Sir Richard Fell (Edward Petherbridge, TV's LORD PETER WHIMSEY) inherits the Castringham Hill estate from his uncle Sir Matthew, who also inherited it from his uncle Sir Matthew. Sir Richard plans to end that line of descent by wedding and siring his own offspring. His plans to build a family pew in the church run into problems because it means moving the grave of Mistress Mothersole who was hanged as a witch by the first Sir Matthew. At random moments, Sir Richard feels himself pulled into the past where he learns that Sir Matthew (also Petherbridge) may not have been entirely honest in accusing Mothersole (Barbara Ewing, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE) of witchcraft. When the witch's coffin is dug up and revealed to be empty, Sir Richard begins to wonder if the strange noises from the ash tree that hangs outside his bedroom window...

THE ASH TREE is simultaneously one of the most interestingly-crafted adaptations yet also one of the least effective of the adaptations. Petherbridge's performance is appropriately off-kilter yet uninvolving, but much of the story requires him to be a passive witness to supernatural flashbacks that underline the story's air of repressed sexuality (Sir Matthew destroys fertility symbol Mistress Mothersole and the area's crops fail and animals die, while Sir Richard plans to sire an offspring and introduces "continental" art and architecture to the estate but seems just as much a cold fish). The film's barely mobile puppet monsters are laughable when they first appear onscreen, but a subsequent shot of the things writhing around on the bed of a sleeping victim garners an unexpected shiver. DOCTOR WHO's Lalla Ward appears here as Fell's fiancee.

Eric Cotenas

DVD Review: The British Film Institute - Region 2 - PAL

Big thanks to Eric Cotenas for the Review!

Distribution

The British Film Institute

Region 2 - PAL

Runtime 1:43:32
Video

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.64 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Subtitles English, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: The British Film Institute

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:
• 'Lost Hearts' (4:3; 34:52)
• - optional introduction by Lawrence Gordon Clark (16:9; 10:49))
• 'The Treasure of Abbot Thomas' (4:3; 36:52)
• - optional introduction by Lawrence Gordon Clark (16:9; 10:38)
• 'The Ash Tree' (4:3; 31:53)
• - optional introduction by Lawrence Gordon Clark (16:9; 8:04)

DVD Release Date:

Chapters

 

Comments

All three films have been newly transferred in standard definition from 16mm elements and any damage has to do with their original processing and archiving rather than any projections. The encodings are probably as true as they can be giving the 16mm gauge and the decision not to master in high definition. The audio is in fine condition and the optional English subtitles are a welcome addition. All three films are preceded by optional introductions by director Lawrence Gordon Clark.

For LOST HEARTS, Clark reveals that it was the first of the series made with the full resources of BBC's drama department (Clark came from the documentary department and used those resources for the first two films), and discusses locations, child actors, and interprets the story's underlying theme as child abuse. He recalls how he compared the episode's graphic violence to that of the contemporary series I, CLAUDIUS (and was told "It's alright if it's in togas!"). On THE TREASURE OF ABBOT THOMAS, Clark mentions that it was the first episode to feature an original score, the change from the story's German location to England, the shooting opportunities afforded by the locations (Clark had a harder time getting permission to film there because it had been used previously by Pier Paolo Pasolini to shoot an orgy for THE CANTERBURY TALES), and the other changes to the story. For THE ASH TREE, Clark ruminates on the story's veiled sexual frustration, and discusses the challenges of finding the perfect ash tree.

Disc three of this set was released individually earlier in the year by BFI (HERE).

  - Eric Cotenas

 

The 5 Discs are sold as a set - or individually:


DVD Menus
 

 


Screen Captures

 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 


(aka "The Signalman (1976)" or "Stigma (1977)" or "The Ice House (1978)")

 

directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark (The Signalman & Stigma) and Derek Lister (The Ice House)
UK (1976/1977/1978)

 

Disc four comprises the last three films in the original A GHOST STORY FOR CHRISTMAS SERIES, two of which were directed by series originator Lawrence Gordon Clark (who had left the BBC for Yorkshire Television - where he would direct an adaptation of M.R. James' CASTING THE RUNES - after THE SIGNALMAN but had been asked back to helm STIGMA) and the last directed by Derek Lister.

For a change, 1976's Christmas ghost story took as its source Charles Dickens' "The Signalman" and the results are splendid. Denholm Elliot (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) plays the titular character guarding the entrance to a lonely train tunnel and haunted by a spectre whose appearances precede train tragedies, and tormented by his inability to interpret the warnings and prevent them. The story unfolds as related by the signalman to an inquisitive traveler (Bernard Lloyd) and has a handful of chilling images; however, it is Elliot's twitchy performance that really sells the fear. Adapted by Andrew Davies (THE TAILOR OF PANAMA).

STIGMA was the first of two original scripts for the A GHOST STORY series. The attempted removal of a strange stone in the garden of a country cottage (which stands in the path of a number of pagan standing stones) causes housewife Katherine (Kate Binchy, THE EAGLE HAS LANDED) to experience bleeding from non-existent wounds that seriously disrupt her attempt at a pleasant evening dinner with her workaholic husband Peter (Peter Bowles, TV's TO THE MANOR BORN) and resentful daughter Verity (Maxine Gordon). There isn't much more to it, just a slow build-up of dread and occult possibilities before a resolution that provides "an" explanation that neither clears things up or raises any more questions; nevertheless, it is a nice exercise in unease.

The last of the series' entries is another original project - scripted by John Bowen (who also scripted THE TREASURE OF ABBOT THOMAS) - recently-divorced psychiatrist Paul (John Stride, THE OMEN) is one of few high-paying guests at a country spa by siblings Jessica (Elizabeth Romilly) and Clovis (Geoffrey Burridge, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON) and a staff who all have "a touch of the cools". Probably even more experimental than STIGMA, THE ICE HOUSE offers just enough for the viewer to construe a number of different scenarios involving depression, suicide, shock treatment, the occult, magic, aliens, brothers and sisters, flowers, and other things that do no procreate but are merely replaced (and in the meantime "ice preserves"). Worth repeat viewings even if it has no more to offer.

Eric Cotenas

DVD Review: The British Film Institute - Region 2 - PAL

Big thanks to Eric Cotenas for the Review!

Distribution

The British Film Institute

Region 2 - PAL

Runtime 1:44:16
Video

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: ~7.1 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Subtitles English, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: The British Film Institute

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:
• 'The Signalman' (4:3; 38:16)
• - optional introduction by Lawrence Gordon Clark (16:9; 10:40)
• 'Stigma' (4:3; 31:47)
• - optional introduction by Lawrence Gordon Clark (16:9; 8:44)
• 'The Ice House' (4:3; 34:12)
• 21-page liner notes booklet

DVD Release Date:

Chapters

 

Comments

This is disc four as identified by the outer slipcase, but it is actually in a standalone case as volume four of the GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS adaptations. Disc four as identified on the back cover of the double-wide four-disc M.R. JAMES COLLECTION case inside the slipcase is actually volume five of the individual editions (comprising the more recent adaptations of A VIEW FROM THE HILL and NUMBER 13.

All three films are transferred in standard definition from 16mm archival materials. Print damage is quite minimal (THE ICE HOUSE is the most recent and looks the best, but the other two films are not far behind) and the Dolby Digital 2.0 mono tracks are clean. Since Lawrence Gordon Clark directed only two of the episodes, he only provides optional introductions for those two. In the introduction for THE SIGNALMAN, Lawrence Gordon Clark says that he and his crew felt that they had adapted all of James stories that were practical to film (although in the introduction to STIGMA he says he had developed a script for M.R. James' vampire story "Count Magnus" around the time of LOST HEARTS but it proved too expensive). He speaks highly of the actors (although he says some of Denholm Elliot's shifty glances were because he posted cheat sheets with his dialogue and cues all over the set), the cinematography, and the importance of storyboarding. He also mentions that the story was inspired by Dickens' own brush with death on a train wreck (this is elaborated upon on the essay about the film in the booklet). In the introduction to STIGMA, Clark expresses his preference for period pieces - producer Rosemary Hill had asked for a ghost story set in modern times - and admits to not knowing what exactly what the haunting force was supposed to be in this one (he came into this project late in pre-production). There are no other extras.

This disc was also released earlier this year as a solo edition (HERE), but BFI had released THE SIGNALMAN as a single release - now OOP - back in 2002 (HERE).

  - Eric Cotenas

 

The 5 Discs are sold as a set - or individually:


DVD Menus
 

 


Screen Captures

 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 


(aka "A View from a Hill (2005)" or "Number 13 (2006)")

 

directed by Luke Watson (A View from a Hill) and Pier Wilkie (Number 13)
UK (2005/2006)

 

Disc four comprises two recent attempts to resurrect the GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS formula with adaptations of M.R. James' A VIEW FROM A HILL and NUMBER 13. Although they were made before the 2010 version of WHISTLE AND I'LL COME TO YOU (see above), they are certainly a step up even if they too are not entirely successful.

In A VIEW FROM A HILL, "public school" archaeologist Fanshawe (Mark Letheren, RESTORATION) arrives in a remote English village at the request of Squire Richards (Pip Torrens, TOMORROW NEVER DIES) to catalog his father's collection of antiquities for sale to keep up the estate (the adaptation has been altered to a post-war timeframe). The collection also includes the local findings of self-taught archaeologist Baxter (Simon Linnell) whose interests took an occult bent while studying the terrain of the nearby Gallows Hill. When Fanshawe discovers his binoculars are broken, Richards loans him a pair belonging to Baxter (and specially made by him) that afford the younger man views of things that shouldn't be there (for instance, the intact structure of a church where there is now a ruin). The downside of this invention is that it also allows people (and other things) that shouldn't be there to look back, and Fanshawe soon finds himself pursued and under attack by forces that might have also been responsible for Baxter's fate.

In NUMBER 13, Oxford academic Anderson (Greg Wise, THE DISAPPEARED) is lodging in room 12 of an inn while researching the papers of a local cathedral, including those of the disgraced Bishop Walgrave (several letters of which were found hidden in a wall behind one of the library bookshelves). Among these letters is one to the bishop from one Nicholas Francken, whose name later shows up in the record of a witch's confession that accused Francken of raising the devil in a room in the bishop's house (it is also revealed that Francken vanished into thin air when authorities attempted to apprehend him). Anderson believes that the sounds of laughter and voices from room 13 are a prank until he is told by the innkeeper Gunton (David Burke, THE WOMAN IN BLACK) that: a) there is no room 13, and b) the inn was once a house owned by the Walgrave family. At night however, room 13 appears where there was once a solid wall, and Anderson decides to see who or what is in there...

Eric Cotenas

DVD Review: The British Film Institute - Region 2 - PAL

Big thanks to Eric Cotenas for the Review!

Distribution

The British Film Institute

Region 2 - PAL

Runtime 1:19:18
Video

1.78:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo
Subtitles English, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: The British Film Institute

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.78:1

Edition Details:
• 'A View from a Hill' (16:9; 39:04)
• 'Number 13' (16:9; 40:14)
• 'Ghost Stories for Christmas with Christopher Lee':
• 'Number 13' (16:9; 29:21)

DVD Release Date:
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Comments

These two more recent James adaptations were shot on standard definition broadcast digital video and look as good as the post-production color tinkering allow. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo tracks are, as expected, in fine shape given the relative age of the programs. As with the other discs, optional English subtitles are also provided. The sole extra is a retelling of NUMBER 13 from the Christopher Lee GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS series - two more episodes of which are present above on disc two - but the liner notes booklet contains discusses the stories, changes made to the adaptations (including the class commentary in A VIEW FROM A HILL), and are perhaps a little too generous in their assessment of the two adaptations assets.

  - Eric Cotenas

 

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Distribution

The British Film Institute

Region 2 - PAL




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