Archive for Whistle and I’ll Come to You

Ash to Ashes

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2016 by dcairns


One of the best things about the BBC’s old Ghost Stories for Christmas is how they don’t all fit a pattern. MR James was the default choice, but The Signalman, from a Charles Dickens story, is one of the best. That one has a couple of beautiful eerie images but depends largely for effect upon Denholm Elliott’s magnificent performance of Dickens’ largely unedited dialogue. The finest James adaptation, on the other hand, Whistle and I’ll Come To You, by Jonathan Miller, almost dispenses with coherent dialogue entirely, in favour of vague mutterings by Michael Hordern which run under nearly every scene.

I was inspired to visit The Ash Tree when my friend Danny Carr commented on how unexpectedly Roegian it was. And this is true — in converting yet another James story to the screen, the series’ regular director, Lawrence Gordon Clark hewed closely to the text, necessitating some unconventional cinematic language — overlaid dialogue from unseen peasants, flashbacks, dreams, quite a bit of narrative fragmentation.


Adding interest is the fact that the piece is set in a distant time period — two, in fact, and that it hinges upon witchcraft rather than ghosts. Plus the torture, nudity (only Leslie Megahey’s explicitly necrophile Schalken the Painter tops it) and the rather Cronenbergian monsters make it quite unlike anything else in the series. Plus it features Lalla Ward, which places it somewhere between VAMPIRE CIRCUS and Doctor Who, which seems about right — supernatural vengeance against sadistic puritans on the one hand, puppetshow monsters on the other. The elfin Lalla’s career was so unrelentingly psychotronic — no wonder she ran for comfort into the rational arms of Professor Richard Dawkins.

“We’re gonna need a bigger goat.”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2009 by dcairns


The above line is copyright a guy called David Solomons. So please forgive him for writing FIVE CHILDREN AND IT.

But our subject today is a different fairy tale, one by Sam Raimi. It’s about a magic button that can transport you to an enchanted kingdom. Called Hell.

But should Sam’s movie, DRAG ME TO HELL, be called DON’T DRAG ME TO HELL? Anyhow, as everyone will tell you, it’s a more-funny-than-scary thrill-ride full of bodily fluids and things that go bump. It’s also rather ethnically insensitive in its stereotyping of gypsies as curse-giving harpies and drunken revelers. One sympathetic gypsy, that’s all I’m asking.

Since nobody seems to be shouting about the film’s borrowing from Jacques Tourneur and Charles Bennett’s NIGHT OF THE DEMON, by way of MR James’s source story The Casting of the Runes, Fiona wants me to point this out, particularly how the film’s climax shows a character caught between a pursuing demon and an oncoming train. The idea of the object that dooms its owner to hell and must be passed on to some other poor victim also appears in Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale The Bottle Imp (filmed by me, not too skillfully, some years ago). 

If there was something missing here, and I felt there was, it was a lead character in tune with the hyperkinetic ‘toon slam-bang of Raimi’s action sequences. Bruce Campbell in the EVIL DEAD films is popular precisely because he makes everything funnier. Alison Lohman’s casting here is supposed to evoke sympathy, which seems at odds with the film’s gleeful splattering and battering of the poor protag. The film’s second act is basically a serious of savage beatings and facials. It’s in keeping with the kitten-slaughtering gimmick, admittedly, since Lohman’s chief attribute on display is perkiness and wide-eyed naivety. But torturing a cutie-pie may be entertaining to some people on some level but I don’t know how funny it is. Bruce Campbell always engaged the audience in a strange way so that they shared his sense of the ridiculousness of his ordeals. Maybe Lohman could have done some of that, but she certainly hasn’t been required to.

Lorna Raver (!) is suitably vile as the Romany hell-hag, Bojana Novakovic is striking as her grand-daughter, and Dileep Rao underplays nicely as a mystic who keeps saying “Yes,” in a calm voice. But the trouble with underplaying in a Raimi movie is that he kind of lets the air out of every scene that isn’t a ghost-train/abattoir action set-piece. The performances don’t seem to quite connect with each other, the words dying in the sound stage vacuum between the actors: a thin murmur of post-dubbed atmos is piped in to fill the gaps, but blank spaces seem to yawn between each shot, Peter Deeming’s photography seems overlit, especially compared to what he achieved on LOST HIGHWAY, and CG shadows are a poor substitute for the real thing.

Borrowing from his SPIDERMAN franchise a little, Raimi fills the screen with CGI (another MR James adaptation, Jonathan Miller’s TV play Whistle and I’ll Come to You shows that a mere piece of floating fabric can be truly terrifying, but it must be real fabric) and gets the heroine wet. Because that’s the way to a fanboy’s heart. 

Still, Fiona and I somewhat enjoyed the film, possibly because the central romance between a cute girl and a nerdy guy sort of resonated with us for some reason.

Now I’m off to shoot my low-budget remake, DRAG ME OVER THERE. It’ll be quite short.