Thursday, 3 May 2012

Daytime viewing

I've blogged about ghosts before:  ghosts in houses I've been in, my husband's dream encounter with his recently deceased mother, and, most unnerving of all, a haunting by someone who is still alive.  Do I believe in ghosts?  Let's just say I've never actually seen one, nor do I particularly want to.  But I will admit that one of my guilty pleasures is Celebrity Ghost Stories on the Biography Channel.  I guess I don't mind other people's experiences of the paranormal.  Frankly, I feel rather the same about family weddings -- they're great if they're happening to someone else's family...

I've just had a birthday recently and a rather ghoulish theme emerged in the presents I was given.  This was not by design; the Resident Fan Boy has found it simpler to consult a rather ancient wish list I set up at, and thus I was rather startled to receive an old Granada Television anthology of ghost stories first transmitted in the early eighties entitled Shades of Darkness and the audiobook version of The Woman in Black.

Just as well the days are getting longer because there was no way I'd be working through these at night.

So I settled myself down with the DVD which features six stories, and discovered I'd remembered two of them well (which was why it was on my wish list), one vaguely, and the other three not all.  These are very old-fashioned ghost stories, none of them set any later than the 1940s, and filmed in the leisurely detailed way  which is verboten these days when the greatest crime of all is to keep anyone waiting.  The two I remembered the best were the two I found the creepiest:  The Intercessor, based on a short story by May Sinclair, with John Duttine (above) encountering the pitiful spectre of a little girl , and Afterward, based on a short story by Edith Wharton about a ghost which isn't revealed to be a ghost -- until afterward...


About six years after these stories appeared on television, some bright spark came up with the idea of dramatizing The Women in Black, an 1983 novel by Susan Hill, for British television --- on Christmas Eve, of course.  (Is this a British thing?  Why does their Christmas programming involve vampires, murder mysteries and Doctor Who?)  Being a Canadian, I didn't see this production until a year or two later (and definitely not at Christmas), but I remember being scared rigid by it.  I don't remember being quite so frightened by anything else on television with the possible exception of the Gulf War.

Based on the memory of that, I headed off to an early evening show of the latest incarnation of The Woman in Black starrng Daniel Radcliffe, having made a pact with Friend With Whom I Have Coffee.  (I figured this film might be a bit too intense for younger daughter.)

 I understand that many showings have turned into adolescent scream-fests.  I'm happy to report that this was not the case where we were, although FWWIHC and I may have cried out involuntarily from time to time while futilely attempting to climb into our medium popcorn bags.  For most of the flick, I coped by watching the action through my fleece top, and concentrating on the anachronisms (example:  death certificates would not have been typed; I'm a family historian -- I know about death certificates), and clinging to them like lifelines.  At one point, I willed myself to imagine the film crew in the haunted nursery with Daniel Radcliffe, anything to take myself out of the story.

So yeah, the movie was scary. FWWIHC told me, as we worked on suppressing our shivers during the drive home, that she would definitely not be taking her three daughters who range in ages from eleven to fifteen.  Smart move.  I've met her daughters. No point in giving them more ideas. They share a macabre sense of humour.  At least, I think they're joking...

By the end of the week, I'd calmed down a bit and wondered if the 1989 production (which stars, ironically enough, a young Adrian Rawlins who would later portray Daniel Radcliffe's father in the Harry Potter movies) was indeed as scary as I remembered.  I found it on YouTube of course and spent a cold afternoon watching it.  Like Shades of Darkness, the story-telling is at a slower pace, aimed at viewers from an era of  longer attention spans and perhaps a lower threshold of squeamishness. It's a quite different story from the current movie, set in a later time and featuring an ending that doesn't resemble that of the film in the slightest. (And the book is something else again, by the way.)

I found it creepy but not quite as terrifying as I remembered.  Until I walked into the kitchen and glanced out into our neighbour's backyard and saw someone standing by the fence....

It was a sagging line of coloured pennants which had somehow tricked my eyes.  I fixed myself a warm drink and sat down until my heart stopped pounding.

The episodes of Shades of Darkness are also available on YouTube.  Take a look if you have a taste for that kind of thing.  But I'd recommended viewing them in the daylight.  With someone in the house.  Alive, that is.

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