20 May 2002 | candyfloss
Christopher Lee stars as M.R. James, provost of Kings college, Cambridge. James, the foremost writer of ghost stories of his day(and as far as I am concerned, nowadays too), would gather a select group of friends and students to his study each christmas eve and read them his latest tale of horror. This set of spine-chilling ghost stories was aired a couple of Christmas's ago, and had me glued to the screen each time. The BBC is to be celebrated for adapting these stories, as it did so successfully with James's work in the early 1970's.
The set-up is simple: Lee simply sits in his study and recounts each story to his "students". There are no cutaways to actors playing the characters in each tale; the tension instead builds through the occasional cutaway or point of view shot, layered with extremely effective(and scary)music. The best of the four stories is "The Ash Tree", a deeply chilling tale of witchcraft and revenge; the weakest (though still very good), is the opening "The Stalls Of Barchester". "Number 13", the story of a ghostly, hidden room is also very impressive, as is "A Warning To The Curious", which features some seriously creepy shots of dark, disturbing coastline, riddled with Lee's chilling recital of a man pursued by the terrifying forces he has unleashed. Lee reads each story with terrific pace and conviction, and brings James' words to life superbly.
Granted, this is traditional, old-style horror that doesn't rely on shock tactics or sophisticated special effects to achieve its terror. That is precisely why it succeeds so well. The real success of "Ghost Stories For Christmas" lies in its ability to stay with you long after it's finished...especially while you're alone at night. So tuck yourself in, close the curtains, switch off the lights, and switch on "Ghost stories For Christmas".