Friday, December 23, 2011

BBC Ghost Stories Aired at Christmastime

M.R. James, Montague Rhodes James, wrote several collections of short ghost stories in the early 1900s. He was a medieval scholar and for many years the Provost of King’s College. The ghost stories he wrote he shared with his students at Eton on Christmas Eve, which is a long standing tradition in England.

His tales unlike today’s horror stories were quiet in comparison. His stories did though amp up the horror quotient for his day. He wrote about demons, murderous zombies as well as spirits. He shared these bloodcurdling tales from 1918 until the late 1930s. One of his stories Casting the Runes became the 1950s film "Curse of the Demon," which in turn inspired Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell.”

The BBC adapted several of his stories for their annual television Christmas Ghost Story, which was aired in Great Britain from 1971 until 1978 in the month of December. They were shown under the title "A Ghost Story for Christmas." In 2005, BBC Four revived them during the Christmas season. Even today, these episodes are still remembered with fondness in the United Kingdom. Most are not available to buy or rent but YouTube has parts of many of them.

My favorite one first aired in 1976 and was the first non-M.R. James one shown in the series. It was adapted from a Charles Dickens’s story entitled, The SignalmanIt starred Denholm Elliott. It is about a railroad signalman who tells a curious traveller (I spell it traveler) how he has been troubled by a ghostly spectre (I spell it specter) that seems to predict calamity. This specter is a “harbinger”, which is a favorite theme of mine.
I like this story because the horror is subtle—it leaves it up to the viewer’s imagination, which in the long run is much more scary.

Below are the YouTube videos in 4 parts that show the episode in its entirety.


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