Lawrence Gordon Clark directs Simon Gipps-Kent, Michael Bryant and Edward Petherbridge in these M.R. James period ghost story adaptations made by the BBC to be screened at the darkest hour over Christmas each year in the Seventies.
Shot on 16mm film, at gothic locations, with high production values for shoestring TV, with a focus on convincing atmosphere (a combination of dread and crumpets) these lesser celebrated A Ghost Stories at Christmas all stick the landing nicely. Camply overacted but all building to an unsettling head of steam, each contains a mystery that keeps you glued and barely glimpsed monsters that irritate your dreams days after you’ve turned the DVD disc off. Ghoulish children with overgrown corpse’s fingernails floating around the hallways. A black slime that follows you home. The spider baby hatchlings that live in the ash tree. All achieved on a low budget yet deployed at a point when James’s stock questing curious academic heroes are too close to the truth to notice the dangers. We are foolishly right by their side as they unravel the dark secrets that any sensible person would leave well enough alone. These shorts all work as more often than not the terror is only peeped at and ignored until those final fateful shots. Before then a patient deadpan rationalism keeps us blinkered as to the true shocks that awaits us all.
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