The Children’s Film Foundation Collection: Scary Stories (DVD) (BFI)

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The Children’s Film Foundation Collection: Scary Stories

BFI / UK

Genre: Drama / Mystery/ Fantasy / Thriller

Region Code: Region 2

Certificate: PG

Codec: MPEG-2

Image: Colour

Video: DVD9

Audio: English Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 (320kbps) (Original)

Language: English

Subtitles: None

Originally founded in 1951 and running for over 30 years, producing films well into the mid 1980’s (two of which are included in this collection) before it was renamed the Children’s Film and Television Foundation, the UK based non-profit-making organisation, ‘The Children’s Film Foundation’ specialised in producing high quality films and drama exclusively for generations of young children between the 1950’s and 1980’s, with the aim of providing a means of (as former Chairman of the Rank Organisation, John Davis put it) ‘healthy entertainment’.

With the Children’s Film Foundation archive now thankfully curated by the British Film Institute, this new BFI DVD release, the fourth instalment in their fine ‘The Children’s Film Foundation Collection’ series, presents three more forgotten gems from the  Children’s Film Foundation archive, here collected under the theme of ‘Scary Stories’.

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The Man From Nowhere

BFI / James Hill / 1976 / UK

Running Time: 57 minutes (56:42)

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (Original)

The earliest of the three films included in this collection, director James Hill’s Victorian gothic thriller ‘The Man From Nowhere’, written by John Tully, is perhaps the most distinct or forthright example of a ‘classic children’s ghost story’, in terms of atmosphere, setting and production design.

When the young orphaned Alice Harvey (Sarah Hollins-Andrews) is sent to live with her rich uncle George (Ronald Adam) (believing it his duty to take care of his only surviving relative) in his isolated country mansion, she is soon tormented by the eerie and increasingly menacing visitations of ‘The Man From Nowhere’ – an ominous, black-dressed stranger, complete with tall hat and beard, who seemingly appears to know her every move and constantly warns her to leave her new abode for her own safety.

When none of the adults believe Alice’s claims that she is being followed by this enigmatic stranger she teams up with a group of local orphans to track down the stranger’s whereabouts and uncover the true identity of ‘The Man From Nowhere’.

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Haunters of the Deep

BFI / Andrew Bogle / 1984 / UK

Running Time: 59 minutes (58:31)

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 (Original)

Set against the picturesque backdrop of the Cornish coast, Andrew Bogle’s mystery thriller concerns itself with the dramatic events that unfold when a major US mining company looks to re-open the eerie, tin-rich Strangles Head Mine.

Though long disused, the mine’s dark past does not seem to phase the American businessman and investor in charge of the operation, and ignoring the warnings, soon finds himself, along with a group of three local miners, trapped in the mine hundreds of feet underground.

Visited by the spirit of a young boy who was tragically killed in the mine many decades ago, local boy Josh and Becky, the bored daughter of the American businessman, must utilise the knowledge and experience of the ageing former mine Captain, Tregellis (Andrew Keir), in order to decode the spirit’s clues and attempt to rescue the four trapped men.

A classic children’s mystery adventure in every sense, the combination of alluring scenery, good dramatic tension, well-achieved special effects, strong relationships between characters (and performers), and clever references to both the decline of the mining industry and the significance of the history and knowledge of the local community renders ‘Haunters of the Deep’ a gentle, atmospheric and very well crafted supernatural drama.

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Out of the Darkness

BFI / John Krish / 1985 / UK

Running Time: 66 minutes (01:05:36)

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 (Original)

In a similar fashion to ‘Haunters of the Deep’, John Krish’s unnerving thriller ‘Out of the Darkness’ places a primary focus on children utilising the knowledge and expertise of the locals to aid them in their mysterious quest.

Shot on location in Eyam, Derbyshire, the film draws on disturbing and tragic historic truths to depict the tale of a village haunted by unrevealed truths from the time of the Black Death.

The village of Eyam is perhaps best known for being the selfless, bubonic plague-stricken village that decided to quarantine itself when the Black Death first arrived there in August 1665 (via a parcel of damp cloth containing plague infested fleas sent from London to the village tailor, George Vicars), rather than allowing the infection to spread to other parishes further afield.

Nearly 350 years on from the tragic events that ultimately claimed the lives of over 260 villagers over a period of 14-months, a remembrance service is still held every Plague Sunday (the last Sunday in August) at Cucklett Delf, Eyam in honour of the extraordinary personal courage and self-sacrifice of the villagers.

When the Neil family decide to move to a dilapidated old cottage in the detached Derbyshire countryside, they soon come to discover that over three centuries earlier it was home to a family who were tragically struck down by the plague.

When the two Neil children and their friend Tom are visited by the ghost of a young boy who was killed in the epidemic, they enlist the help of local historian and folklore expert, Julian Reid (Michael Carter), in their quest to set the child’s spirit free and give the village back their heart.

‘Out of the Darkness’ proves another well produced thriller, again blending stunning scenery with strong performances, an intelligent plot and clever visual effects to create moments of tense, exciting and at times genuinely unnerving drama (the final 20 minutes or so is particularly effective).

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Whilst the three films included here are never going to be considered amongst the greatest works of children’s drama, in terms of what the Children’s Film Foundation was aiming to achieve, and considering the production restrictions and budgetary limitations with which the creative teams were faced during production, ‘The Man From Nowhere’, ‘Haunters of the Deep’ and ‘Out of the Darkness’ all prove eerily effective and highly commendable pieces of work; the likes of which are sadly rarely seen nowadays.

Performances from what are primarily unknown casts (save a few sturdy familiar faces), in particular the children (who effectively carry the films – with adults mostly taking supporting roles), are very strong; direction from Hill, Bogle and Krish is well-assured and the high production values are very well realised.

With the films transferred in High Definition from original 35mm interpositive (‘The Man From Nowhere’) and 16mm positive elements (‘Haunters of the Deep’ and ‘Out of the Darkness’), and the audio tracks transferred from 16mm magnetic track elements (‘The Man From Nowhere’) and optical elements (‘Haunters of the Deep’ and ‘Out of the Darkness’), image and audio quality is impressive across the collection. Due to a combination of age, limited equipment values and conditions of the original elements, there are signs of wear and tear present every now and then, and some of the darkest scenes suffer from crushing, appearing slightly fuzzy, however overall the films look and sound very nice and authentic. The films have not been touched with any unnecessary DNR or enhancement and remain, I imagine, pretty true to the original intentions of the productions, with no significant video or audio quality issues to report.

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Special Features:

Fully illustrated booklet with essays by The Man from Nowhere writer John Tully, actor Michael Carter and Dr. Rachel Moseley

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Overall:

An excellent collection of three very well crafted and unfortunately rarely seen children’s ghost stories thankfully salvaged from the wide-ranging CFF archive. A beautifully produced set and another excellent and very welcome addition to the BFI’s superb ‘Children’s Film Foundation Collection’ series.

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Release Date: 23 September, 2013

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