Ghost Stories For Christmas: The Definitive Collection

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Out Now on DVD. BFI. Certificate: 15

A Ghost Story For Christmas was a series of annual short films aiming to bring a chill into every festive household and, with the BFI’s recently released, excitement-slaking five disc boxed set, one can huddle afresh before the hearth. Broadcast by the BBC between 1971 and 1978, and, with one exception, directed and produced by Lawrence Gordon Clark, the first five episodes were adaptations of tales by the man most disposed to trail shivers along vertebrae, M. R. James. Disc one comprises two very different adaptations of James’s story ‘Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad’: one from 2010 starring John Hurt, and the other made by Jonathan Miller in 1968 for the Omnibus programme, which is generally thought of as the principle influence behind Clark’s seasonal spine-tinglers. In the figure of Parkin (a bumbling Michael Hordern), who finds a bone whistle in an old graveyard leading to troubled sleep all the way, Miller satirises the pomposity of academia: his high contrast, Expressionist photography ironically mocking the professor’s black-and-white worldview, one that has no place for inexplicable happenings in it. The later adaptation uses more conventional scare tactics, its night-time sequences well constructed, the Cinemascope frame stretching out its space, diminishing the lone figure at the mercy of its unnerving elements.