I’m not one to dwell too much on the past, I’m really not. I have little time for regrets and for the plethora of ‘what could have be been’s’ that we probably all have in the tattered timelines of our existence…..Well, there is the case of the missed opportunity with those sisters from Greece in 1999, but that’s another story…………
Nostalgia, on the other hand – well that’s something completely different, I often have time for that. Which is probably a good thing considering my love of classic sci-fi, fantasy and horror. So when I was received the latest preview DVD from the British Film Institute (BFI) via the marvellous
*ukhorrorscene* *I was as nostalgically excited as I have been for quite some time. Because not only was I going to watch and review a chilling story or three from a cherished but long-gone media production company, I was also going to take a brief trip back to
perhaps the most important and influential parts of my childhood. The DVD in question is a three-part collection called *Scary Stories* and the company is The Children’s Film Foundation.
For those of few of you that may not know (and boy do I pity you having missed out), The Children’s Film Foundation (CFF)
produced home-grown entrainment for young cinemagoers for well over 30
years. It was originally set up in 1951 as a non-profit initiative by the owner of the Rank and Odeon chains to give youngsters the chance to get the film-going habit, and not only that, they would get the opportunity to see the types of entertainment that THEY wanted to see. So saw the birth of the Saturday morning picture club. In truth it is difficult to over-estimate
the importance and contribution the the CFF made to the entertainment landscape of Britain for over three decades. This wasn’t some two-bit tin pot attempt to throw some cheap rubbish at the kids of this country in the hope of keeping us occupied for a few hours on a Saturday Morning (though if you ask my mum, she would say that my and my brothers weekly cinema trips were her much needed time of rest and sanctuary within
the chaos of the Anderson boys’ weekend). No, there was indeed a genuine warmth and rapport between the CFF and it’s audience that was both unique and pleasurable. The Foundation knew what it was doing, and boy it did it well.
It is difficult to convey the excitement that I and many of my friends experienced each weekday until that long awaited Saturday morning came, and along with it, it’s many delicious delights. Each and every member of the audience would be armed with enough sweets, chocolate and drinks to feed a small African nation, before plowing into the Halifax ABC cinema (now sadly gone i’m afraid) and bring good natured havoc and stress to the poor workers there who most probably dreaded the onset of this day just as much
as we looked forward to it. Each new feature during the morning would be greeted with raucous cheers from the audience now out of it’s collective
head on sugar products – ahh, good times, good times.
But enough of that splash of Nostalgia for now, I’ll return to the CFF later…… back to the DVD review, driver, and don’t spare the horses!!!
Do not be fooled by the notion that this is a collection of stories designed for a young audience and that as a consequence the result for an adult wanting a few ‘scares’ would be be lacking and insipid. There are authentic periods of fear, drama and yes, even terror, in this collection. It’s something of a contradiction that as the fortunes of the CFF were
in financial straits the decision was made to be more and more daring and inventive in the material being produced. The later Gothic themed productions which thrilled and chilled young audiences back then will, dare I say it, still have the same effect on young and older viewers alike on this re-release.
It certainly helps that the usual CFF quality writing, production and acting is clear to see in this collection. The calibre of the storytelling is simply of the very highest order, there is no ‘dumbing down’ of the dialogue just because the target audience is young – a lesson perhaps that some could learn today in the annuls of children’s entertainment. The locations are sumptuous, the special effects convincing and the action sequences are exciting. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that all three films were (as all CFF films had been) made on very limited budgets.
Each of the three films are perfect illustrations of how the ‘ghost’ movies in the CFF catalogue often shared a common element – the past. Whether it be a 19th century Gothic fare as in the first film, the recent and harsh past in the second film and the unsettling and traumatic past in the third edition – the element of time and its powerful effect are equally
effective in their results.
*The Man From Nowhere (1976) *is a delightfully written nineteenth-century
Gothic chiller and directed by non-other than the acclaimed director James Hill (A study in Terror, Born Free). Alice Harvey, an orphan, has been invited to the country to live with her great-uncle at his mansion, Tower House. However, from the very beginning of her arrival in the countryside, a strange and sinister Man appears & insists she return to the orphanage. If she doesn’t leave, the stranger insists that the consequences will be deadly. Who is this ‘man from nowhere’, why is he trying to scare her
away? and will anybody believe her that this man from nowhere actually exists?
The acting in this piece is sublime – particularly from the young Sarah Hollis-Andrews who as Alice is magnificent as the at first terrified but still determined and resourceful girl. Excellent too is that fine British character actor, Ronald Adam as the grouchy old Uncle. Mention too should go to the location of the film, especially the old, rambling Gothic mansion that simply exudes menace and atmosphere.
The Theatre-style closing credits, with each of the principle actors bowing or curtsying to the camera is a genuine joy.
*Haunters of the Deep (1984) *is perhaps my least favourite of the three films, though that may have something to do with it in part being set underground, thereby playing on my longtime fear of closed spaces.
Nonetheless, it is a worthy feature. A wealthy American business man and
CEO of a powerful mining company. together with his young daughter, is visiting an old disused Cornish Tin mine. He is intent on re-opening the mine to tap into the huge wealth of Tin that lies deep below the surface of the sea – despite the warnings of peril from a grizzled old miner (played by the magnificent character actor, Andrew Keir) about the violent past of the mine. The pressures of contemporary unemployment and the demands of big business (remember this is Thatcher’s 1980’s) means that there is plenty of local demand for risking their lives in the dilapidated tin mine – despite the reasons for it being closed in the first place. When history threatens to repeat itself and the ghosts of miners who suffered a grisly death reappear, It is left to the American businessman’s bored daughter and local lad, Josh, to attempt a daring rescue.
The setting for this ghost story is once again a major plus with the Cornish coastline shown in all its picturesque yet dramatic glory.
In John Krish’s *Out of the Darkness (1985)*, we witness perhaps the most unsettling of the three stories in which a seemingly idyllic Derbyshire village is scarred and haunted by a tragic secret from the era of the Black Death. When the Neil family chance upon the picturesque village and decide to buy a dilapidated cottage they have no idea that it was once inhabited by a family who were destroyed by the plague. Things start to change though when a friend of one of the Neil boys starts to ‘see’ the ghost of a boy who it turns out was a ‘village outcast of the plague’, hunted out by the angry village mob. Soon, boys find themselves in the middle of a dramatic adventure when the horrific events of the past threaten to keep their painful secret, assisted by their friend, Tom, and a local folklore expert (played by Michael Carter – The Keep, Return of the Jedi).
Apart from the genuinely thrilling climax to the film, the audience is asked to consider the real world implications of the story – mainly the lengths that a group of people, in this case a village community, can ultimately be capable of. This is intelligent stuff.
The events of the film are given even greater resonance taking pace as they do in around Eyam, Derbyshire, where the plague had a huge impact. Even today you can see you can see the headstones of plague victims dominating the local graveyards.
– Brand new High Definition transfers of all films – and believe me, they look great! As usual the BFI have made sure that the best available film materials from the national archive have been used in the transferring of these productions. Each of the three films
has benefited beyond all recognition from the digital remastering resulting in a real clarity of picture free from dirt or crackles.
UK | 1976 + 1984 + 1985 | colour | English language | 57 mins + 59 mins
+ 66 mins | DVD9 | Dolby Digital mono 2.0 audio (320kbps) | Original aspect
ratios 1.33:1 + 1.85:1 (16×9 anamorphic) + 1.33:1
– Complete illustrated booklet with essays by The Man from Nowhere writer John Tully, actor Michael Carter and Dr. Rachel Moseley all providing fascinating insights and personal recollections into the making of the movies.
*A little bit more on the Children’s Film Foundation*
The three hour(ish) long features included one this marvellous DVD perfectly encapsulates the ethos of the CFF throughout it’s existence – to produce a variety of genre films all containing common ingredients such as mystery, adventure, science fiction and horror.
Perhaps the Foundation’s greatest achievement (apart from keeping raucous under-12’s off the streets for a while) was it’s major contribution in not just nurturing young and upcoming talent, but also using the talents of many well-established stalwarts of the British film industry.
The golden years of the CFF were during the 1960’s and early 1970’s had weekly national attendances not far short of the half a million mark – staggering figures.
Alas, by the mid-1980’s the audiences for these Saturday morning rituals were beginning to dwindle. Age, work and and an obsession with the opposite sex meant that yours truly had long since ceased to join my fellow manic throng at the Halifax ABC. In a wider sense, the output of the CFF was
dealt two separate death blows. Firstly, the small tax on cinema tickets that channelled funds into British Film production was cancelled in the early 1980’s by Margaret Thatcher and her band of society cut-throats. The cessation of the Eady Levy not only dealt a mortal blow to the CFF but it also meant deep trouble for the wider remnants of the British film industry that were holding on by their crumbling fingernails.
The second death blow came in the form of television with the onset of children’s Saturday morning shows with their selections of swapping or custard pie throwing. The organisation tried in vain to change with the times by negotiating production deals with the major TV companies and changing into the Children’s Film and Television Foundation (CFTF), but
the damage had been done. The production money and the audiences were gone.
Film production eventually stopped in 1987.
The company is still in existence, with it now known as The Children’s Media Foundation. It is an independent non-profit organisation which campaigns for good quality entertainment for children and young people throughout the UK. Not only that, it actively supports production and is determined to further wider understanding of cultural media for children.
It would be all-too easy to become too blinded by the nostalgia of my childhood when talking about the special place the CFF and those Saturday morning get-togethers have in my and millions of others who shared that unique experience. What is perhaps more important is the knowledge that this company produced entertainment that never preached or patronised but always achieved the highest quality in all artistic areas.
So without being overly sycophantic, the BFI’s objective to create a flourishing and innovative movie environment whilst cherishing and preserving the magnificent film collection that we have, should be
This collection of stories is a prime example of that need for preservation. That movies of a dark and risky nature, such as the 3 in this series were being made by an organisation in trouble is testament to the ethos of the CFF.
That is why I have no qualms in giving this DVD 8.5 out of 10.
It may be made for youngsters…. but it will still scare!