Ghost Stories for Christmas Vol 2 Boxset – Review
By Sarah Morgan
During the festive season, we’ll be treated to another entry in the BBC’s annual Ghost Stories for Christmas. Once again, Mark Gatiss has written the screenplay and directed the tale, which is an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lot No 249, starring Kit Harrington.
The tradition for spooky TV tales at this time of year began in 1971 with The Stalls of Barchester, based on an MR James short story. It proved popular, so more followed until 1978 when the series went on hiatus until a revival in 2005. We’ve had seven more of varying quality since then.
The 1970s programmes are the stuff of legend among horror fans, who were suitably excited when the BFI released a selection on Blu-ray for the first time last year. Now a second volume is available and, for me, it’s even more impressive than the first.
All but one was directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark, who pops up among the special features to deliver introductions to the films he worked on, beginning with 1974’s The Treasure of Abbot Thomas. It’s yet another James tale, starring Michael Bryant as a respected theologian who, alongside his protege, is hunting for loot hidden by a disgraced monk. It turns out to be a very bad idea indeed.
The Ash Tree, first broadcast a year later, again uses a James title. Filmed partly in Clark’s own garden (they were made on a pretty strict budget, apparently), it stars Edward Petherbridge, Barbara Ewing and future Doctor Who star Lalla Ward in the story of an aristocrat haunted by visions of a witchcraft trial after inheriting his family estate.
Next comes my personal favourite, 1976’s The Signalman. This time it’s adapted from a Charles Dickens story (by renowned screenwriter Andrew Davies, no less) and features a brilliant performance from the much-missed Denholm Elliott as the titular character, who tells a visitor to his box about a troubling encounter he can’t explain.
Clark’s final involvement in the series is a modern-day original story (by writer Clive Exton) called Stigma, about a young couple caught in the maelstrom after workmen disturb an ancient menhir. Peter Bowles is among the cast.
Then, last but by no means least, is 1978’s The Ice House, directed by Derek Lister from an original script by John Bowen. John Stride plays a health spa resident who discovers the hard way that a strange flower growing in the grounds may be responsible for various calamities.
The set also includes two entries from the series’ revival among the aforementioned special features – 2005’s A View From a Hill and 2006’s Number 13. A variety of newly recorded audio commentaries, involving the likes of Gatiss and Kim Newman, offer further insights into the productions, as do a video essay by Nic Wassell and the accompanying illustrated booklet, which contains articles from a range of respected writers.
If you’re looking to treat yourself this festive season, or need something for the discerning horror fan in your life, Ghost Stories for Christmas is ideal.