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A Warning to the Curious (1972)

An archeologist goes treasure hunting along the English coast in search of a lost, fabled crown that supposedly helps protect Great Britain against invasion.


Lawrence Gordon Clark (uncredited)


M.R. James (story), Lawrence Gordon Clark


Complete credited cast:
Peter Vaughan ... Mr Paxton
Clive Swift ... Dr. Black
Julian Herington Julian Herington ... Archaeologist
John Kearney John Kearney ... Ager / Ghost
David Cargill ... Boots
George Benson George Benson ... Vicar
Roger Milner Roger Milner ... Antique Shop Owner (as Roger Millner)
Gilly Fraser Gilly Fraser ... Girl
David Pugh David Pugh ... Porter
Cyril Appleton ... Labourer
Learn more

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An amateur archaeologist, Mr Paxton (Peter Vaughan), travels to the coastal Norfolk town of Seaburgh. His research has uncovered an old Anglo-Saxon legend telling of three fabled crowns that protect England from invasion. One is said to have been lost in a war, a second lost to the sea - but the third is thought to be hidden somewhere near Seaburgh. Paxton checks into a local inn where, despite the suspicions of the locals, he hears that another archaeologist searching for the crown was found dead more than a decade ago. His inquiries lead him to the grave of a local man, William Ager who was said to be the last of his line and a guardian of the crown. Paxton goes to search the woods near Ager's former home but his excavations will unearth something more than the fabled crown. Written by Mark_a_Wood <markawood@hotmail.co.uk>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Drama | Horror | Mystery


Did You Know?


The church used in the scenes where Mr Paxman is talking to the vicar about the coat of arms and sees a ghost figure is St Marys church, Happisburgh Norfolk. See more »


Featured in The Lost Ghost Story with Mark Gatiss (2013) See more »


Density 21.5
by Edgard Varèse
See more »

User Reviews

"He was here, you see? He came to take it back"
4 October 2008 | by ackstasisSee all my reviews

I'm not the greatest horror fan you'll ever find, but I know what I find creepy, and this is it. Modern horror directors, most of whom rely on violence, gore and sudden shocks as cheap scare-tactics, ought to take a look 'A Warning to the Curious (1972),' a short made-for-TV horror story presumably produced on a shoestring budget. It seems an odd thing to be frightened about, but I find few things more unsettling than an anonymous person standing at a distance, watching purposefully in your direction. Watching and waiting, watching and waiting. This film was adapted from a story by M.R. James {whose writing also inspired the equally-wonderful 'Whistle and I'll Come to You (1968)'}, and was directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark, the second film in BBC's acclaimed "Ghost Story for Christmas" tradition. While not particularly faithful to James' original story (of which an audio reading is available on the British Film Institute DVD), there are certainly enough unsettling moments to keep you awake at night.

Mr. Paxton (Peter Vaughan) is an amateur archaeologist who, having arrived in the small town of Seaburgh, is set on unearthing an ancient Saxon crown, the last of three buried along the Norfolk coast to protect its inhabitants from overseas invasion. Despite the vaguely-intimidating behaviour of the suspicious townsfolk, Paxton eventually succeeds in locating and excavating the prized treasure, but soon discovers that he has also unearthed something quite unearthly. Wherever he treads, he feels as though he is not alone, a presence personified only by the flicker of a shadow in the corner of his eye, a spectre also perceived by those around him. This is the ghost of William Ager (John Kearney), the final member of an old family dedicated to protecting the secret of the crown, even after death. Ager, dressed in a silly black cloak, might have made a laughable villain, but creative camera-work and editing – shooting from a distance, obscured by darkness or fog, blurred photography – means that this mysterious phantom is always at the back of our minds.

'A Warning to the Curious' is not quite as subtle as 'Whistle and I'll Come to You' – the ghost is seen, however briefly, relatively early in the film – making it more accessible to the average viewer, though some may require a few minutes to come to terms with the unique, underplayed style of British low-budget horror film-making. The photography is suitably atmospheric, with subdued colours decorating the bleak Norfolk landscape, though black-and-white would undoubtedly have been even better. The soundtrack, which '2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)' fans will notice includes György Ligeti's "Atmospheres," is perfect for evoking the ever-escalating presence of the mysterious and increasingly-sinister unknown. The acting is excellent both from Peter Vaughan and fellow visitor Dr. Black (Clive Swift) in whom he confides. All this, through the steady craftsmanship of director Lawrence Gordon Clark, adds together to create an excellent British ghost story chiller. To avoid casting doubt on my mental stability, I'll refrain from describing the vivid Ager-related nightmare I experienced just last night.

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Release Date:

24 December 1972 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

Ghost Story for Christmas: A Warning to the Curious See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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