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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 August 2014
A masterpiece of construction. A splendid script, combined with stunning photography and first rate acting result in an impressive example of what the BBC could once achieve. The BFI should be congratulated on making this splendid blu-ray available complete with its interesting extras. Highly recommended for lovers of early ghost stories - particular Le Fanu - and for those who appreciate well constructed and designed decidedly different approaches to the genre. But be aware the style and technique employed won't appeal to everyone particularly those seeking more traditional approaches to the supernatural on TV!
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on 9 April 2017
Nice spooky Ghost Story from the good days of television. Quality acting also
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on 2 April 2017
Lovely to be able to own this instead of an ageing recording on VHS tape.
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on 16 May 2014
Well, it took decades, but now this great J. Sheridan LeFanu ghost (zombie? demon?) story is on DVD, and even on Blu-Ray. Now I've ordered it, I'll soon be able to watch this at home, alongside the other masterpieces of 1970s horror TV that I've gathered throughout the years, such as "Whistle and I'll Come to You" and "A Warning to the Curious".

All I can say is, it's about bloody time! It's almost as if the BBC, or whoever owns these shows, doesn't like to make money. I wonder how much longer it will take to get some other classic shows onto DVD, such as the almost forgotten series "Ashenden". And how about a high definition remastered version of "Brideshead Revisited"?
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on 20 November 2013
This classic piece of television is quite rightly considered a masterpiece. Often considered a relative of Lawrence Gordon Clark's Ghost Stories for Christmas since it aired the Christmas after that series ended, it is however quite a different animal.

True, it's a chilling ghost story from Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, writer of the most sublime ghost stories and M.R. James's favourite. This film however takes a much more artistic approach and is a study of Dutch art, its meanings and its creators as much as a dramatic ghost story. Its documentary leanings come from it being part of the Omnibus strand of BBC2 arts programming.

Schalcken's candlelit pictures of dark rooms certainly capture the imagination, and certainly captured Le Fanu's, as it inspired him to create this superb story. Better yet, Leslie Meganhey's film perfectly captures both the feel of the story and the inspiration behind it. This is the perfect adaptation and is completely in tune with the original material, producing a perfect dramatisation.

Every frame of this film is a work of art, with every scene exquisitely composed. It really is like a Dutch master painting come to life. There are lots of wide shots with things happening in all corners. This film needs to be enjoyed several times over, first for the story and then then the beauty of the production, and paused to spot the extra details. This is where the high definition Blu-Ray really excels as it enables this to be enjoyed so much more. There are many superb images in this film but for me the greatest triumph was the candlelit scenes. These capture the magic of the original paintings so well. The scenes are dark, with the light of the candle illuminating so atmospherically. The lighting and camera crew on this film were clearly geniuses.

As always the BFI have turned out a superb release. The DVD and Blu-Ray are both have identical contents, with further dramatisations of stories by Edgar Allen Poe and Lord Dunsany as bonus features. Neither of these match the main feature but are superb to have as a bonus. The picture quality is superb, though with some film grain. For a 70s TV drama it's fantastic though, and wonderful to see it in high definition.

A simply superb release - highly recommended.
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"His later work, which I promise you will see and remember, seems to have its roots in some private world of dreams, perhaps never otherwise expressed."

Produced as part of the BBC's Omnibus arts documentary strand rather than by its drama department, 1977's Schalcken the Painter feels like a close relation to the channel's revered Ghost Story for Christmas specials. Using Sheridan Le Fanu's 1839 Strange Event in the Life of Schalcken the Painter as its starting point, it weaves a story around the real 17th Century Dutch artist's paintings that's a combination of ghost story and twisted morality play, but those coming to it expecting a conventional horror story are likely to come away disappointed. Director Leslie Megahey's idea was to subvert an art film and turn it into something else, but the art is very much in the foreground, with its story unfolding slowly and subtly, with much of the horror unfolding between the brushstrokes.

It begins with Godfried Schalcken (Jeremy Clyde) a student of Gerrit Dau (Maurice Denham) and quietly in love with the master painter's niece (Cheryl Kennedy) - or, as Charles Gray's narrator notes, "as much as a Dutchman can be." But the appearance of the deathly Vanderhausen (John Justin, looking like a freshly exhumed corpse, his appearances heralded by the creak of a floorboard and always discovered in the frame rather than making an entrance) changes all that when he makes Dau an offer he cannot refuse for her hand: "You need not pledge yourself unnecessarily, but I think when you see the value of my commission you will find it is necessary." Rather than run away with her, Schalcken breaks her heart by promising to buy back her marriage contract once he has made his name and fortune, only for both Vanderhausen and the niece to disappear without trace until one night the manic and terrified girl returns begging for protection and repeating "The dead and the living can never be one"...

Along with the deliberate pacing, the veiled nature of the plot may frustrate some, and the film is in many ways more about mood and atmosphere than plot - at times it's more interested in the shifting light and shadows as a candle moves around a statue's face. Yet that emphasis on the visual over the narrative seems entirely appropriate for a film about an artist and the look of the of the film is remarkable, the lighting and colour looking uncannily like a living painting of the period, with careful composition and a measured editing style that allows you to feel like you're in a private gallery viewing with plenty of time to take in each detail. Like Barry Lyndon, it uses natural light and candlelight, the latter burning brightly but still unable to cast any light on the surrounding darkness to mirror both Vermeer and Schalcken's own visual style (and not just Schalcken's: at one point Rembrandt makes a brief appearance looking just like his self-portrait). There's a documentary-like attention to detail too, with the scrubbing and clothing of the artist's model carried out without any regard for either her comfort or even her humanity, reducing her to an object to be reproduced on canvas. And it's that rejection of the human comforts for artistic success that's at the heart of this dark tale: Schalcken's damnation, like Dau's, comes from forsaking and ultimately damning the human being who should be closest to them. It's a simple enough moral, but delivered with a spellbinding style rare in television work of any era.

There's an intriguing interview featurette on the BFI's Blu-ray/DVD combo with director Megahey, editor Paul Humphries and lighting cameraman John Hooper that reveals the development of the piece and the casting process. The narrator was originally intended as an onscreen figure and written with Vincent Price in mind, hoping that his love of art would attract him to the project, and when he passed on it was offered to Peter Cushing, who found the script extremely distasteful and rejected it in no uncertain terms. Similarly the role of Schalcken's mentor was originally intended for Arthur Lowe. There's also an explanation of why the final painting was an original work created for the film after they found themselves unable to locate the one Le Fanu referred to or even confirm it had ever existed. Additionally, there are two short films, The Pit (a stylised half hour adaptation of The Pit and the Pendulum from 1962 that includes some production design sketches as well) and The Pledge from 1981 (in which a trio of petty criminals resolve to cut down a colleague from the gallows tree) as well as the customary booklet.
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on 26 December 2013
I bought this dvd because it is a ghost story. But what a story! Forget clanging chains, winding sheets etc. This one is a chiller to the marrow. You wake up the next day and you still cannot shake it off, it is visually striking - the scenes reminded me of Vermeer and De Hooch. There is great stillness and very little dialogue, what is emphasised is the greed for gold and ambition to be famous. Schalcken is in love with Dou's niece but he is cold and does not put up a fight for her to save her from the tragedy that was waiting to happen. She is just a pawn in her uncle's hand and he is ready to let her go to the evil rich man for the gold he puts under the old man's nose. Schalcken does not even try to save her when she returns briefly. It is only when its too late Schalcken is aware of his loss. It is a powerful ghost story, but perhaps too powerful for family viewing. Perhaps I would have slept more easily if I had seen the Canterville Ghost instead.
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on 27 October 2013
I have been waiting and waiting for this terrifying BBC ghost story to be available on release to the public. Originally shown at Christmas 1979 (when the BBC used to produce high quality Christmas ghost stories on an annual basis), it is absolutely mesmerising and very frightening. The wedding night scene between Rose and her new "husband" is utterly chilling and has remained with me for years. A must see.
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on 14 January 2014
Very good storyline. A masterpiece production . Its as if you are actually within the story, due to the superb photography and spooky
atmosphere. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.....
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on 8 December 2013
It is a powerful testimonial to this BBC TV film that I have never forgotten it after seeing it only once back in 1980. I have forgotten which new cable network carried it, the long gone CBS Cable or the then new Arts & Entertainment network. Doesn't really matter. What's important is the impression it made. I had read the original Sheridan LeFanu story many years before in an anthology called FRIGHT and then in a collection of his stories. Although not the same, I thought this adaptation captured the eseence of the story perfectly. I had never heard the name of the artist Gottfried Schalcken before but when I first saw his paintings I recognized some of them especially the one of the man offering the woman gold coins by candlelight, a scene which is beautifully reproduced in the movie. In fact the lighting throughout the film is exemplary.

In addition to being familiar with the story, what really drew me to this movie and made a lasting impression was the recreation of 17th century Dutch painting techniques. The scene where Schalcken (Jeremy Clyde) pinpricks a scene and then blows away the charcoal dust was remarkable. When I saw the movie GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, I immediately flashed back to SCHALCKEN. It was good to see Maurice Denham as the elderly painter. I knew him from several films most notably NIGHT OF THE DEMON and then there was John Justin who was visually unforgettable as the Demon Lover Vanderhausen. Could this really be Prince Ahmad from THE THIEF OF BAGDAD? Cheryl Kennedy was beautiful and tragic as the niece and who could forget the final scene in the church crypt. Charles Gray's narration was the perfect final touch.

For years I could find no trace of SCHALCKEN. Back in the 1980s and 1990s there was no real way to reference films when you had little to go on. The 21st century has given us the internet and sites like -imdb- where a film is only a keyboard away. Of course when I finally tracked SCHALCKEN down it was only to discover that it wasn't available and didn't look like it would be available anytime soon. I knew that if it ever did become available, amazon.uk would be the place to find it. Finally, in November 2013, I saw this Blu Ray/DVD combo and promptly ordered it. It was as good as I remembered it, actually better because I understood more about it. In addition to the choice of formats it comes with a 24 page booklet and loads of extra features including a background interview with the filmmaker and several other short films. Thank you BFI/BBC!
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