Scary Stories by the Children's Film Foundation- Cult TV Review

The Children’s Film Foundation’ was founded in 1951 and over 30 years produced many high quality films and drama to healthily entertain the younger generation. Three of the stories are collected here under the ‘Scary Stories’ theme and that is an apt description for this trilogy of tales. I had never seen the series before but was recommended it by Amazon based on my previous purchases so thought why not give it a whirl?

‘The Man From Nowhere’ is the first and oldest of the tales and can be considered a gothic story, in terms of the atmosphere and mood created. A young orphaned girl, Alice, is sent to live with her rich uncle in an isolated country house but is soon menaced by a mysterious figure in black, warning her to leave the accursed place. The foreboding figure emerges suddenly and just as quickly vanishes into the ether, leading to the adults not believing Alice. With the help of some plucky local orphans Alice soon gets to the bottom of the mystery.

This is a gentle gothic tale but a well crafted one that builds tension as Alice is worried that she is losing her mind. A great start to the collection!

Tale two, ‘Haunters of the Deep,’ is a mystery thriller set against the dramatic backdrop of the Cornish coast. When an abandoned mine is found to contain a rich vein of precious metals, an American business man and his daughter come to investigate the possible investment opportunities. However, they ignore the warnings of an old miner who says that the mine is cursed with the ghosts of dead miners. When the prophecy of doom comes to pass, the businessman and miners are trapped in the tunnels with a supernatural force as well as the Atlantic Ocean seeping in.

For such a short tale the tension cranks up pretty quickly and the supernatural element is sufficiently spooky to be Dr Who-esque level scary.

The final tale, ‘Haunters of the Deep’, is shot on location in the village of Eyam, Derbyshire, a town known for being selfless when the villagers of the time quarantined themselves when the Black Death arrived there in 1665. The film relies on this fact to present a spooky tale about a young family who decide to move into a cottage there, only for the children to be plagued with visions from the past.

‘Out of the Darkness’ is an excellently presented children’s thriller which blends strong historical drama alongside solid acting from young and old cast alike. The last 15 or so minutes are genuinely quite tense and exciting and the fact that you learn a lot about the history of the area is a real boon.

Overall, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with this collection as all the stories were all effective and, considering the obvious budgetary and production limitations, well done with just enough spookiness to be mildly scary without terrifying the youths it was intended for. The child actors, who are in the lead roles for all of the tales, are all solid and perform honestly and earnestly without meandering onto cheesy melodrama.

At just under 3 hours this collection is pleasant stuff and, whilst not mind-blowing, is lovely matinee viewing at home with a nice cup of tea and biscuits. Preferably on a rainy Sunday….

LINK- The Secret Garden (BBC)- Cult TV Review

LINK- Children of the Stones- Cult TV Review

LINK- The Dead of Night (BBC)- Cult TV Review

LINK- The Stone Tapes (BBC)- Cult TV Review

LINK- Jim Henson’s The Storyteller- Cult TV Review

The Secret Garden BBC - Cult TV Review

There have been many adaptations of The Secret Garden, but the Agnieszka Holland directed film from 1993 starring Kate Maberly and Dame Maggie Smith with music by one of my favourite composers, Zbigniew Preisner, is the high watermark for adaptations. I have, however, heard much praise heaped on the BBC children's TV series and so I thought I'd better check it out.

The story is a classic and tells the tale of young Mary Lennox, the spoilt girl from India, who comes to live in a big, remote house in Yorkshire when her parents pass away from cholera. She is taken under the guardianship of a distant uncle who doesn't seem to have time for her. For Mary the house contains many mysteries including the sounds of someone crying at night and tales of a secret garden contained on the grounds. Over the course of several months Mary solves these mysterious and brings warmth and light into the dark, dank manor house.

The series first aired from January to March 1975 and was very popular in its day. As expected from the BBC the period detail is spot on and the charm is there with an impressive performance from the cast all round, especially the lead Sarah Hollis Andrews. She adds a layer of characterisation and sympathy to her initially spoilt Mary Lennox, so you can see her character grow and mature over the course of the episodes.

During the 7 episodes, weighing in at 200 minutes,  Frances Hodgson Burnett's story is allowed to breath and come to life in a most pleasing way. The story is told at a slow deliberate pace and this allows you to appreciate the acting performances, cinematography and delightful musical score, which complements the whole work and brings it all together. As someone who has never seen the series and thus holds no nostalgia I can say that The Secret Garden is well worth a watch; it's a calm relaxing programme that is perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon. It is a great story to read and a wonderful story to watch on this DVD.

Mortal Kombat- Cult Film Review

Ah Mortal Kombat... or should that be MORTAL KOMBAT!

The arcade game arrived in a baptism of fire with controversy surrounding it in 1992. I enjoyed the visuals and gore and the game held me in thrall at a newsagents I frequented on my way to school. There were many times when I was nearly late for school due to playing the arcade game and getting quite far as I spammed Raiden's flying torpedo move. I loved the games series in the 90's on the Megadrive and when the movie was announced I was intrigued but not enough so to watch it at the cinema. Whilst looking through the available films on Amazon Prime I saw the film was available and so I finally had the chance to scratch this itch and so I took it!

This move made completing the game pretty easy.

The plot is basic fighting game 101; Mortal Kombat is a once-a-generation tournament in which fighters battle for the fate of their worlds. The evil sorcerer Shang Tsung and his evil underlings have won 9 tournaments in a row and if they win the tenth one, they will gain the Earth. Three humans are manipulated by Raiden, ably played by Christopher Lambert, to take part in the tournament and defeat this evil whilst also fighting their own demons (metaphorically speaking). Liu Kang, wants to avenge the death of his brother, actor Johnny Cage wants to prove that he isn't a fake martial artist and military officer Sonya Blade  wants to avenge her partners death at the hands of Kano, an underworld boss.

Will the ragtag group overcome their personal issues and win Mortal Kombat? Of course they will but it's the journey that matters in this story.

The movie is incredibly cheesy with one-dimensional characters but the well-choreographed action sequences make it all worthwhile. The dialogue, whilst corny, has Johnny Cage deliver a few great one-liners and the techno-trance beat soundtrack sits well alongside the high octane fight scenes. The film design should be praised as the atmosphere of the first 2 games is conveyed well with the set and the lighting in the film being quite impressive.

Overall the unpretentious nature of the film gives it heart, in its earnestness to tell the ridiculous story the film has a lot of personality and character. Paul W. S. Anderson is an able if unremarkable director, he is most famed for his sci-fi and video game film adaptations (the most popular of which is the Resident Evil film series) and this is one of his best adaptations.

If you are looking for a guilty pleasure then this film is definitely worth your time, it is good cheesy fun!

The Children of Green Knowe - Cult TV Review

For the Cult TV reviews I like to watch stuff that is almost forgotten to time. The Children of Green Knowe, Lucy Boston's time-slip novel, is exactly this. A series that is fondly remembered by those who saw it and forgotten to later generations. I only came to it by finding it in my recommendations after purchasing The Secret Garden BBC series on DVD (which I will be reviewing next) and thought to give it a try. Apparently faithful to the original source material the series is a story about a young boy, Tolly, who comes to live in an old country house with his grandmother. However the 17th century Stuart inhabitants of the old family house appear to young Tolly but remain elusively aloof. As time passes his grandmother tells him tales of horses, a gypsy curse and a creature that haunt the grounds. All young Tolly wants to do is meet and talk to the ancestors of the house and break the family curse but this is more difficult than it seems.
The role of Tolly is earnestly played by Alec Christie and that of his grandmother is wonderfully acted by Daphne Oxenford - who gives a warm performance. The pacing is deliberately slow and gentle and the characters are given time to develop and breathe, the relationship between the grandmother and her grandson is sweet and has the ring of truth.

Special mention must go to the beautiful music, composed by Peter Howell with the help of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (who also created the Dr Who theme), which complements the stunning scenery and wonderful cinematography. The interior shots of Peterborough Cathedral and the rousing music during this particular scene are a particular highlight.

In the 70s and 80s the BBC invested heavily in producing quality children's programming and it is often these series that have stood the test of time, some better than others. The atmosphere and charm that make it impossible to dislike this series and it is a shame that this gentle time-slip story has been almost forgotten. As someone who has never seen the show before I'd say that if you are looking for a gentle way to unwind for a couple of hours you couldn't go far wrong with The Children of Green Knowe.

Now "Make up a great blaze and I'll tell you a story!"

The Witches and the Grinnygog- Cult TV Review

I heard about the Witches and the Grinnygog whilst purchasing Moondial and saw that it was recommended in my Amazon feed. The premise was interesting enough for me to look into and I saw it that the whole series was uploaded onto YouTube and so over a couple of days I watched the whole thing.

The Witches and the Grinnygog is a 6 part children's television series made by Southern Television Productions in 1982. The series was adapted from the book by Dorothy Edwards which concerns the Grinnygog – a strange statue of ancient origin which goes missing when a church is moved. The statue is found by a woman who gifts it to her elderly father as a garden gnome. Shortly thereafter, three eccentric old women,who seem to be looking for something lost or hidden from many years before, arrive in the town and the mystery begins.
The series is interesting as it looks at the history of pre-Christian traditions, considered in the middle ages to be witchcraft, surviving into the modern world, and deals with various themes related to English folklore, ghosts and time slips... heady concepts for a children's TV show.
Each of the 6 episode lasts around 25 minutes and it has all the usual elements that make children's shows from the 80's so interesting; great story, great actors (including the child actors which features a young Adam Woodyatt- Ian Beale from Eastenders),  good english folk music and great location shooting.

I liked the series and even though I've never seen the series before and hold no nostalgia for it I found it watchable enough but not at the high watermark set by Children of the Stones or Moondial. The series is worth a look but don't go out of your way as it is pretty forgettable stuff overall.

Supernatural- Cult TV Review

It is a trademark of British fiction to take the mundane and shock, surprise or appal. The BFI is releasing all the British TV horror works produced by the BBC in the 70's and 80's and this was the first in the series. It is a well regarded piece of work and people said that it brought to mind the works of M.R. James, a prominent writer of Gothic tales.
The series itself ran during the Summer in late night slots in 1977 and added a dash of terror into the bright cheery festivities of the Queen's Silver Jubilee. It having been the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and also being Summer, a very cold and wet one though, I thought I'd dive in and view the series.

Supernatural is an anthology series in which the prospective Club of the Damned member is required to tell a horror story, their application for membership being judged on how frightening it was. There are 8 tales of varying quality; some stand the test of time better than others.
The settings of the stories vary from dark country houses,  shadowy courtyards and crumbling ruins but all are home to horrid evils and terrors. Even though the show was shot in colour the dark muted tones of the sets lend it a imposing brooding air.

The first episode, Ghosts of Venice, has an old theatre actor who believes something has been stolen from him but he doesn't know quite what. The story has elements of a timeslip and when the actor meets the ghost of a former lover, things begin to come together. Out of all the stories I found this to be the most boring and tiresome.

Countess Iliona and The Werewolf Reunion are episodes two and three. The story involves a Countess inviting four former lovers to a remote Gothic castle for a mysterious reunion. The men are all very different characters and as the reunion goes on the wronged Countess exacts her revenge. This story is very good but to be honest its run time is too long, the story could have been compressed somewhat to make a tighter episode.

A two-parter that could have done with being trimmed.

Episode four, Mr Nightingale, features Jeremy Brett, known to many as 80 TV's Sherlock Holmes. He plays a proper and boring businessman who is possessed by a doppelgänger, this leads to tragedy and death. Mr Brett shines in this episode as he goes into full crazy mode to give a nuanced unhinged performance. This is a good episode with some fine over-the-top acting.

In episode five, Lady Sybil, an old Widow is plagued by a stalker in her Victorian mansion, she believes it to be the ghost of her dreadful dead husband. She tries to convince her sons, one a respected doctor and the other a playboy musician, but they don't believe her, thinking her delusional. This episode is excellently actedand thetension is really cranked up as we find out who is doing the stalking. Oh, also there are more shots of a chameleon (the little green fellow) than you will ever see anywhere else in your life!

The green fellow features rather prominently in Lady Sybil.

Episode six, Viktoria, centres on a family where the wife is disabled in a wheelchair following a riding accident. She has a daughter but is married to an uncaring man who wishes her dead. The situation is complicated with a domineering housekeeper and an old lady steeped in folklore. When the wife dies her spirit is transported into a doll which becomes attached to the daughter. Strange things then begin to happen after the man remarries and settles into a house in England. This is an interesting episode but the poor special effects make it laughable, a shame as the story itself is quite interesting. Kids are creepy!

Night of the Marionettes is episode seven. The story involves Gordon Jackson, a writer who is researching the life of Frankenstein author, Mary Shelley. The writer, wife and his daughter settle in for a few nights in a secluded hotel and observe the hotels annual marionette show but the figures seem to be real humans. This is a good episode with lots of tension but the relationship between the father and daughter is a little incestuous and uncomfortable.

The final episode, Dorabella, is by far and away the jewel in the crown. It is the story of two friends who travel through Europe looking for adventure and excitement but after meeting an impossibly enchanting young woman, Dorabella, one of the men becomes besotted and the dynamics of the friendship change. The external shots, beautiful lighting and mood created make this a wonderful piece of work.

There's more to Dorabella than meets the eye.

Having watched the whole series I can say that I liked the stories which had a payoff as well a certain level of eloquence and characterisation. In this case the stories that stand out are Countess Ilona/ The Werewolf Reunion, Lady Sybil and Dorabella.  As a whole the series was worth a watch and I'm glad I did but don't trouble yourself with the whole set, the episodes I recommended above are the key ones to watch... or if you only have time for one watch Dorabella!

Under the Mountain - Cult TV Review

I first came across Under the Mountain when I was carrying out research on another cult TV series, Children of the Dogstar, which I found out about when researching about Children of the Stones. From what I can gather Children of the Stones was exported to America and shown on Nickelodeon in the early 80's alongside Under the Mountain and The Witches and the Grinnygog under the banner 'The Third Eye'. This collection of series is fondly remembered as an oddity, especially at a time when America was quite strict on what could be shown on children's television and ensuring shows promoted traditional Christian values. These series must have caused quite a stir at the time as they were never shown again after their initial showing. I'd never seen Under the Mountain but was intrigued enough to seek the series out and here is my Cult TV retro review.

The series is about red-headed twins Rachel and Theo Matheson, who visit their uncle and aunt for the Summer in Auckland, New Zealand. The twins notice a strange neighboring house and sneak into the house to find out more about its owner Mr Wilberforce. The twins realise that they are in the part of a prophecy to defeat an ancient evil which lurks beneath the house and under the mountain. With the help of an old friend they will have to fulfill their destiny and stop the evil from taking over the world. This series is based upon the novel "Under the Mountain" by Maurice Gee and is told in 8 parts over 22 minute episodes, each ending with a cliffhanger and a providing a deeper sense of mystery until the final explosive confrontation.

This story is heavily influenced by the works of H.P.Lovecraft, with the theme that creatures beyond our comprehension are here on earth and are ready to take over. The young twins, played by Kirsty Wilson and Lance Warren are very believable and earnest, especially Wilson who carries much of the emotional weight, especially the scene where they are discussing xenocide. There is a real feeling of dread and scares in this series and I'm sure that if I was the target audience at the time of it's original release I would have felt suitable scared.

Under the Mountain features a lot of external shots and taking into account that it was shot in New Zealand the scenery is wonderful, I'll resist the temptation to say anything as trite as 'the real star of the show is the scenery' or 'New Zealand is a character' but the geology and natural history of the country is integral to the story and adds a lot to the feel of the series. Due to its age the special effects are dated, the costumes are of their time (think mates 70s/ early 80's Dr who and you'll get the idea) and in today's hyper aware world Mr. Jones comes across as a little predatory, but this doesn't detract from the atmosphere or excitement of the story at all.

As someone who had never seen the series before and thus had no feelings of nostalgia I can say that considering its age the series stands the test of time well and is definitely worth a look.

The Quatermass Xperiment- Cult TV Review

Last year saw the anniversary of an iconic sci-fi show, perhaps one of the most important in British TV history. It was pioneering in its writing and production and is fondly remembered even after 60 years... it is of course the legendary Quatermass! You thought I was going to say Dr Who didn't you? Well you shouldn't have as the title says it all!

The Quatermass Xperiment is the Hammer Film production based on the original 1953 The Quatermass Experiment. The plot is simple; 3 men are sent into space in a rocket and only 1 of them returns, ill and changed. As the film progresses we watch helplessly as the lone survivor, Victor Carroon slowly transforms into an alien monster whose sole purpose is to assimilate all living things on Earth.
So far so B-movie fare but as the story develops we build an extraordinary amount of sympathy for the 'alien' predator. The reason for this is the marvellous performance by Richard Wordsworth, a direct descendant of the famed poet. During the 1 1/2 hr movie he is given a couple of words to utter but his sheer physical performance, nuances looks and pained expression elicit a lot of sympathy.
In contrast Brian Donlevy turns in a poor performance as Quatermass. His brash brusque manner jars with the rest of the film and cast. One of the best moments is watching Mrs Carroon, the wife of the astronaut who is undergoing the horrifying transformation, put the arrogant Quatermass in his place. 

As a whole the movie works well and considering it's age has a good vintage. I look forward to watching the other Quatermass series as they are supposed to be better and contain more nuanced performances from the actors who play Quatermass.

Toms Midnight Garden- Cult TV Review

I have very fond memories of Tom's Midnight Garden as it was shown on the BBC in the late 80s/ early 90s at 5:05pm after Newsround and just before Neighbours. I have been fortunate enough to revisit most of the programmes of my youth as they have become available on DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming services but this series remained elusive. I don't know why as I remember it being brilliant. So after 25 or so years since I last saw it I finally found a copy uploaded on YouTube and consumed the whole 6 part series in one sitting. So was this series as good as I remember?
Well, when the introduction music started up I felt a huge wave of nostalgia and similar shows of the time came flooding back; The Narnia series, Moondial and Box of Delights to name a few. All those series had pretty good production value for a children's series and Tom's Midnight Garden fell into the same category.

The story itself is quite simple; When his younger brother contracts measles at the beginning of the school holidays in the summer, Tom is sent away to his Uncle Allen's flat in the country. The flat was part of a manor house and Tom finds to his amazement that as the clock strikes midnight the back door, which usually leads to a small backyard, suddenly transports him to the past to the Victorian times when the Manor House was in its prime.
The sets are real and it seems to be filmed on location in an old house rather a studio, this lends the whole story a sense of place and cohesion. The sets and costumes are excellent at setting the time and mood of the 1950's era and the child actors are solid without a hint of pantomime or melodrama. The two main young actors do a fine job and the interactions between them as Tom and Hettie are sweet and have a ring of truth. The timeslip mechanic is handled well and is gently paced. It may be too slow for some children today but I still found it engaging and intriguing in equal measure.

Even after 25 years this adaptation of Philippa Pearce's novel is still well regarded and remembered affectionately and for good reason.
I would definitely recommend this series. I am all for supporting the company and actors by purchasing the media legally however this show only had a very limited DVD run by Readers Digest and has never been re-released so the only way to view it is off of YouTube for free. But I'm just thankful to be able to watch it again and you should be too, whether it's your first time or like me a return to it after many years.

Moondial- Cult TV Review

Whilst watching Children of the Stones for my inaugural Cult TV Review I was reading through the YouTube comments and a lot of people kept discussing Moondial, another British TV series which was popular, so I ordered the DVD and watched it and here are my thoughts.

Broadcast originally on the BBC in February 1988, Moondial was a 6 part supernatural/time travel drama based on the book by the popular author Helen Cresswell. During the 80's the BBC had a great reputation for adapting children's books; they were especially good at the slightly creepy and unsettling and this series fits that bill nicely.

Watching the series for the first time I was taken with the opening credits, a wonderfully arthouse and atmospheric piece of work.

The series starts with a bang as young teen Minty has to stay with her Aunt until her mother recovers from a car accident. She has to stay in a small village with a large Manor House containing a beautiful garden and a mysterious moondial. Minty is drawn to the moondial and one night when she feels is drawing her in she goes to it and faints. When she wakes up she finds she has been transported back through time to the turn of the century. Minty spends the series trying to figure out the mystery of the Moondial and the cursed child with the 'Devils Mark'

This series is indicative of the style of programmes British TV was airing during that time for children; at times unusual and slightly spook- and for that it has to be commended. No-one does creeping dread like the British and this sort-of ghost story is beautifully realised. Whilst some of the adult actors do come across as quite hammy and theatrical and some of the child actors precocious to the point of annoying the whole thing generally works. There are moments where things lag, for example pretty much any scene with Minty's annoying Aunt but these are tempered with end of episode cliffhangers that really keep you intrigued and excited.

With my previous review of Children of the Stones I discussed how there was higher level thinking required to figure out the ending. With Moondial the reason why and how Minty is transported is never explained, to quote The Simpsons "Wizard" but I would still recommend this for anyone with an interest in unique and unusual children's TV programmes.