Sunday, 22 September 2013

DVD Review: The Children's Film Foundation Scary Stories

The Children's Film Foundation was a non-profit making organisation set up in 1951 by the owner of the Odeon and Rank cinema chains. It's objective was to provide home-grown entertainment for those wonderful Saturday morning screenings that provided fun and education and introduced thousands of children to the magic of cinema The fourth release in this collection also marks the opening of a truly mouth-watering selection of releases in the BFI 'Gothic - The Dark Heart Of Film' season.
Scary Stories begins with 'The Man From Nowhere'; a Victorian gothic thriller in which Alice Harvey - a young orphan - goes to live with her rich uncle in his country mansion. Alice is first taunted and then befriended by a gang of young urchins whose help will prove invaluable when Alice faces a nightmare situation. Multiple appearances of a tall dark stranger wearing a top hat, and issuing stern demands that Alice leave her uncle's abode strongly suggest a being from beyond the grave is haunting her every move. To make matters worse, Alice is the only person who can see this apparition, and her guardian and new found companions seem powerless to combat this invisible menace.Made in 1975 and directed by James Hill, The Man From Nowhere is a thoroughly enjoyable thriller that will delight children and adults alike. It combines the heady days of youthful exuberance with the excitement and dread that occur when something truly out of the ordinary comes along and puts bright sunlight firmly in the shade.There's also an important lesson at play here, that friendships can be forged by the most unlikely of pairings.

The second story - Andrew Bogle's 'Haunters Of The Deep' (1983) - takes place in Cornwall where an American businessman arrives to oversee the re-opening of a disused tin mine. Strangles Head Mine has its own dark secrets, and Josh and Becky (the daughter of the US magnate) are thrown together to confront the past. The splendid Andrew Keir plays an important part in proceedings, clearly relishing his role as the local who issues unheeded warnings concerning the history of the mine and how the past can reach into the present with potentially grave consequences. Haunters Of The Deep is a strong entry in this trilogy, with impressive effects sequences, a brisk pace and superb photography that captures the splendour of the Cornish coastline.
The final story in this collection is John Krish's 'Out Of The Darkness', shot in 1984. My home county of Derbyshire is probably the richest place in England for supernatural lore and ghostly sightings. Apparitions of Roman soldiers, witches returning from their lonely graves and the sounds of horse-drawn carriages moving unseen down otherwise silent streets are but a few examples of other-worldly interventions in modern-day life. So, it's entirely possible the Derbyshire village of Eyam harbours its own unquiet spirits.

In August 1665, a flea-infested bundle of cloth arrived from London, straight into the hands of the local tailor. This resulted in The Great Plague, which killed 260 out of the population of 343; curiously, the local gravedigger survived. Out Of The Darkness pitches camp in Eyam, where a family elect to live in a run-down cottage once inhabited by victims of 'The Black Death'. The mother (played by Jenny Tarren) encounters a local historian (Michael Carter, The Keep, Return Of The Jedi) who soon forms a bond with her sons and their school friend. Before long, the boys are witness to most unnerving manifestations, as the sins of the past reach out into the present in an effort to unlock the events behind the death of a child who just won't stay dead. Once again, the special effects are most impressive, and the theme of children responding to supernatural phenomena with courage and fortitude makes this a great way to end your viewing of this delightfully spooky trio of tales well told. This BFI release benefits hugely from brand new high definition transfers for all three films. Indeed, the picture quality is excellent, and there's an illustrated booklet with essays by writer John Tully (The Man From Nowhere), actor Michael Carter and Rachel Moseley. Perfect viewing for those cold, dark winter evenings.


  1. Fond memories of us forming lines of two by two, holding hands, and making the 300 yard annual pilgrimage from the school to the local cinema for our Xmas matinee treat - it always seemed to be an afternoon of Children's Film Foundation stuff. And while it may have only been 2 or 3 times we did this, during my 4 years at juniors it was an unforgettable experience since I had been going regularly to the cinema since the age of 3 but they only occasionally showed kids stuff.

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  3. Cheers, Nigel. I can recall seeing the likes of Chariots Of The Gods, The Bible, Magnificent Seven, Puppet On A Chain (and where is that on DVD?). Didn't get to see any CFF screenings, but they were golden days at those matinee screenings.

  4. I ve got a copy of Chariots of the Gods here, not seen it yet though. Read the book though: 3 times as barking as The Bible Code. Real headbanger stuff :)

  5. I read the book soon after seeing the feature. Yes, it is barking. Recall Chariots played as a double bill. May have been with Jason And The Argonauts, as that was doing the rounds at the time.