LOST HEARTS (1973), THE TREASURE OF ABBOT THOMAS (1974) and THE ASH TREE (1975): MORE GHOSTLY ADAPTATIONS FROM THE BBC REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

lost hearts

CLASSIC GHOST STORY ADAPTATIONS FROM THE BBC: LOST HEARTS (1973), THE TREASURE OF ABBOT THOMAS (1974) AND THE ASH TREE (1975). BASED ON THE STORIES OF MONTAGUE RHODES JAMES.

STARRING SIMON GIPPS-KENT, JOSEPH O’CONOR, MICHAEL BRYANT, PAUL LAVERS, EDWARD PETHERBRIDGE AND BARBARA EWING.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

These three ghost stories in the BBC’s A Ghost Story For Christmas series are just gorgeous. They’re beautifully photographed and the stories are good and creepy too. As the little booklet accompanying the DVD box-set tells us so descriptively, they would have appeared on television late at night, probably the last programme before the station shut down for the night.

This was back in the days when television wasn’t a twenty-four-hour thing, remember, and you had a choice sometimes of only two, three or four channels. The viewer would have watched the programme in front of the dying embers of that day’s fire, and gone straight up to bed afterwards with the disturbing imagery from the ghost story weighing heavily upon his mind. By Jove, if that isn’t the way to do it…!

Lost Hearts tells the story of a recently orphaned boy called Stephen coming to live with his ancient aristocrat uncle/first cousin twice removed Abney, in said uncle’s fabulous stately home set in acres of rolling parkland.

Uncle Abney is, quite simply, too good to be true. He’s chuckle-y and funny and so kindly disposed towards the soon-to-be-twelve-years-old lad that we wonder in earnest what his deal is. Things –– and people –– that seem to be too good to be true often are, after all . . .

If I were Stephen, I’d be extremely worried about the well-meaning but thoroughly unnerving tales told by the housekeeper about children who were invited to stay at the house by the kindly old Mr. Abney in the past, but who then disappeared into thin air shortly afterwards. Still, the boy is powerless to act, isn’t he? What can he do in a situation like that? He’s orphaned, after all, and the older gentleman in whose home he currently resides is now his legal guardian.

The fog-wreathed landscape looks wonderful in this film. The supernatural beings are present in the narrative almost from the beginning, but they’re no less creepy for all that, the Italian hurdy-gurdy gypsy boy in particular. The music is marvellous and the graveyard scene at the end is just beautiful to look at. Apologies for the fulsome nature of my adjectives, but really, this short film is just too visually delicious to resist.

In The Treasure of Abbot Thomas, an intellectually arrogant cleric by the name of the Reverend Justin Somerton is engaged on what amounts to a secret treasure hunt, for the gold said to have been secreted away by the titular Abbot Thomas in the ancient church-slash-seat of learning where Somerton is now doing some research. It has to be kept secret because it would fatally damage Somerton’s academic reputation to be seen to be grubbing around after a handful of gold coins.

Somerton is assisted in his treasure-hunting by the aristocratic young Lord Peter Dattering, whose father is recently deceased. I love the bit where Peter invites his mentor Somerton to a séance in his home. Peter’s mother is convinced that her medium and the medium’s husband are able to contact her dear dead spouse for her, but the snobby show-off Reverend Somerton soon puts paid to the medium couple’s little scam . . .

Somerton and Peter have great fun flexing their intellectual muscles in trying to solve the puzzle left by long-deceased alchemist and suspected sorcerer, the Abbot Thomas. Imagine Somerton’s fright, though, when he realises that the mischievous, malevolent Abbot Thomas has not been trying to keep him away from his precious treasure, but has in fact been trying to lure him into a horrible, deathly trap, using the treasure as bait. The scene in the catacombs is delightfully gruesome, and I love the end bit, of which we get a satisfying bird’s-eye view. He looks down on what is hidden . . .

The Ash Tree is arguable my favourite story of the three short films. The handsome, aristocratic young Sir Richard Fell is the newest incumbent of Castringham hall, his predecessor Sir Matthew having died a strange and mysterious death.

Sir Richard straightaway begins to experience moments of possession, when he finds himself occupying the body and mind of the late Sir Matthew. But Sir Matthew lived in witch-finder times, when innocent women were hanged and drowned and burned to death after being found ‘guilty’ of so-called witchcraft.

Sir Matthew’s mind, once he has reluctantly accused a beautiful local woman, Anne Mothersole (played by Hammer actress Barbara Ewing), of witchcraft and condemned her to a horrible death by hanging, is not a comfortable place to be. Sir Richard becomes more and more discombobulated by the periods of possession. Is it only a matter of time before he suffers the same grisly fate as his unfortunate ancestor . . . ?

Sir Richard has a saucy little sexpot of a girlfriend called the Lady Augusta, by the way, who seems to be permitted an extraordinary amount of freedom for a woman of the time. Gadding about on her horse, swanning over to Paris for her wedding trousseau and daring to chide her husband-to-be over his inclusion of Henry Fielding’s The Adventures of Tom Jones in his library. A woman who reads? Heaven forfend . . . 

It is sincerely to be hoped that Sir Richard beats this distinct tendency towards independence out of her once they are lawfully wed, which was the style of the time, and fills her belly with enough regularity to take her mind off gadding about and keep it where it belongs, in the nursery. Humph.

There’s an hilarious passage in the booklet which accompanies this DVD box-set, in which director Lawrence Gordon Clark tells us about how it was the ash tree in his very own garden that served as the downfall of poor Sir Richard.

Months later, the following summer, in fact, Clark was entertaining friends in his garden when a hideous spider baby, that seemingly hadn’t been boxed away with the other hairy monstrosities after filming ended, fell suddenly out of the tree into the lap of a terrified female guest. If that had been me, the speed of my departure would have put the Road-Runner to shame. Sweet suffering Jesus.

‘Mine shall inherit . . .’

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

HAMMER’S ‘DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE.’ (1968) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

drac risen zena

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE. (1968) BASED ON CHARACTERS CREATED BY BRAM STOKER. DIRECTED BY FREDDIE FRANCIS. PRODUCED BY AIDA YOUNG. SCREENPLAY BY JOHN ELDER.

STARRING CHRISTOPHER LEE, RUPERT DAVIES, MARION MATHIE, GEORGE A. COOPER, MICHAEL RIPPER, BARRY ANDREWS, EWAN HOOPER, NORMAN BACON, BARBARA EWING AND VERONICA CARLSON.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a stunning addition to the Hammer Dracula canon. It’s the third in the series to feature Christopher Lee as the Count, coming after DRACULA (1958) and DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1965). Christopher Lee is in excellent form as the titular Dracula, or ‘the fanged undead,’ as he’s rather pithily described in the promotional material.

Very fine form indeed, especially considering he’s supposed to have spent the last several years frozen under the icy-cold waters that flow near his castle in the mountains. Still looking very good too, just waiting for a clumsy man of the cloth to lose his footing, crack the ice, under which Dracula slumbers uneasily, with his bonce and bleed his blood on to the sleeping vampire’s lips.

The first half hour is truly magnificent and super-exciting. A little village in the Hammer-created ‘Mitt-Europe’ that Hammer do so well has had its church horribly desecrated by Dracula. The Prince of Darkness has chosen to ravish and murder a beautiful and busty young woman in its little bell-tower, leading to one of the most spectacular ‘reveals’ of a victim’s blood-drained cadaver in the studio’s history.

A visiting Monsignor, name of Ernest Mueller, responsible for all the churches in the area, is distressed to see that a shadow cast by the vampire’s castle, even though the vampire himself is supposed to be dead, is preventing the superstitious locals from attending church services. Any excuse not to go to Mass, eh?

The Monsignor decides to climb up to the castle himself, reluctantly accompanied by the parish priest who will soon be enslaved by Dracula and forced to work as his lackey, and exorcise the damned place once and for all.

Dracula, however, accidentally revived by the terrified parish priest, is more than pissed off to discover that his home has been befouled by the Monsignor and his shimmering golden cross.

He determines to seek revenge against the poor old Monsignor, for which purpose the action moves to the Monsignor’s sweet little home village of Keinenberg, a picturesque wee place surrounded by the mountains.

The Monsignor lives very comfortably indeed there with his brother’s widow, a fine figure of a woman called Anna who does everything for him except warm his bed, and her beautiful daughter Maria, the Monsignor’s niece.

A less worthy man than the Monsignor might be tempted to take advantage and enjoy a little mother-daughter action, but the Monsignor’s motives are as pure as the driven snow. Even while his buxom sister-in-law is kneeling at his feet putting on his slippers when he arrives home after a hard day’s exorcising, not once, seemingly, does he feel the urge to say: ‘Um, while you’re down there, Anna…!’

Played by Hammer’s latest discovery of the time, the ravishing blonde-haired Veronica Carlson, Maria first bounces charmingly on to the screen dressed in a gorgeous dusky pink dress complete with Little Red Riding Hood cloak.

She’s looking for her boyfriend Paul, a college student, so she can bring him to dinner to meet her mother and uncle, the Monsignor. And where else would she look for him but in Max’s public-house, where he pulls pints and is training to be a pastry chef under the not-so-watchful eye of the endlessly good-humoured Max?

Max is played by Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper, who surely, more than anyone else living or dead, was born to pull pints in a Hammer-created ‘Mitt-European’ alehouse, Gawd bless ‘is little ‘eart.

The getting-to-know-you dinner at the Monsignor’s house goes tits-up, and Paul is ordered out of the house on the grounds that he has the audacity to admit to his girlfriend’s uncle that he’s an atheist, goddammit, but never mind all that for now.

The Monsignor and his family have bigger problems than the curly-headed, happy-go-lucky Paul, who actively encourages his goody-two-shoes girlfriend to visit him at night via the surprisingly dizzy rooftops of Keinenberg, if you can believe that. No true gentleman would ever permit his girlfriend to do such a dangerous thing, especially when she’s lacking in, shall we say, a little blood…? What an ungallant cad he is.

Anyway, Dracula has found the perfect way to get back at the Monsignor, and that’s through his lovely niece Maria. Maria’s seduction by the Count is not as knee-tremblingly sexy as Melissa Stribling’s in the 1958 DRACULA, but it’s a nice little scene nonetheless.

It involves open bedroom windows, pleasant terraces overlooking the mountains and another mesmerised woman walking hesitantly backwards towards her bed, while gazing up the whole time into red bloodshot eyes, like a rabbit fascinated by the snake that’s poised to pounce on it.

Dracula’s other girlfriend here, Max’s busty brunette barmaid Zena, has a bit more chutzpah and oomph, if you get me, than the rather prissy Maria, but Dracula treats poor Zena appallingly. Which only makes women like me fancy him all the more, heh-heh-heh. Women in these Dracula films are here for two reasons only, to be used and abused, and to damn well be the eye candy while they’re doing it, lol. Ah well, it’s nice, at least, to know where you stand.

Poor Maria gets dragged from pillar to post as well by the Count, in her bare feet and white nightie to boot, but at least Dracula doesn’t try to bury her alive like he does Melissa Stribling in the 1958 film.

It’s up to Paul, the not-very-swotty college student and would-be pastry chef, to save not only Maria from the evil clutches of Dracula, but the village of Keinenberg as well. Is the curly-headed one up to the task…?

In this film, a neat little addition to the folklore surrounding the fanged undead is included, in the form of a caveat that decrees that you can’t just stake Dracula through the heart and he’ll obligingly die. You’ve got to mumble Latin words from the Bible over him as well, or he won’t croak. Now I wonder where on God’s green earth we can find a padre to do the necessary at this hour of the night…?

I love the scene where Zena is being chased through the forest at night, by the mysterious black coach with the four black horses with the black plumes on their heads. Such a fearsome carriage could only belong to one man. The poor horses seem to get whipped a lot by the Count in this film, but I’m fairly certain that it’s only pretend-whipping, lol. I love George A. Cooper as the landlord of the tavern in the village with the cursed church, by the way. He’s a terrific actor.

This is a gorgeous-looking film. The forty-six-year-old Christopher Lee is still very much engaged in the series, and it really shows. (He was at his sexiest in his forties and fifties, and even his sixties, if you ask me.) Some people say that he zoned out a bit towards the end but I don’t know. Down in the murky, leaky basement of Max’s tavern (it’s a good job that Max never seems to go down there!), the centre of operations where his black coffin rests imposingly on blocks of wood, he’s very much the master of all he surveys.

He’s magnificent here as the Count, and his two chosen concubines, Zena and Maria, are très easy on the eye as well. Michael Ripper is behind the bar in the tavern, dispensing homespun wisdom along with the ale and sausage rolls and meat pies. God’s in his heaven, and all’s well with the world of Hammer.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor