Saturday, 3 May 2014

THE CHILDREN'S FILM FOUNDATION COLLECTION: Runaways (1953/1972/1985)

For over thirty years the Children’s Film Foundation sought to entertain successive generations of young viewers, originally with the intent of providing a healthy antidote to the unregulated fare often found spilling out of the numerous children’s Saturday morning film clubs run unofficially at the weekend, during the immediate postwar period, by local cinema managers. Although these matinee youth screenings were considered an essential ingredient of childhood through most of the 1940s, growing concerns about juvenile delinquency meant that they also began to be viewed in the popular imagination as a potential source for the bad influences that were sometimes believed to be exercising an increasingly pernicious hold on younger minds, what with their heavy reliance on an unstructured diet of ‘violent’ American-produced action serials and cartoons. It was with these thoughts in mind that J. Arthur Rank established the Foundation with grant money from the cinema ticket tax known as the Eady Levy, channelled through the British Film Production Fund, to set in motion his alternative system which, from now on, aimed to fill British cinema screens with more ‘appropriate’ home-grown kinds of entertainment on a Saturday morning.

 But as the CFF’s modest programme of low cost, independently produced, quality adventure yarns began to hit its stride over the course of the 1950s and ‘60s (providing a popular platform for the talents of a healthy roster of both previously established and the up-and-coming writers, directors, film technicians and actors then making their way in the British Film Industry), just what it was that society truly deemed suitable, or morally instructive, material for children inevitably began to change with the times -- ever more so as the decades passed, and just as assuredly as did the conventions in acting styles, along with films' approach to realism in general. The CFF always maintained its commitment to supplying clear-cut family drama that, above all else,  put comedy and adventure and a morally centred (though non-preachy) approach to its young protagonists’ relationships with the adult world at centre stage: while authority figures could often be portrayed as incompetent or villainous, and dishonesty and trickery was an everyday fact of adult life, the character, integrity and resourcefulness of the resilient children placed at the core of the narratives always affirmed them as being more than a match for any wrong-doing, and, in the early days of the Foundation at least, the reassuring, hierarchical order of what was still viewed as a fundamentally decent adult world, could always be relied upon to prevail in the end.
The BFI has released four previous volumes of CFF films over the last few years, grouped and themed to showcase the Rank ethos in action across a wide range of popular genres. Each of these single disc three-film collections document the changes that can be discerned in the CFF’s approach to particular types of story material across a span of four decades, and reveal how an essentially unchanging philosophy has been realised with a varying emphasis down the years, to fit the mores of the times that the films were being produced to cater for. This fifth volume, which deals directly with children who find themselves relegated to the fringes of society, and which therefore contains a set of films which all, in one way or another, depict children having to deal with a morally ambiguous world, offers perhaps the most jarring side-by-side contrasts yet in its charting of three the CFF’s representations of the problematic figure of the child runaway -- offering a startling picture of the genre’s evolution that starts with Lewis Gilbert’s charming 1950s evocation of an idyllic multi-cultural community of orphaned children living in the Scottish Highlands, who offer a young Polish refugee respite from the harshness of urban racism; and finishing with the greyer, socially bleak urban landscape highlighted by writer-director Frank Godwin’s final film in the collection (which was one of the very last Foundation productions ever made), shot in the mid-1980s when youth gangs, record unemployment and street crime were seen as an inescapable fact of life -- and when the romanticism of former decades is disconcertingly thin on the ground.

Johnny on the Run (1953), the first and earliest film to feature in this set of three, is a Dickens-styled tale of childhood neglect and want that takes place in early 1950s Edinburgh. Eugeniusz Chylek plays the film’s orphaned hero Janek -- a Polish migrant, fostered by the unsympathetic Mrs MacGregor (Mona Washburn): a middle-aged mother played as a berating landlady figure, with two infant mouths of her own to feed plus that of a baby, and no father about, either seen or mentioned. Both Mrs MacGregor and her son Kenneth (Keith Faulkner) make no bones about the fact that they resent Jan’s presence and practically scapegoat him for their deprived circumstances, despite the fact he’s helping to feed the family just by being in the house at all, because the council pays Mrs MacGregor a stipend to foster him. He’s racially bullied by both, as well as the other kids out on the cobbled streets of Edinburgh, who jeer and pester him whenever he’s sent on shopping errands while his foster siblings are out enjoying the school holidays (‘If you want to live here you’ve got to work you know; they don’t pay me enough to have you sitting about all day!’). Only Janet (Margaret McCourt), his little foster sister, ever shows him any sort of consideration or kindness, and she’s never listened to by anybody ...




In fraying tweed jacket and short pants, Jan cuts a suitably tear-provoking and desultory figure, with child actor Chylek (who doesn’t seem to have appeared in anything else but this one film) proving particularly efficient in the business of eliciting audience sympathy as this lonely outsider who keeps his spirits up by fantasising about one day going back home to Poland; a dream that is encapsulated in a leaflet he picks up in a general store while he’s out shopping for Mrs MacGregor,  advertising a £17 trip (£500 in today’s money) from Dundee to Danzig. The thoroughfares and narrow downward sloping alleyways and stone arches of the Old Town quarter of Edinburgh are exploited for all their worth to cast poor Jan as a tiny, isolated figure cast adrift in a hostile though picturesque cityscape, shot in gorgeously inky monochrome by Gerald Gibb (Whisky Galore!, Quatermass 2).The language of Hitchcock’s British thrillers provides the film’s narrative template after the boy feels forced into going on the run out of shame and guilt for inadvertently endangering the life of the MacGregor baby, after he lets go of its pram during a fight with some street bullies only to see the carriage careen down the hilly cobbled streets and almost clatter over the edge of the famous Vennel steps leading from the top of Edinburgh Castle, in a sequence culled from Eisenstein’s famous Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin.
The moment after the baby is saved just as disaster seemed to beckon, and the entire street -- children and adults alike – gather to surround Janek, turning their accusatory looks on him as the initially tiny figure of a police officer in the distance strolls closer and closer, cutting off the boy’s only avenue of escape, is pure Hitchcock suspense-building in theme and character and the innocent-man-on-the-run motif extends as far as having the boy later attempt to find refuge in the midst of the idyllic splendour of the Scottish Highlands, after falling in with a pair of trilby-tipping housebreakers (who are portrayed as traditional comedy cockney figures despite this being set in Edinburgh). He even stays for a night with a gruff crofter (Archie Duncan) in his secluded cottage on the moors (John Laurie, who played a similar crofter role in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, also turns up later here as an Edinburgh Police Constable). Before this, Jan is further mired in guilt after being tricked into assisting the two thieves – ‘Flash Harry’ Fisher (The Lavender Hill Mob’s Sydney Tafler) and ‘Fingers’ Brown (Michael Balfour) -- steal an expensive jewelled broach from the wall safe of a house in a well-to-do neighbourhood, when they persuade him to crawl through the open fanlight above the front door by telling him they've lost their keys, and are merely seeking entry to their own property. The broach is subsequently hidden by Harry in a torn seam of Jan’s jacket after the coppers give chase, and is still there when the boy gives him the slip later on, only to wind up alone in the Highlands, dwarfed by a striking landscape of idyllic rolling hills and mossy banks of waving ferns under expansive skies.


The film thereafter takes on an attractive idealistic flavour, with Jan’s bucolically picaresque wanderings amid the rural heartlands of Scotland eventually brought to an unexpected finish while camping outdoors in the atmospheric ruins of a crumbling, vine-covered castle. He is discovered there by a group of children frolicking in the ferns, who turn out to be from a nearby village on the edge of a loch; a village that’s been built especially for providing a home, deep in a ravine between two towering hills, for orphaned children, who come from all over the world having been rendered parent-less during the recent war. They immediately enthusiastically accept Jan – or Johnny -- as one of their own, and take him back to live as an equal among their family of displaced outsiders. This idealistically presented children’s utopia turns out to be modelled on a traditional British village -- with quaint thatched cottages, a village church, a lakeside boating jetty that flies the flag of each of the nationalities the village harbours, and a community school; but it is benignly supervised by one kindly Scottish couple, Mr and Mrs MacIntyre (Moultrie Kelsall and Jean Anderson): a gentle, pipe-smoking professorial type and a loving, motherly, cardigan-wrapped schoolmarm, both of whom are utterly loved and respected by their multiracial gaggle of dispossessed charges (this is one of that tiny number of British films from the 1950s that features black faces prominently amid its heart-warmingly impish child cast).

The MacIntyres designate control of the running of village affairs to a Children’s Parliament that regularly elects a new village treasurer to supervise the gathering of the proceeds made by the community when it sells its home-grown vegetables in the nearby villages, with the ultimate aim of one day collecting enough cash to build a proper village hall. From this point, the film becomes all about Jan attempting to deal with the idea of being loved and accepted after years of neglect and dismissal; and about his learning to understand the growing sense of responsibility for others that is now being kindled within him, and that comes with being made such an integral part of a supportive community rather than relegated to the fringes of society as a despised minority. The village children, perhaps naively, happily show Janek their home-built wooden safe and entrust him with its key soon after electing him their new treasurer -- unaware that the boy is desperate to find the cash to fulfil his dream of escaping back to his homeland, and that giving him such responsibilities also supplies him with an enormous temptation to become the criminal he feels the rest of the world now believes he intrinsically is. It’s one of the film’s peculiar ironies that Janek never comes closer to losing his moral bearings than when he is surrounded by such sympathetic and nurturing presences as his refugee friends, and while subject to the trusting solicitude of Mrs MacIntyre.




The other village children are portrayed as utterly charming, unaffectedly guileless young tykes; excitable boys and cutesy girls each one without a bad bone between them … in stark contrast to the bullying racism demonstrated by the street kids Jan regularly had to deal with on the chilly city streets of Edinburgh. It might perhaps be rather too easy to mock the idealised portrayal of this not entirely believable community from a modern perspective, but Patricia Latham’s screenplay is so persuasively delivered by the young cast that one is prepared to go along with its idealised portrait of a childhood lived in this state or rural grace, untainted by poverty or human greed, long enough to see the final reel drama play out satisfactorily after Jan’s new friends rally round to support him during a cross-country paper chase that reaches its peak of excitement just as Jan’s foster mum comes back to claim him after being informed of his whereabouts by the Edinburgh constabulary, and the thieving duo Harry and Fingers turn up in the village after seeing Jan’s picture in the paper -- and still looking for the hidden broach the boy unknowingly continues to carry about his person. 
With its beautifully photographed images of Edinburgh’s Old Town and some utterly beguiling landscape shots of the main Highland settings which were filmed around Loch Earn, this is perhaps one of the CFF’s classiest looking titles, bolstered by fine art direction from Hammer’s Bernard Robertson and a lyrical orchestral score by Anthony Hopkins. It’s a far cry from director Lewis Gilbert’s previous outing, the notorious British film noir thriller Cosh Boy--  about a delinquent youth robbing old ladies in the bombed out ruins of postwar London – but its comforting mixture of comedy (courtesy of the bumbling adult thieves) and some tightly paced chase thriller dynamics that eventually open out into an engaging slice of human interest drama, succinctly anticipate the high points of Gilbert’s illustrious career in the British film industry which spanned both the action and glamour of James Bond thrillers You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me and the down-to-earth working class humour of Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine.    

While Johnny on the Run assumes the perspective of a protagonist whose situation would likely have been unfamiliar to the vast majority of the film’s viewers, in order to eventually allow them to better appreciate his humanity by illustrating his underlying similarity to them, both of the remaining films in this volume start by establishing the point of view of one central child character who comes from a stable, conventional lower middle class background, with the intention of making him an instantly relatable identification figure for most viewing children whose circumstances are assumed to mimic the same world of stay-at-home-housewives/mothers and working dads with two children, that it presents as the cultural norm. Each of the two films, in widely differing ways, then works up its narrative from the introduction of this ordinary protagonist to a secondary character who represents a set of social conditions and family circumstances that are a great deal less  salubrious than their own.
In the colourful 1972 film Hide and Seek the tone is still generally a light one, at least to start with, with the usual CFF emphasis on comedy, clowning and intrigue. Gary Kemp (the twelve-year-old child star who would one day co-found New Romantic combo Spandau Ballet), plays Chris -- the film’s ‘good boy from a nice home’ identification figure: a well brought up, agreeably romanticised version of an ordinary kid, who has a father who works as a policeman and a mother who runs a corner shop in his stomping ground of Deptford, South-east London (curiously under-populated and tidy in the film’s numerous on-location street scenes). He’s resourceful, active and moral in that he, along with his younger sister Beverley (Eileen Fletcher), uncomplainingly devote a large part of their free time to making house calls on and delivering shopping for a crotchety old man called Mr Grimes (Roy Dotrice,) whose exact relationship to them is never established since he’s not an immediate neighbour.




Because of this commitment, though, Chris and Beverley are well aware of the existence of those less fortunate than themselves. And when the circumstances of those unfortunates are given a socially sanctioned outlet, such as the poverty-stricken, housebound elderly represented by the likes of Mr Grimes (Dotrice gives a Steptoe-ish, comic ‘old fogey’ performance as the crotchety gent, but his shabby, stained clothing makes clear the character’s reduced means), they are more than willing to help out and, indeed, appear to see it as their duty to do so. But when it comes to youth delinquency, though, the matter seems potentially more complicated. What are they to make, for instance, of the petty crime wave currently sweeping across their home turf: a cheeky small boy -- dubbed The Deptford Dodger by the local paper -- has been spied stealing food and drink from general stores and small market holders, and even Chris and Beverley’s mum has had bars of chocolate go missing from her corner shop during this audacious reign of thievery. Beverley speculates that this ‘Dodger’ must be hungry to be doing what he’s been doing, but having a policeman for a dad makes both her and her brother less immediately inclined to sympathise with the selfish motives behind such crimes.
This ‘Dodger’ turns out to be hiding out in a derelict flat on the ground-floor of the same building that houses Mr Grimes, which is where Chris encounters the boy after he attempts to steal a loaf of crusty bread intended for the old man from the back of Chris’s bike. It turns out that the boy, Keith Lawson (Peter Newby), has run away from an approved school: a special type of residential reform institution for children who have committed crimes or previously been deemed beyond parental control. They were renamed Community Homes by the early 70s, around the time this film was released. Keith has hitched his way to London in the hope of finding his Dad after learning in a letter that his father is about to remarry and intends to move away for good afterwards. Since Keith’s mum is dead and he hasn't seen his father since he was a small lad, he can only remember vague details about the house he grew up in (‘everything’s changed,’ he says of the Deptford location; ‘they’re pulling it all down!’), so Chris eventually agrees to help him find his dad so that the two of them can be reunited. He smuggles food to the boy from the family table, while Keith stays put in the derelict squat, since the Police are by now on to who the Dodger actually is.

The friendship is a refreshingly spiky one (‘burn yerself a halo,’ comments Keith after Chris tells him to lie low while he scouts out a potential location that might turn out to be his previous address; ‘but don’t expect any thanks from me!’), but each child, with their respective long hair and outgoing personalities, are mirror images of the other -- affording each a glimpse of the alternative life they could have been living under different circumstances. Chris’s investigations lead to the discovery that Keith’s dad is in fact a career criminal, leading a gang who are plotting a heist using as their cover work at a construction site across the road from a major bank. Posing as the owner of a building firm, Lawson (Terence Morgan) and his men are digging a tunnel that leads from the construction site straight up to the bank’s vault. They have a fake police van to be driven by two accomplices (Alan Lake and Robin Askwith) on hand to ferry the money away afterwards without suspicion! After learning of his son’s escape from an initially unsuspecting Chris, both Lawson and his grasping wife (played by Carry On star Liz Fraser) decide they want the runaway out of the equation in order to preserve their own criminal activity from scrutiny, and Chris eventually realises that the pair of them would be quite willing to shop their own boy to the police in order to achieve that aim.


In most ways the rest of the story plays out as a fairly standard CFF adventure drama that makes copious use of the usual tropes involving untrustworthy adults foiled by canny kids who see straight through them (Lake and Askwith play bumbling fake coppers with massive 70s sideburns and fags dangling nonchalantly from their mouths, who are instantly rumbled by Chris’s perceptive little sister);  and the usual run of mistaken identities, captures and daring escape attempts emerge as the main set pieces of the plot (Chris is mistaken for their bosses son by Lawson’s two henchmen and imprisoned in a warehouse, leaving Beverly and Keith to rescue him). CFF director-veteran David Eady and art director George Provis (the latter sandwiching this in between working on British horrors The Fiend and The Creeping Flesh) paint everything in pillar box red and the same cheerful 1970s primary coloured shades as Chris’s rainbow-striped tank top, and there is a certain lightness of tone about proceedings (despite the unglamorous and amusingly dangerous-for-kids urban locations featured, consisting primarily of building sites, derelict houses and abandoned industrial estates) as evidenced by the irreverent opening titles sequence, in which Keith’s crime spree is montaged as a comic episode involving angry shopkeepers (including among their number Alfred Marks) trailing him as he escapes past a series of walls and hoardings over which the film’s credits have been colourfully sprayed as graffiti using red paint. Frequent Hammer Films composer Harry Robertson supplies an upbeat, sunny score that also often mimics the action-drama cues to be found in ITC series of the era, or that could be expected to occur in more serious police dramas then starting to make their way onto screens, such as The Sweeny.
But although the likes of Alan Lake and Robin Askwith conform to the CFF stereotype that paints adult criminals as harmless comic incompetents, Morgan, as Keith’s father Ted Lawson, plays the part of their boss utterly straight while his number two, fake construction site foreman Wykes, also looks like he’s strolled straight out of a hard-hitting 1970s crime drama – which is hardly surprising as he’s played by Johnny Shannon: an ex-heavyweight boxer and former associate of the Kray Twins who was better known by this point as the gangster who turned to acting and trained James Fox in the ways of the London underworld for Donald Cammell's and Nicolas Roeg’s 1969 masterpiece Performance, in which he also starred as crime boss Harry Flowers. This was an acquaintance that young child star Gary Kemp would be making again eighteen years later when he came to play Ronald Kray alongside his brother Martin, who played Reggie, for Peter Medak’s  1990 biopic. That strain of seriousness means that there is rather more at stake morally for young Keith, who at one point must choose between loyalty to his father (and therefore the life of crime he has always previously known) and his new friends. Although Mike Gorell Barns’ screenplay manages to find the positive outcome expected of all CFF produced features at the time, it doesn’t pull back from portraying Keith’s likely choices and attitudes realistically, and neither does it shirk realism when it comes to staging a emotionally blunt scene between father and son, during which Keith asks his father outright: ‘do you want me?’ To which Mr Lawson has to admit, simply, ‘no!’




The face childhood presents on film had changed yet again by the production of 1985’s Terry on the Fence. Based on former headmaster Bernard Ashley’s novel, this late period CFF feature grounds its depiction of the home and school life of its eleven-year-old protagonist Terry Harmer (Jack McNicholl) on the kinds of representations which had by then become standard thanks to popular shows such as Grange Hill – which were founded on broad attempts to tackle contemporary ‘issues’ through the medium of children’s drama. That meant no exaggerated comedy capers or heightened adult acting styles, and an increased emphasis on psychological realism. At the point director Frank Godwin adapted Ashley’s book for the screen, the CFF had recently become The Children’s Film and Television Foundation (CFTF) in an attempt to stay relevant by targeting its productions at the small screen, but it was still struggling to survive in an environment where children’s Saturday morning television had made the cinema film clubs of old look largely redundant and rather old fashioned. It was a battle the Foundation was very close to losing altogether by this point. Consequently, Terry on the Fence feels a great deal shabbier in terms of its overall texture, thanks to budgetary restrictions which led to its being shot on 16mm rather than 35mm film.

Looked at today, some of its attempts to depict childhood social delinquency quite unintentionally come across looking slightly laboured and at times almost comical; the gang featured here, hanging out on the common in their garishly graffiti-daubed vandalised den or traipsing through semi-derelict regions of docklands earmarked for redevelopment, look like an unlikely ragtag collection of problem types led by a scowling fifteen-year-old punk called Les (Neville Watson), who fulfils the by now stereotypical image of a glue-sniffing punk rocker to a tee (except nothing so controversial as glue-sniffing is ever suggested, of course), the type of presentation that was already being roundly satirised by the likes of The Young Ones through the character of Vivian, played by Adrian Edmondson. However, the cheaper, grainy film stock and the fact that a real school is obviously being used as the main location (the credits give thanks to the Headmaster, staff and pupils of Halstow School in Greenwich, London), results in the film managing to hang on to the sense that it is grounded in a kind of realism that would have been recognisable to its intended audience at the time.
There is even more of a focus in this film on providing a moral lesson in the narrative … an intent which had been there all along in the CFF’s work, as we’ve seen in the two other films included on this disc, but which here, in accordance with a common approach taken in the 1980s to drama aimed at children, feels like it is being earnestly foregrounded as a potential subject for debate in schools. Once can just imagine the film being screened in classrooms as an educational tool, its lessons and dilemmas to be discussed by the children afterwards; it even goes to a great deal of trouble, in its final ten minutes, to accurately depict the workings of a juvenile court, emphasising the guidelines that govern its decision making processes using a sombre, documentary-like aesthetic.




This downbeat, naturalistic, semi-documentary realist style is a far cry from the colourful urban capers of Hide and Seek or the romanticised, picaresque childhood wanderings of Johnny on the Run. The film does echo the approach taken by Hide and Seek, though, in seeking to establish its young protagonist as someone the viewer can identify with through recognition of its portrayal of a shared home life. It’s all too notable, of course, that all three films always turn to boys for their central audience identification figures: girls play important roles in all three dramas in different ways, but always in a supportive capacity, secondary to the schemes, concerns and problems of boys, who are presented as proactive and drive the plots forward, while girls are usually (intelligently) reactive. Terry on the Fence opens with scenes that believably depict a median income family happily enacting the daily domestic rituals of an average working life. Terry’s mum and dad (Susan Jameson and Martin Fisk) have bought their son a new black shirt from the mail order catalogue for his birthday, and allow him to try it on early as soon as it arrives in the post. But the mischievous lad sneaks out of the house the next morning (forgetting his dinner money) so that he can show off his flashy new apparel at school. These initial scenes at home, across the dinner and breakfast tables, and at school where Terry is shown to be an unexceptional though well-integrated member of his peer group, establish the sheer ordinariness of the world inhabited by its main character – an excitable, diminutive curly-haired eleven-year-old, who clearly at this stage knows nothing about youth crime, vandalism and violence.

A minor argument with his older sister Tracey (Tracey Ann Morris) after school that afternoon, in which Tracey’s simmering resentment and frustration about what she sees as the leniency regularly exhibited towards her younger brother’s irksome rule-breaking, boils over into a heated slanging match that feels like a believable catalyst for what follows -- one that many children and parents would surely easily be able to identify with. It also highlights a more nuanced approach to the depiction of the relationship between children and their parents in this film, realistically portraying how trivial incidents can escalate into behaviour both parties might regret later. When Terry uses the word ‘bloody’ in answering back his at-the-end-of-her-tether mother’s telling off, she impulsively slaps him in the face -- a spur of the moment reaction after a long, stressful day. Both the inclusion of mild swearing and the honest depiction of parents not as idealised authority figures, but as human beings, who are subject to their own stresses and strains and liable to make their own mistakes, is a new development in CFF/CFTF drama from the 1980s, in line with the approach being taken by the modern early evening soap operas that younger people were starting to watch more frequently around this period, with the advent of Brookside and the BBC’s then recently launched response Eastenders.
Terry then rehearses a version of a scene that must have been played out in every family household across the land at some point: storming out of the house shouting how he is leaving home – ‘I’m going … for good!’ He ends up at the local common – a nearby patch of neglected wasteland – which is where he falls into the clutches of Les’s gang. Neville Watson affects not just the clothing and pimply complexion, but the curled-lip snarl and threatening, aggressive posture commonly associated with the punk rocker -- the icon of a youth movement which in the popular mind had by now come to be associated with delinquency and drug abuse, much as the bastions of earlier youth movements had before it. By the mid-80s this idea of punk had become a cliché and something of a joke, and the look was often exploited to sell an ‘edgier’ picture postcard image of London to tourists. It was still a threatening enough image to young Terry, though – now alone and out of his depth in an unfamiliar area of the city – for him to feel obliged under verbal threat of violence to help Les and his gang of younger offenders break into Terry’s school and steal some portable stereo systems from the headmaster’s office. They recognise him as a privileged kid from ‘those snobby houses’ – not someone like them from the poorer council estates; and Les makes sure their reluctant accomplice is fully implicated in the resulting crime by forcing Terry (whom he nicknames ‘Pig Face’) to hide one of the stolen stereos at home in his dad’s tool shed.



As well as detailing Terry’s plight as he is forced -- scared by what will happen to him if he refuses -- to take part in a criminal act that goes against his character, the narrative also follows the desperate search for him that is being simultaneously conducted by Terry’s dad and his contrite sister while the lad’s regretful mother waits by the phone at home. Les and his threatening gang of hangers on are initially portrayed as a disruptive, corrupting force from the underclass of British society, come to destabilise the cosy conformity of family life that has been all Terry has previously known until taken by his new associates on this tour around seamy rubbish-strewn alleyways and dockyard demolition sites in Thatcher’s Britain. The significance of the opening scenes, in which Terry was seen getting his new shirt, now become apparent: for as well as painting a familiar picture of ordinary domestic life that is to be threatened later on, they also provide a marker by which Terry is to be recognised and identified by the school caretaker after he flees with Les’s gang across the school yard immediately after the robbery, having to be hauled over the school fence by his older, taller accomplice. The focus of the film then becomes Terry’s battle to prove that he isn't really one of the gang … that he was forced to carry out this inside job against his will when, from the caretaker’s vantage point, he and Les appeared to be the best of pals.
The interesting and unexpected move made by Ashley’s story at this point is to show how the more Terry seeks to extricate himself from any intrinsic blame for the school break-in, the more closely the fates of the two boys are bound together. Hoping to get back the other stolen stereo for the school (after returning the one he was earlier made to hide) a shamed Terry manages to track down Les’s home address. It turns out not to be some rundown sink estate in a deprived district, but an ordinary suburban house furnished much like his own. The real contrast in their lives is evident in the quality of their parental relations: having unwittingly traipsed mud onto Les’s living room carpet, Terry overhears Les being shouted at for the crime and beaten by his fed up mother while he hides in the adolescent punk’s bedroom. There is an echo here of the moment Terry was slapped by his own mother, of course, but that was clearly an aberration – for Les this type of parental relationship appears to be the norm. 




The film is sophisticated enough to resist drawing any simplistic causal connection between Les’s home life and his aggressive loutish behaviour; his persistent criminal activity and frequent appearances in front of juvenile courts could be seen to account for his mother’s quick tempered resort to violence when dealing with his behaviour just as easily as her beatings might be thought to furnish an explanation for that recidivism in the first place. Neither does the film insult the intelligence of the viewer by having Les suddenly become rehabilitated the moment we get to see him as a human being rather than just the stereotype image of a delinquent that he himself exploits while he manipulates younger children to do his bidding: shades of grey define the approach to this troubled and troubling character throughout. What is important about the film is how subtly it conveys the process by which Terry’s attitude towards Les gradually changes, and how it deals with the younger boy’s newly conflicted, ambivalent feelings about the adolescent troublemaker. 

Originally he was just terrified of this caricatured, snarling lout – an effect Les of course very much wished to cultivate for his own purposes. But later, Terry glimpses enough parallels with his own life to be able to empathise with his former persecutor to a degree –which puts him in something of a moral quandary after the two boys are picked up by the police while trying to steal back the remaining stolen portable stereo from the receiver of stolen goods Les had previously sold it to. Their ensuing appearance together, parents in tow, at a hearing before the juvenile court becomes an interrogation of Terry’s moral culpability which, despite the harsher more realistic terms in which it is presented, is in line with the upholding of the humanistic principles that are so evident throughout every phase of the CFF’s development, no matter how different the presentation style of the films it produced across the decades may seem when they are placed side by side.



As different as each of these little films from the ‘50s, ‘70s and 1980s undoubtedly are in tone, each of them demonstrate inventive strategies for dealing with the moral complexities of the adult world, presenting them to a young audience through a series of representations of childhood that continue to engage even today. Each film has been lovingly restored to splendour (Hide and Seek looks particularly gorgeous) and the BFI’s disc comes with an excellent booklet of essays and film overviews by Rachel Moseley (associate professor in Film and Television Studies at the University of Warwick), Robert Shail (senior lecturer in Film and Visual Culture at the University of Wales, Trinity St David), Michael Brooke (writer and DVD/Blu-ray producer) and Vic Pratt (BFI curator). Also included are some edited extracts from Gary Kemp’s autobiography I Know This Much, in which he talks about the making of Hide and Seek: having a crush on Liz Fraser and being given a ride in her new Lotus Elan; fighting off the local gangs hanging around the crew during shooting in Deptford; and having his prized feathercut hairstyle chopped off by the assistant director because it looked ‘too posh’. Author Bernard Ashley contributes a piece about the adaptation of his novel, and actor turned music producer Neville Watson discusses his casting as yobbish punk delinquent Les for Terry on the Fence. Interestingly, the film was given a U certificate by the BBFC when it was originally released, but has now been reclassified a PG because of a racist insult used by one gang member while talking to another; a close up of Les’s bleeding scar when he nervously scratches it while hiding from a policeman; and that previously mentioned instance of mild swearing used by Terry during an argument with his mother!        

 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

THE CHILDREN'S FILM FOUNDATION COLLECTION: Scary Stories (1976/1984/1985)


 After having showcased some strange, unusual and deeply wonderful adventures a few months back in Weird Tales -- the BFI’s third collection of recently restored and re-mastered Children’s Film Foundation classics -- events now turn from the fantastical to the unsettling for the next treasurable instalment in this on-going DVD range, which also incorporates some later entries from the re-christened Children’s Film and Television Foundation. With this fourth volume, three memorable short features produced between 1974 and 1985 have been brought together under the Scary Stories banner -- offering a slightly different kind of perspective on the Foundation’s typically jolly adventuring fare. This time we’re provided with a trio of chilling tales that each, in one way or another, involve youngsters in encounters with the uncanny that suggest the past of centuries gone by can never be entirely quieted, and sometimes returns to haunt the uncertainties of the present day. Only the first of these films, The Man from Nowhere (1974), is actually given a period setting and appropriately summons Gothic atmosphere in a form mimicking the traditional Dickensian ghost story, as well as the look of the BBC’s best ‘70s Ghost Story for Christmas adaptations, incorporating lashings of period Victorian gloom set around creaking imposing mansion houses, eerie woodland settings and a mysterious death-like apparition in black.
 Perhaps one of the most noticeable aspects of the entire CFF venture during its glory years was its capacity for eliciting some extremely high quality work from the succession of small independent producers, who queued up to apply for its modest funding opportunities during times when the going was often extremely tough for the British Film Industry -- especially in the mid-seventies, when the first of these three films was made under CFF patronage. The money ultimately came from The British Film Production Fund, a body set up to divvy out the grants derived from a small tax -- known as the Eady Levy – which was at the time still being collected on all cinema tickets bought in the UK. Charles Barker Productions appears to have been a somewhat short-lived beneficiary of this set up (The Man from Nowhere is Barker’s only recorded work according to the IMDb), yet it managed to produce this elegant period fable, after being teamed up with director James Hill of Born Free fame on a storyline that successfully places elements of Victorian Gothic literature from works such as Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Uncle Silas”, Wilkie Collins’ “The Woman in White “and Charles Dickens’s famous ghost story “The Signalman” alongside the kind of material that was much to be expected from standard CFF narrative formulations; such as, for example, the fact that the villains must always be seen to get chased at some point in the film by the young protagonists, with the story invariably ending just as the bad guys publicly get their comeuppance in a form which involves falling, or being pushed, into a muddy pool of water.

The Man From Nowhere glues all these elements together seamlessly, with a premise that feels slightly near the knuckle these days in that it involves the twelve-year-old orphan heroine being menaced throughout by a sinister adult stranger dressed in black, who follows her everywhere she goes and eventually even manages to invade the sanctuary of her adopted home. However, John Tully’s script sees the whole escapade carried off on a healthy mixture of intelligence lightly worn and easy charm, in a film which both imitates and comments on some of the most common tropes to be found in the classic Victorian mystery literature that it in part sets out to parody. It is also the beneficiary of some leafy locations in the South of England, so redolent of prestigious BBC period costume dramas of the day (as well as the output of a certain other producer of classic British Gothic fare), that they can’t help but induce a warm glow of nostalgia for this children’s variant of a now quaint form of British horror film-making.

Tully’s background in writing for children’s television enabled him with this likable little film to fluently distil for a young audience (but in a non-preachy manner) the essence of mid-Victorian social attitudes towards poverty, and their impact on and relationship to class, as well as illustrate the way in which this often came to be expressed in forms of philanthropy and patronage that were commonly portrayed by the popular fiction of the age -- especially in the works of Dickens. It also references the frequently made observation that Victorian belief in the supernatural underwent a revolution which saw a rise in the popularity of spiritualism, coincident with the industrial revolution heralding the advent of new forms of invention  centred on communication technologies like the telegraph, and new signalling systems created to facilitate the age of the steam train -- all of which were developments that helped make the claims of the paranormalists seem that much more  credible than they otherwise might have been, even though material science seemed to be conquering the landscape, both figuratively and literally. This was an idea that was picked up by Charles Dickens, and played a central role in his short story “The Signalman”. It was even more evocatively sketched out in Lawrence Gordon Clark’s eerie adaptation of the same story for his BBC Ghost Stories for Christmas strand in 1976 … except that The Man from Nowhere in some respects got there first, opening on a scene set in a village train station  (the significance of which will only be made apparent much later in the story) where little Alice Harvey (Sarah Hollis Andrews) arrives, clad in bonnet and shawl and looking like a perfect reproduction of one of Hablot Knight Browne’s and George Cattermole’s illustrations of Little Nell -- the tragic heroine of Dickens’ “The Old Curiosity Shop”.
Emblematic of the innocence and purity of the orphaned heroine in Victorian literature, Alice also evokes the magical world of her namesake from Charles ‘Lewis Carroll’ Dodgson’s famous 1865 work “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and its 1871 sequel “Through the Looking-Glass”. This association becomes more apparent when, upon being obliged to make her own way up from the village station to the imposing nearby mansion known as Tower House  – the home of her Great Uncle Harvey (Ronald Adam) – all alone after her Uncle’s housekeeper, Mrs Smee (Gabrielle Hamilton,) is held up while running errands in town that prevent her arriving in time to collect Alice off the train, the orphan encounters a mysterious threatening presence who emerges almost magically from the woodlands at the side of the winding country lane she has to traverse on her way. The figure is dressed in the imposing crape-banded top hat and sombre black suit of mourning common to one of the ‘mutes’ who would have accompanied a typical Victorian funerary procession. This ‘man from nowhere’ appears to belong to a strange supernatural realm, redolent of the woodland setting from which his voice is first heard to emanate in a disembodied form, his features gradually resolving themselves from a vague silhouette outline in the glare of sunlight glinting through the branches of woodland trees.
It’s an uncanny, almost fairy-tale surreal moment -- and one of many that reveal the class of director James Hill (whose pedigree in both children’s telly – Black Beauty; Worzel Gummidge -- and Victorian-set horror -- A Study in Terror – made him the perfect choice for such material) and the film’s cinematographer Desmond Dickenson (a veteran of many a enjoyable low-budget British horror flick in his time). This dark, Victorian representative of death comes with a stark warning: that Alice should not enter the environs of Tower House because grave danger awaits her there; she must go straight back to the orphanage from whence she came instead. The apparition becomes threateningly solid and corporeal when it suddenly materialises directly in front of her on the road and, terrified, Alice flees. Only the intervention of some raggedy homeless street urchins who hang out at the station gates looking for victims to harass for small change, and who are led by an Artful Dodger type called Spikey (Anthony McCaffery), stop her from immediately complying with the spectral visitor’s gruff demands. The boys befriend Alice after discovering she is an orphan too, helping her recover her clothes (which had earlier been scattered across the lane when she dropped her case in fright), and walking her to the gates of Tower House, supposedly her new home.

 Spikey, Nobby (Reggie Winch), William (Shane Franklin) and Jim (Robin Keston) are the prototypical gang of friends who you’d expect to find inhabiting a CFF outing during any period in the Foundation’s history. Yet they also fulfil the stereotypical Dickensian roles required of them in this particular period piece, acting as disenfranchised ragamuffin representatives of a hidden underworld of parentless child poverty to which Alice herself also belongs – just like the homeless band of young thieves from “Oliver Twist”.  Like any CFF gang, they have a secret den; but this one is secret because it’s on Mr Harvey’s land (‘he’d have us in gaol if he knew!’), and is in fact part of the wooded glade area out of which the man in black first appeared. The boys believe Alice’s claims about this figure without question, and set out to help her prosper in her new home; the adult members of the respectable small household, though, which has ostensibly taken her under its wing out of familial duty (and which only really consists of Mr Harvey and Mrs Snee, along with the family solicitor Mr Freeman) revile her "riff raff" friends from the street and increasingly fail to protect her from this dark menace, who claims at one point: ‘I know everything you’re doing, every minute of the day!’
This is a version of a scenario essayed countless times in a succession of thrillers penned by Jimmy Sangster for Hammer Productions in the early- to mid-sixties. Often termed ‘mini Hitchcocks’ and inspired by Henri-Georges Clouzot’s masterpiece Les Diaboliques they invariably hinged on someone -- usually a female protagonist -- finding themselves menaced by an macabre figure who may or might not be real, in what usually turns out to be a devious and far-fetched plot to drive them to insanity. As Alice attempts to adjust to her new life as the ward of a rich patron, her place in the household is put continually under threat by the unexpected materialisations of this man from nowhere, who threatens to cast doubt on her sanity while implying that the adults now looking after her are themselves suspect; for as the visitations become more frequent and increasingly threatening in nature, the intruder claims that Alice’s rich Uncle means ultimately to do her harm and to ‘get rid of her’ if she doesn’t leave the village and Tower House itself of her own accord.

Alice’s benefactor may well have pledged to look after his only living niece, but his motives do indeed remain unclear -- especially given the fact that he rarely willingly leaves the confines of the shadowy, wainscoted interior rooms of Tower House due to a mysterious illness (for which he must take special medication) and, according to devoted housekeeper Mrs Snee, is always ‘careful with his money’. The uncertain relationship between Alice and Mr Harvey is really at the core of the goings on in the story. Harvey is initially set up as a typical Dickensian Scrooge-like miser or a reclusive old fuddy-duddy like Sir Leicester Dedlock in “Bleak House”. His initial manner towards this poor relation of his, whose existence has only recently been brought to light by the efforts of his solicitor Mr Freeman (John Forbes-Robertson), is characterised by various attempts to control and to mould her through the act of buying her expensive dresses to wear, or by literally confining her to the house unless chaperoned by Mrs Snee, as Mr Harvey does not consider it ‘proper’ for a young lady to be seen out on her own.
 
On the other hand, Alice’s presence appears to gradually bring about a softening effect upon him as time wears on: he agrees to accompany her in a gig ride to the other side of the village to view the old church, and to see his friend the Reverend Potter, in a scene which plays like an extract from one of the BBC’s ‘70s MR James adaptations, where Harvey gets to play the part of a typical, harmless Jamesian antiquarian as he expounds to Alice on the history of the church’s construction, and the various additions and renovations that have been made to the building’s structure down the centuries.
But as Alice’s wild claims become more insistent after the stranger even manages to pop up behind a gravestone during the church visit, and then later stalks her through the woods after she visits them with Spikey to see the shelter that the young urchins have constructed to live in on Mr Harvey’s land during the summer -- her benefactor becomes more forceful, angry even, at the suggestion that he might wish her ill-harm. Angry, it seems, almost to the point of violence. This strong suggestion of threat and the implication that a sinister harm might come to Alice from an unknown, possibly even supernatural, quarter marks The Man from Nowhere out as a curiosity among its CFF peers, in which explicit murder plots against child protagonists rarely feature. Naturally, a reassuring order (in terms of both morality and rationality) must be reasserted at the end and Spikey and the rest of Alice’s young friends make good use of their street smarts to uncover what’s really going on, and also to concoct a plan to catch and expose the culprits behind what turns out to be a dastardly scheme dreamt up to disinherit the unsuspecting orphan girl.

While the signalling systems used by Victorian station masters in the 19th century were used as a metaphor by Dickens to explore the idea of ghostly spirit messages being carried to earth on an ineffable ether, here they play a vital role in perpetrating the illusion of the existence of an all-seeing spectral visitor from beyond, who always seems to be in possession of knowledge he could not possibly have come by through rational means. The children themselves, though, also use a piece of Victorian technology as their means to expose the plot against Alice: in this case a self-playing church organ that was actually a feature of one of the halls of the great house used by Hill for both the interiors and exterior grounds of Mr Harvey’s mansion. Finally, a traditional Dickensian conclusion is reached, in which all the former poor house children eventually find themselves in considerably better social and financial circumstances than those in which they started out. The film concludes with a theatrical flourish as each of the players take a curtain call as their name comes up in the end credits.
 
Although modern synthesiser-based instrumentation is used at one point by composer John Cameron (during an obligatory chase scene near the end) to create some ironic distance between the period setting and the conventions of the children’s adventure genre, circa 1974, by which the film still has to abide, the sombre harpsichord and flute score which characterises the incidental music for much of the rest of the film, perfectly captures the tense atmosphere of the story's idyllic yet crepuscular setting, over which a terrible shadow has been cast by such strange events. Furthermore, the film is beautifully cast: the child actors are believable (and, for once, there’s a good, justifiable reason for the boy gang’s 1970s long hair and scruffy clothes); Ronald Adam makes a particularly fine Victorian squire, who vacillates between the kindly old gent and the strict patriarch stereotypes in accordance with the uncertainties required by the plot; and Gabrielle Hamilton’s long string of roles in previous TV and film adaptations of many of the greats of Victorian literature (George Eliot’s Middlemarch and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford are but two)  stand her in good stead for her ambiguous role as the sole servant of Tower House, Mrs Snee. Recently the actress also appeared in a BBC adaptation of Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White: another ambitious tribute to the great storytelling traditions of nineteenth century literature.

All these elements add up to make a modest but entertaining little picture, steeped in Gothic Victoriana’s virtues; but if there is one element that really makes a difference to the film’s successful implementation of a style and aesthetics very common to 1960s and 1970s British horror films, then it’s the marvellous locations it makes such fabulous use of. Children’s Film Foundation productions never had access to particularly big budgets, of course, and so often these films were made almost entirely on location and therefore  in real buildings rather than on studio sets.  Such is the case here; and indeed, horror aficionados won’t need to be told twice that the ornate exterior of Tower House is none other than Oakley Court!

Designed and built in an eccentric ‘French Chateau’ style by Sir Richard Hall Say in 1859, this grand mansion on the banks of the Thames, in the county of Berkshire near Winsor, is perhaps the most famous Gothic residence in British Horror, having appeared in countless films, particularly in the 1970s. Hammer Productions, who briefly used it as a mansion house studio from the late 1940s (when, appropriately enough, they shot The Man in Black there) up until the mid ‘50s, when they moved to their more famous Bray Studios complex at nearby Down Place, helped to make it instantly recognisable, frequently re-using it as an exterior for films such as Lust for a Vampire. But many other British movies, such as The Legend of Hell House and Norman J Warren’s Satan’s Slave, also made ample use of its striking exterior profile, and sometimes the grounds too -- not to mention the occasional appearance in Italian movies from the same sort of era, such as Sergio Martino’s All the Colours of the Dark and Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin.

The really interesting thing about The Man from Nowhere from the point of view of the British horror fan is that not only does it include plenty of shots in which the familiar Oakley Court house exteriors, gardens and surrounding lawns can easily be identified -- with even the nearby woodland areas (purchased as part of the deal when the mansion was sold into new ownership in 1919) making frequent and picturesque appearances (they may not be Hammer’s familiar Black Park territory but these locations might as well be … they certainly looks much the same), but the production seems also to have been given permission to film throughout the great house’s interiors, and it makes terrific use of the lamp-lit halls and authentically furnished rooms that were maintained by the new owners as a time capsule tribute to n oaky mid-Victorian splendour.

We get scenes set on the vast staircase and balconies, and in darkening wainscoted drawing and dining rooms; also there is a scene which takes place in one of the chamber-like Gothic bedrooms and – the site of a memorably scary moment -- the house’s back kitchen, where the menacing man in black materialises in front of Alice after the door has been locked from outside, trapping her in the room with him. Particularly notable is the use made in the plot of the vast pipe organ, which was, according to former Hammer stills photographer John Jay (quoted in Wayne Kinsey’s Hammer Films: The Unsung Heroes) an offbeat feature of the residence eccentrically fitted in the main entrance hall. Writer Mark Tully mentions in the short introduction to the film he supplies for the BFI booklet, that James Hill had him incorporate this bizarre furnishing into the screenplay after they discovered it while looking over the site just before filming started. The  adoption of aesthetic elements of BBC period drama, along with the British horror film’s best Gothic trappings, raise this piece well above its humble origins, and it becomes not just one of the best and most original works made for the CFF, but also a worthy if marginal entry in the annals of Britain’s heritage of horror. 
By 1984, the culture of the Saturday morning matinees at the local Odeon theatre which had supported the CFF’s work since the 1950s, had fallen away with the advent in the 1970s of weekend children’s TV magazine shows such as TISWAZ and SWAP SHOP. However the Foundation did manage to continue its work by making deals with BBC and ITV, since most of the TV companies’ children’s output was made up of a similar sort of mixture of cartoons, adventure serials and comedy as had supplied the formulaic programming kids would have likely encountered on a typical trip to the cinema. The renamed Children’s Film and Television Foundation (CFTF) was able to continue making largely the same sorts of films it had produced for the cinema in the heyday of the CFF and, as Haunters of the Deep reveals, make them to a similarly high standard.

Haunters of the Deep is set on the Cornish coast in the 1980s and has a charmingly accented young hero called Josh (Gary Simmons) who appears to be exactly the same kind of adventure-minded, bike-riding, scruffy-haired young tyke as would have been found in any of the classic period CFF adventures, except for his localised accent and a clearly less well to do background than his middle-class predecessors of old. Both this and the following Out of the Darkness -- the second offering from the CFTF on this disc -- involve boy protagonists with regional accents who come to develop a special sort of affinity with a long dead child of an equivalent age, who emerges from out of the murky depths of a mythologised local folklore. Here, young Josh plays among the ruins of Edwardian era mine shafts on the Cornish headlands, enjoying a half-term holiday in a romantic, windswept summer landscape of sandy bays, fishing harbours and rugged cliff crests from which the remains of old mining chimneys poke like blackened fingers amid the empty shells of abandoned engine houses, themselves suggestive of a long vanished era as they totter against a backdrop of waves pounding and crashing on jagged rocks that host hidden cave entrances from which, even further back in time, pirates and smugglers once plied their murderous trades.

These elements are all authentic components of the shooting location’s true history, the landscape of the Penwith Peninsula dictating both the atmosphere inspired by such picturesque Cornish scenery -- which director of photography Ronald Maasz (an experienced camera operator and second unit DP who’d been working in the industry since the 1940s) manages to capture so convincingly -- and the very subject matter itself, which story creator Terry Barbour and director and co-writer Andrew Bogle co-opt from local legends and myths attached to this evocative place -- where a documented history of industrial development and working class poverty share space in the imagination with folk beliefs about spectral lights in disused mine shafts, and the sound of ghostly tappings echoing through abandoned tunnels.

In the story, a tragic past involving the dangerous work that once used to be carried out in local tin mines by children as young as Josh is now, amid tunnels which stretch hundreds of miles below the surface of the sea, is reawakened when Bill Roche, the divorced American CEO of Aminco Mining (Bob Sherman) -- who happens to be holidaying in the region with his daughter Becky (Amy Taylor) -- finds his free time cut short after the discovery of a rich seam of tin ore in the infamous old Stranglers Head mineshaft compels him to investigate on behalf of the company. As he contemplates reopening the mine for business, the local community consider the prospect of more work coming to the region, in an area struggling with declining prosperity.

One family potentially affected by the news are the Holmans: Josh’s older brother Daniel (Peter Lovstrom) considers augmenting the living he and his father (Brian Osborne) have been making as fishermen and volunteers to help clear the rubble which has built up in the old shaft over the intervening decades since work originally stopped. Meanwhile, Josh is reluctantly drafted by his mother (former Hammer star Barbara Ewing) into spending the day with Becky while her dad is shown around the tunnels and shafts of the potentially profitable mine by a local employee of Aminco, accompanied by Daniel, and Jack (Patrick Murray – better known for his character Mickey Pearce in Only Fools and Horses) -- a friend of Daniel’s who’s also looking to find employment as a mine-clearing labourer. But the very suggestion of operations starting up again at the Strangles Head mine brings local ‘eccentric’ Captain Tregellis (Andrew Keir – Dracula Prince of Darkness) out of the woodwork with dire warnings of what might happen if this site “which is owned by the Devil” is ever reactivated.  “Too many souls have been lost in pursuit of its treasures,” old Tregellis warns the bemused American; “there are spirits entangled in its depths. Disturb them at your peril!”

The film plays up a contrasting imagery of light and darkness, as evinced by gorgeous summer coastal views that Bogle and Maasz conjure from Cornish cliff-top pathways and hills which gaze down on dramatic vistas and rocky coastlines, setting this bucolic vision against the dank, dark, clammy tunnel-ways stretching under the sea and now explored by Roche and the mine experts. Above ground is a region of play and exploration for the two child protagonists; below, the memory of a benighted past of industrial exploitation and poverty lies buried but ready to be exposed at any moment with the opening up of the mine for work once again. The link between the two worlds is Josh – who is the only person able to see the ghost of Billy Bray (Philip Martin): a child worker who perished during a mining accident in the early part of the 20th century, and who now returns with whispered messages in an old Cornish dialect, and haunting visitations that warn of another disaster about to occur in the present. Bogle stages these ghostly sightings with real sensitivity and skill, bringing the blindness and disorientation of the circumstances surrounding the boy’s demise into the picturesque daylight world inhabited by his contemporary equivalent. Billy’s ghost often appears dimly set in a swirling bank of fog that partially envelopes him, creating imagery very reminiscent, in the mise-en-scène it establishes, to John Carpenter’s 1980 film The Fog.


With the spectral figure of Billy often inhabiting some haunted-looking landscape tableaux, and a memorable sound design of eerie wailing by ‘the Spriggins’ (dead miners whose souls have been trapped in the shafts they perished in), Haunters of the Deep contains plenty of chills to give its young viewers nightmares, but it also draws poignant parallels between the present and the past through Andrew Keir’s character Tregellis. He turns out to be a former mining Captain who started work in the tin mines as a young boy. As Josh and Becky bond over their fascination with Tregellis’s knowledge of the minerals to be found in the region as well as the history of Cornish mining (“the definition of a mine is any hole in the ground with a Cornish man at the bottom of it!”), overcoming the vast differences in their backgrounds while they discover this buried store of local lore (Becky’s is privileged but marred by the divorce of her parents; Josh’s family are poor but extremely close-knit), Josh notices a photograph on the wall of Tregellis’s cottage, depicting the spectral boy whose gravestone he earlier found himself facing, after having been somehow led to it through eerie mists until he arrived at a graveyard adjacent to a cliff-top chapel. It emerges that Billy was Tregellis’s boyhood pal.
The old mine Captain, consumed by survivor guilt for not having been able to rescue Billy, is able to assist in the translation of the dialect still being used by the boy for his whispered warnings, but is unable to see his former best friend now; he remains cut off from his boyhood past by the intervening years of adulthood. It is Josh who must in the end venture into the mine and confront the pain of the past in order to rescue Becky’s father and his own older brother, after a rock fall in one of the tunnels traps the mining party deep underground, just as Billy Bray and the Spriggins predicted. The second half of the film takes us into standard adventure/rescue CFF territory, yet is imbued with a sense of tragedy linked to the past as Josh experiences further encounters with more long-dead ghostly visitors, which become ever more intense as he and Becky (rather irresponsibly encouraged by Tregellis) venture down a tunnel they’ve been led to earlier by Billy which leads to a shaft that might eventually provide an escape route for the trapped men.


 
Haunters of the Deep effortlessly combines the history, folklore and superstitions of the actual region it was filmed in with a typical tacked on uplifting positive CFF message, in which young people are show to overcome their fears and in the process display moral fortitude and a spirit of adventure. Although there are pompous or cowardly minor characters in the film, unusually, there are no real villains portrayed -- with even the CEO of the mining company coming across as likable. And the Spriggins, initially set up almost as demonic spectres, intent on causing mayhem and disaster, are eventually proven to have been merely emissaries from a realm that brings only a warning from the deepest recesses of the landscape’s past about what the future might hold if one does not pay heed to what has been before.

The same potent mixture of folk horror that includes strong Gothic undertones continues with the third and last of the trio of tales included with this set. Out of the Past is yet another story rooted in a corner of history intimately tied to a surviving landscape in which many of the narrative’s events actually took place in some form. This time CFF veteran and TV director John Krish presides over one of the CFTF’s most haunting tales, based on the novel The Ivy Garland” by John Hoyland. Tom (Gary Halliday) accompanies his best friend Mike Neil (Michael Flowers) and his family -- which is made up of Mike’s mother (Jenny Tarren) and his sister Penny (Emma Ingham) -- on a trip to the Derbyshire village of Stonewell, where the Neils have bought an old cottage in need of renovation as a possible holiday home.
They are intrigued to learn from local museum owner, folklorist and part-time paranormal investigator, Julian Reid (Michael Carter), that the cottage was once a 17th century plague house, which had a particularly dark role to play in a piece of local lore which has haunted the village of Stonewell for three hundred years: an entire family who once lived inside these unchanged stone walls during the plague years of the 1660s  were buried within its confines, in the back garden, after succumbing to the Black Death, to try to halt the further spread of the disease – a common practice at the time, which is the reason why so many gravestones are scattered all over the villages of the Derbyshire countryside, so close to places that are still used today as residences. However, their deaths occurred soon after the family had taken in an orphaned boy: the son of friends in the neighbouring village of Eaym, who had been secretly sent to live with them by his parents just before they too fell to the infection decimating the population of their own village. The local history books tell that, fearing this lad to be a carrier who now risked condemning Stonewell to the same fate as that which had befallen the quarantined Eaym, the entire village turned on him, and forced him out into the woods, after having first commissioned the local blacksmith to forge an iron collar with a bell attached to it which they forced him to wear in order to warn them if he ever tried to venture back into populated areas of the village at night. When, driven to by starvation and the cold, the boy did finally attempt to come back, the entire community gathered once more as a mob … and murdered him.
Once again, although the legend related above is fictional, the makers of this drama were tapping into real events from the 1660s, when plague did indeed sweep many areas of the country, shaping in the process much of the character and feel of the Derbyshire locations shown throughout this evocative film. The story resonates historically because the village of Eaym is indeed remembered for choosing to isolate itself from the outside world rather than spread the plague elsewhere; and the scenery so evocatively caught on film here by director of photography Ray Orten -- the dry stone walls crisscrossing escarpments between pasture land and the unchanged 17th century face of much of the village architecture itself (not to mention the numerous old gravestones seen sprouting up in unusual places) – suggests how the past envelops and dominates the present in this region; and this, indeed, is made the central theme of the film. It is as if the collective consciousness of the present population of Stonewell is unknowingly trapped in a time-warp of ancestral guilt over the actions of its forebears, preserved by its local legends for historical posterity.

 
 Again, one boy proves especially attuned to the past’s plaintive call: perhaps because Tom is also a guest of the Neil family, accepted by them as one of their own yet still at the same time an outsider, he shares something in common with the nameless ‘boy from Eyam’ -- who similarly became the guest of a kindly neighbouring family, but paid a terrible price as a result. By far the eeriest of the three stories in this collection, Out of the Past portrays the collision of the past and the present through some extremely creepy dreamlike sequences that director John Krish imbues with a very effectively rendered hallucinogenic quality. Tom’s first experience of the supernatural comes as a strong feeling of foreboding upon his first entering the old cottage rather than an actual ghostly sighting -- but it is conveyed to the viewer through a haunting sound design and a placement of the camera that somehow captures Tom’s palpable sense of dread. The first appearance of the spectral boy himself, seen by Tom gazing through the second storey bedroom window of the guest house that he and the family are staying in during their holiday, is oddly matter-of-fact in its presentation and yet leaves one with a clear sense of the scene’s uncanniness, especially when we are reminded how the boy would have to have been floating several feet off of the ground in order to be able to appear in such a position. The ghostly boy’s visitations are subsequently announced by the tinkling of the bell that legend records having been attached to his neck, leading to a jokey scene where Tom and Mike stay up late to try and see the ghost together, but mistake the ginger pet cat that belongs to the owners of the guest house for the spirit, when they hear the tinkling of a bell from the pet’s collar as it nocturnally prowls the garden.

The film makes good thematic use of the standard motives often used to embellish many traditional ghost antecedents -- both literary and anecdotal – providing them with a reason for their manifestations upon this earthly plane: namely, a need to be remembered by somebody living, and for the site of their death to be discovered so that their remains can be properly laid to rest, thus allowing them to move on.  The problem of memory and the means by which we discover and commemorate historical events, and what the experiences of our ancestors is capable of saying to us about ourselves in the present, are themes which are particularly prominent in many ghost stories, and nowhere are they more evident than in this one. Tom also has vivid and disturbing visions of the experiences that were endured by the Eyam boy during his ordeal, and he feels the full onslaught of the fear and anger the boy inspired in the villagers of three hundred years past. But the film’s most haunting sequence comes during a supernatural experience that, in fact, happens to Penny when the three youngsters spend the day at the cottage by themselves: after falling asleep in a windowsill, the young girl has an out of body experience that seems to take her back three hundred years to witness through semi-blinding light and fog, from the top of the cottage staircase, the small coffin of a child being removed from a room that she and her peers were minutes earlier happily playing in, borne by a cloaked figure wearing one of the age’s characteristic wide-brimmed puritan black hats.
The unbroken line of ancestry connecting the past to the present becomes noticeable in the very faces of the villagers Tom witnesses persecuting the unfortunate boy during his own visions of the 1660s, experienced when the family visit what seems to be a perfectly picturesque hillside to soak up some history,that also turns out to have been the site of one such instance of mob injustice. The faces of the mob are the same as those possessed by the apparently benign figures Tom encounters in present day Stonewell: the local garage mechanic (Roy Holder) looks the same as the blacksmith who made and placed the collar and bell around the lad’s neck and then led the fearful villagers on its terrible hunt; and that mob is itself also made up of a lot of the same faces we see elsewhere in the present day community, such as the mute cleaning lady from the guest house (Hilary Sesta) and the lady at the counter of the local corner shop – a visual metaphor to emphasis the museum curator Mr Reid’s point that the 17th century atrocity might seem remote to contemporary eyes, but that it was carried out by ‘ordinary good people’ who were turned into savages by fear.

Reid’s interest in the village's past and its vestigial ghost turns out to be the result of his determination to find out if one of his own esteemed ancestors also took part in the villagers’ actions that day all those years ago, or whether he attempted to stop the tragedy, but failed. Ghosts offer us the promise of being able directly to perceive a past which is otherwise liable to become obscured by myth and legend; they bring with the contradiction of their non-corporeal bodies a sense of the past’s resistance to full exposure, while holding out the possibility of our untangling the mysteries of its circumstances and bringing resolution to the problems of the present through remedying and laying to rest the pain and legacy that lingers on as a bequest of an obscured history. Here, that idea is combined with a traditional CFF adventure-type approach to the final act, in which Tom finds himself literally transported through time and trapped in the 17th century after becoming lost in the very woods that the Plague boy was himself banished to just before his death. He takes the place of the victim, experiencing directly the events which led to his demise and risking re-enacting the same fate while he is being pursued by the same torch-bearing villagers -- unless his two friends and Mr Reid are able to reach him in time.

The synergy that’s formed between that 17th century hunt and the attempts of the village mob’s present day ancestors to organise themselves into an equivalent search party -- but this time with the objective of saving Tom rather than condemning him -- helps put a positive spin on some dark material. Tom’s literal re-enactment of the past enables him to discover the site of the ghost boy’s remains, and in doing so he also helps to partially lift the shadow of shame which has blanketed the village of Stonewell for centuries; for it transpires that the boy’s death was in part accidental rather than a deliberate act of collective murder. Out of the Past succeeds in taking on a sensitive area of history and turning it into an engaging ghostly adventure that, while ticking all the adventuring boxes demanded of any CFF or CFTF story, delivers some effective, atmospheric imagery which takes place in a compelling pastoral landscape emblematic of the region’s folkloric history.
This collection features all three films on a single DVD disc with re-mastered High Definition transfers. There are no other extras on the disc but a booklet is included with an introduction by film historian Andrew Roberts; an overview of the CFF’s work by film lecturer Robert Shail; screenwriter John Tully’s recollections of working on The Man from Nowhere; a contextualising piece on Haunters from the Deep by associate professor in Film and Television Studies Rachel Moseley; and a short essay by actor Michael Carter on his memories of making Out of the Darkness. In addition the booklet contains full cast lists for each film and production stills. 

As well as the DVD edition, this volume will also be made available from the BFI as an app, which can be downloaded from the Android store and is priced £4.99.