We live in a golden age of things to watch.
There’s the addictive Trump Reality Show broadcast 24/7/365 by CNN, MNBC, and Faux News.
HBO, Netflix, Amazon, etc. are producing their own wonders.
That being so, why spend time on 40-50 year-old film adaptations of 100 year-old ghost stories?
Perhaps, because at times they also fill me with wonder and trepidation.
The ghost stories of M. R. James are erudite, they are a luxurious read, and if read thoughtfully, they are scary as hell.
Sleep disturbers? Oh-h-h-h, yeah.
Two of his stories; “O’ Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” and “Casting the Runes” are not only effective as stories but seem particularly useful for film treatment.
The multiple times I’ve watched the 1968 BBC Omnibus production of “O’ Whistle” featuring a remarkable performance by Michael Hordern (mumbling, insular, soaked in intellectual hubris), unseat my ease every time.
Jacques Tourneur directed Curse of the Demon (1957) based on James’ “Casting the Runes”. I am unabashedly of the legions of film fanatics that revere Tourneur’s work with producer Val Lewton; Cat People, The Leopard Man, and I Walked With a Zombie.
<< Let’s take a quick time-out here. I hear the snickering over I Walked With a Zombie. You could not be more wrong. It’s a voodoo rendering of JANE EYRE and totally mesmerizing to watch…though, admittedly the appearance of Sir Lancelot, a calypso troubadour is a head-scratcher. >>
Tourneur’s treatment of James’ story is not faithful, but who cares? Dana Andrews captures our interest and sympathy. We tag along breathlessly as he un-puzzles the situation. Niall MacGinnis is charmingly and gleefully evil. I would considered it a life well-lived if I never met the man. Séances, mysterious storms, hypnotism, curses on parchment, trains, planes, and automobiles in Britain – what’s not to like?
Thanks to my receiving another box of delights today from my friends at Sinister Cinema, tonight I watched a 1979 British TV production of “Casting the Runes” featuring Iain Cuthbertson and Jan Francis. Once again the adaptation is loose, but once again, who cares? The premise is plausible, the threat is real, the mechanisms are eminently difficult but doable…and the outcome is troubling. I’d call that; “mission accomplished”.
As loose as these adaptations are and as gifted as the adapters are, I can’t help thinking if the original story had not been so very fine…
Perhaps one more mosey through the M. R. James canon might be in order.