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A frightening story but which suffers from poor 1970s BBC production values.
on 18 September 2012
While this is a scary horror film in its own right, with a disturbing atmosphere, I consider it to be one of the less successful adaptations of the MR James ghost story classics. The narrative framework is dispensed with in this adaptation, which is ok to do in an adaption, so long as the director uses other techniques to compensate. However, in this adaption, all that side of the story is completely ignored, which distances us from the characters and setting.
The biggest problem for me was the fact that somehow it just didn't come across to me as a plausible period Ghost Story. The acting from most of the lesser known actors was terrible and they all looked too modern, too 1970ish, Peter Vaughan included. Vaughan seemed miscast as Paxton, and his wardrobe wrong. 1970s BBC production values didn't help.
Finally, some important subtleties were overlooked. For example, the "breathless, lungless laugh" mentioned in the original text, which always struck me as a scary sound, is performed as a wheezing laugh in this adaptation to lesser effect; while the sensational and graphical portrayal of the brutal murder at the end of the movie seems more befitting of scene from a 1970s Hammer Horror film. In contrast James's stories always ended by tastefully avoiding such confrontations, opting to describe only the circumstances of discovery of the body, leaving the rest to the readers' imagination.