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One of a spate of M.R.James adaptations that the BBC shot from the late
'sixties to the early 'eighties. All of them were memorable but this is
comfortably the best. Michael Hordern is the hapless academic who goes to
the coast for a short holiday and accidentally awakens something unnatural
while pottering around in the remains of a Templar preceptory.
This isn't a story about a monster, though, but rather something that stays at the edge of perception. The supernatural events are alternated with the mundane day to day life at the boarding house where Hordern is staying. Everything seems commonplace but he -- and the viewer -- are troubled by the feeling that there are some things that should be left well alone. Finally, his nightmares become concrete and... Well, see the TV adaptation if you get the chance or read the short story upon which it is based (in which form it has the addendum of "my lad" on the title).
I'm not in the habit of handing out scores of ten with abandon but I can't think of anyway that this could have been improved. Unlike some of the other adaptations, Miller resists the urge to gild the lily, staying close to the original storyline and the production is all the stronger for it. James would certainly have approved. I just wish the BBC had the courage and imagination to make things like it now.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Eighteen years ago, when I was ten, I watched a short black and white film
that my mum had recorded from the TV. It chilled me and my friends at the
time, and the image of a frightened man in a room, and being chased down a
beach, has stayed with me ever since. I've often wondered what it was, and
then recently Channel 4 showed the 100 most scary moments, and there it was.
And now I've finally got hold of the DVD, and it scared me all over again.
The professor's nightmares are especially chilling. The sparing use of
sound, the misty black and white, the use of close-ups, all these combine to
make what could be quite ridiculous into something quite unsettling. The
final scene in particular is horrible. I think it touches on fears we have
all had at night of strange sounds in the dark, and the unmistakable feeling
of a presence in the room. The way Michael Horden portrays these fears is
brilliant. I love the way he is reduced from a philosophising academic to a
terrified, murmuring, inarticulate shell of a man. He doesn't run around
screaming like so many ghost story films tend towards. He is simply afraid
and rooted to the spot, unable to comprehend the supernatural goings on
right in front of him.
I challenge anyone to watch this short film and not feel afraid, and uncomfortable.
"Whistle and I'll Come to You" is a real oddity.
This video was released by the BFI as part of its new Archive TV series along with "The Stone Tape". While "The Stone Tape" is instantly accessible sci-fi drama this is a different story altogether.
Written by M.R. James, "Whistle" tells the rather sad story of a bachelor lecturer who enjoys a holiday by the sea. While out on his travels, the man comes across an old wooden whistle which he proceeds to blow. From this point forward his nights are restless, his dreams full of weird visions of something chasing him.
This paranormal drama is well directed by Johnathan Miller on wonderfully grainy 16mm film. Indeed the stock is so scratchy as to render the sheet, chasing the professor along the beach, almost unrecognisable.
Michael Horden's wonderfully understated performance complements the stark, dreary beach scenes very well. Horden, playing here an introverted bachelor with no capacity for conversation, is a revelation, particularly in the chilling final scene which cleverly mixes slow-mo film with distorted sound effects.
"Whistle" certainly takes a while to get used to. In this day and age, a film with such a slow pace would never get released and it's more or less over before it's started, but give it a shot and watch and re-watch to appreciate this mysterious gem.
I couldn't approach this with quite the level of enthusiasm as some of
the others here after just one watch. I decided to watch it a second
time and then I began to pick up on more, and thus began to appreciate
it more. It may be too slowly paced and subtle for some tastes, but I
think the majority of horror fans will find it a rewarding 42-minute
view, if only for three very creepy sequences, the desolate locations
and Dick Bush's gorgeous, haunting black-and-white photography. It
opens with brief voice over narration that gives us a little history on
source author James as well as an overview of his story, which is said
to have been written as a warning about the dangers of "intellectual
pride." Professor Parkins (Michael Hordern) is looking for some peace
and solitude, so he goes to stay a spell at a quaint little hotel
that's close to the ocean. During a trip to the beach he wanders into a
small ancient graveyard, finds an old whistle and brings it back to his
room. He cleans it and notices an inscription that promises that
whoever blows it will be paid a visit... by someone. Being an academic
and realist, and thus a supernatural skeptic, Parkins decides to blow
the horn despite the warning and ends up getting more than he bargained
The first 15 or so minutes are spent with Hordern wandering around the hotel and incoherently mumbling, babbling and groaning to both himself and the staff. On my first watch I found this incredibly irritating and had no clue what the point of it was. Now I realize it was to illustrate his inability to relate to or socialize with "normal" everyday people. To become immersed in academia and intellectual pursuits is often to alienate yourself from the rest of society. After awhile you just can't relate and simple things like basic interaction or making simple casual conversation during a small dinner become awkward and difficult. Though these scenes do have some purpose, I have to admit I felt they were a bit overlong to the point of trying one's patience at times.
However, when it comes to striking and chilling imagery, this one hits a home run on many occasions, which is impressive for a film with such a short run time. As the professor starts to leave the beach after obtaining the whistle, a silhouetted figure stands solemnly behind him as the sun is setting and the waves are crashing. The lack of a music score or a reactionary sound cue makes it even more chilling. There's also a brilliantly set-up nightmare sequence which make excellent use of clipped dialogue and manages to make a piece of cloth horrifying. And then there's the finale, which I won't go into, but it's also pretty darn creepy. The beach locations are excellent, partially because they're not cluttered. Aside from a few poles in the sand and some tall wavering grass blowing in the wind, it's a beautiful yet blank pallet that makes certain images (the mysterious figure, a tombstone) stand out in a striking and ominous way.
Fans of such films as THE INNOCENTS (1961) and A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS (1972) should enjoy what this brings to the table.
Amazed to discover this has been released by the BFI, - for a rather hefty £20. I've been intrigued by this, not least by the comments on IMDb. I thought this was quite different from the story by M.R.James, Jonathan Miller characterising the Professor as the typical, socially inadequate, bumbling Academic, someone who has obviously spent too much time alone in his Ivory Tower. He really is quite funny at times (the breakfast scenes in particular I found very amusing) - and quite annoying. Make no mistake, this is first and foremost a character study and Michael Hordern is quite brilliant as Professor Parkins. The story or supernatural element is very low key, so much so that we are left with the distinct impression that it could all have taken place in the Professors' increasingly distracted mind. That said, the rustling of the sheets is still creepy. The location is excellent and suitably chilly, the lack of music accentuating the visuals. The ending was perhaps too abrupt for my liking but effective nonetheless and it is certainly worth seeking out for Hordern's performance alone. There are some excellent sleeve notes by Kim Newman, too.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I would say that this is the best screen adaption of M.R. James's best
ghost story. It follows the original story tastefully avoiding the
temptation to update the plot by sensationalising it or overdoing the
supernatural events that take place. Nor does it suffer from the BBC
dramatization syndrome of the 60s and 70s that they are essentially
Miller's adaptation is filmed on location and is refreshingly cinematic in appeal. Instead of trying to follow the story's dialogue word for word, it focuses instead on conveying the mood of the story. There is no music added to accompany the drama. Silence permeates the film, heightened by the sparse dialogue and attention to sounds such as the clinking of cutlery and chairs being moved. Amidst this we hear the rambling thoughts and mutterings of the main character - Professor Parkins played by Michael Horden. All of this conspires to convey the existential loneliness of Parkins somehow trapped in a world of the infinite and undefinable symbolised by the beautiful black and white photography of a remote region of the Norfolk coast. Hordern does an excellent job of bringing the fidgety, crusty college professor character to life, and is a sheer delight to watch as he mumbles and reflects his way through the long scenes, often alone.
One of the reasons the adaptation works so well is because the original story was very visual, often describing the images appearing in the imagination of the professor. Miller has recreated these visuals exactly as I had imagined them when I first read the story as a boy. But the main reason this is so good is because all the right ingredients are there. A great story, good cast, and good direction.
No fancy special effects needed.
Professor Parkins (Michael Hordern) is a bookish intellectual academic,
who craves solitude, he books in to a remote hotel by the English
coast, frequented by holidaying golfers. He isn't very interested in
the hotel staff or the other guests and barely recognizes they are
there, due to his very deep thinking processes. He flat out and rather
rudely rejects an offer to play a round of golf from a breakfast guest,
instead mumbling that he has better plans. These plans involve a good
brisk walk, a stroll on the beach and a visit to the local cemetery,
stopping only to partake of a jolly old packed lunch. Parkins is at
home uncovering the long abandoned graveyard, removing the moss and
reading the names of centuries old locals, he stops every so often to
sit in the nearby sand dunes, eating a sandwich and generally looking
about and taking in the sights, all the time seemingly enjoying his
inaudible conservations with himself. On one of these trips, he finds
an old artefact covered in mud and sand, he brings it back to his room
and after cleaning it, finds that it is a whistle with a Latin
inscription on it, which translates as "Whom is this that is coming" to
which Parkins flippantly replies, "let's blow it and see" Almost
immediately Parkins becomes aware of unsettling noises amidst the
sudden wind that blows outside. He dismisses them at settles down to
sleep for the night.
The following morning over breakfast he gets into a discussion on the existence of ghosts with the same cordial guest he has spoken to before. Parkins revels in upping the ante by intellectualising the conversation and the argument, sitting back in his chair he is arrogant and impressed with his own adept skill at debunking the conventions of the supernatural.
Back on the beach, he spots a solitary stationary figure, he repeatedly looks back in the figures direction and its lack of movement seems to startle Parkins, who scurries back to the hotel. His sleep is now becoming unsettled and sporadic, as strange noises and rustlings waken him every so often. As well as this he is having terrifying dreams of being chased, that haunt his every sleeping moment. As an academic he struggles to come to terms with these unexplainable irregularities.
This is another fine M.R.James adaptation of his 1904 work Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad, this time adapted by all round talent Jonathan Miller. Miller's introduction tells us that this is a ghost story but that it is primarily a moral tale, a warning against intellectualism, that tells us, those who crave solitude can miss out on seeing the whole picture and do so at their own peril. This is very much reflected in this haunting tale. Parkins is very much wrapped up in his work and his own head, that his committal to science and fact, blinds him to the dangers he is in, with devastating consequences. Ghost stories tend to work best in black and white and Miller wisely chooses monochrome to present his work. In tone, it is very reminiscent of other genre classics like The Innocents, I even detected some Chiaroscuro visuals that would not look out of place in a Lang film. Miller's main device is to keep the dialogue to a minimum, this has a very unsettling effect on the viewer, as during these pauses, we scan Parkin's very still bedroom for a visual image to add to the horrifying noises we hear, as such the terrors are in our head, as we await a chilling moment, that may or may not be revealed. Like most of James's works, the film is notable for it slow pace and attention to detail, there are no lazy jump scares here, so when the spectral figure does eventually appear, the simplicity of its execution is quite terrifying and I can honestly say it did make my hair stand on end, I haven't been this unsettled in quite some time.
Hordern a fine stage and screen actor, is excellent as the forgetful and withdrawn professor, his constant conversations with himself and his inaudible indecipherable mumblings, can become a little irritating, but they are perfectly suited to the character, in any case proper audible and probably irrelevant dialogue might just have distracted from the great doom laden atmosphere that slowly builds. As Ghost stories go this is superb, mumblings aside, its damn near perfect.
This short ghost story was written by M.R. James and directed by
Jonathan Miller for the BBC program Omnibus. James was a highly
accredited academic, known for his work in the fields of medieval and
biblical history. But he also moonlighted as a writer, notably most
renown for his ghost stories.
This film tells the story of a skeptically minded professor who moves into an old hotel, where he is confronted with the philosophical conundrum of whether he believes ghosts exist or not.
One day he goes out wandering, and finds an old engraved flute sticking out of the ground near an eroding gravesite. He takes the flute, does a rubbing to see what the engraving says, and even gives it a hoot.
It's after this instance that odd things start to occur. He starts to have weird dreams, and hear unexplainable noises.
One day he wakes up to find that both beds in his room had been slept in. But despite this, and ignoring the previous nights' occurrences, he manages to rationalize an explanation for everything- usually in absence of any evidence to back up his claims. This does, however, encourage him to read up on spiritualism, though.
Because he feels it necessary to remain in such a frame of mind, he suffers a mental breakdown when confronted with an actual physical manifestation...and this is where the film ends.
On top of it's shortness, the film is very slow moving and lacking of any major plot development. It ends up sort of like a "slice of life film", in that it just ends without winding anything up. But it also, has a trippy psychedelic element, in regards to the camera-work, which goes all "wavy" and "dreamlike" at times. Overall, I found this film to be a pretty basic, psychological look at the effects of the ghost phenomenon on an ultra-skeptic. It has atmosphere, but doesn't do much to develop or immerse you in the storyline. It ends up like a really crappy and poorly shot episode of The Twilight Zone. For this reason, I give it a 3 out of 10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As some reviewers have pointed out, it is a slow film, nothing in
particular happens for much of the duration. However it is so well
shot, eerily so, that the slowness works in its favour. In fact it
perfectly sums up the main characters life until he discovers the
The dream sequences, while brief, are the most genuinely terrifying scenes I've seen in a film, like something out of a nightmare. The sound effects are gruesome too, like he can't get the words out.
If you're after blood, gore and music-video editing, this isn't for you. But if you want to feel unsettled, it's perfect.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As part of the BBC's 'Omnibus' strand, this 'television movie' had an
introductive voice-over from the man who adapted the story, Jonathan
Miller. Beginning with two unsmiling maids making up a pair of beds in
a hotel somewhere on the East Coast, all filmed in crisp black and
white. Then we are introduced to the terrific Michael Hordern playing
Professor Parkin, a scholarly isolationist making his way toward the
building. He is confronted with the mighty Proprietor (the excellent
George Woodbridge, veteran of many early Hammer horrors). Stilted and
awkward their opening pleasantries are, the Proprietor's words become
mangled and incomprehensible when pointing out the amenities. Oddness
is immediately confirmed from these two, lending the proceedings a
disjointed quality all of their own often exemplified by Parkin's
separation from the other guests, who are all otherwise gracious
enough. Parkin's world acknowledges them, but is content to remain
During his 'trudge' across the windswept beaches, Parkin happens across a whistle made of bone obscured by sand. He is intrigued, keeps it, and begins to feel the presence of 'another.'
Hordern is excellent throughout, his private irritation at the stubborn haddock on his fork, or the sand that clings to the whistle as he tries to examine it, convey a man completely relaxed and comfortable with his complete lack of social interaction. His brief conversations are interesting because he could quite easily be eulogising with himself rather than with whomever he is sharing a scene. His terror is equally private, which allows us the possibility that it exists in his mind alone. And yet, when we are allowed glimpses of it, it is fittingly obscure and well-realised and quite unnerving.
Parkin's strangled, guttural half-cries at the climactic moments are successfully reminiscent of the noises we sometimes make when emerging from a nightmare. His terror is palpable and disturbing.
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