Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lost Hearts (1973) (TV)

... aka: Ghost Story for Christmas: Lost Hearts
... aka: Lost Hearts by M.R. James

Directed by:
Lawrence Gordon Clark

Young orphan Stephen (Simon Gipps-Kent), who's eleven-years-old and will be turning twelve soon on All Hallow's Eve, goes to stay in a secluded country manor with his elderly cousin Peregrine Abney (Joseph O'Conor), motherly housekeeper / cook Mrs. Budge (Susan Richards) and grumpy butler Mr. Parkes (James Mellor). Mr. Abney is a eccentric, scholarly man who seems one part giddily absent-minded and one part completely out of his mind. Either way, he seems to be pretty removed from reality, constantly rants about immortality and shows a peculiar interest in both Stephen's age and his health, all with an aloof smile on his face. Understandably, Stephen is wary of him right from the start. Mrs. Budge informs him that he isn't the old child to have lived there. Years earlier, Mr. Abney brought home an Italian orphan named Giovanni (Christopher Davis), who had an affinity for playing the hurdy-gurdy; before him, a young girl named Phoebe (Michelle Foster), who was descended from gypsies, came to stay. Both children disappeared after just a few weeks of living there, never to be seen or heard from again. Stephen immediately begins being visited by the pale-faced ghosts of both missing children, who seem to be trying to warn him about something...

Set in the mid-19 Century, this was the third entry in the British "Ghost Story for Christmas" series that ran on BBC around Christmastime every year from 1971 to 1978. Lawrence Gordon Clark directed all but one of them; 1978's THE ICE HOUSE, and all but three; THE SIGNALMAN (1976; from a Charles Dickens story), STIGMA (1977) and Ice House (both from original screenplays) were based on the works of M.R. James. It's well-made, with good performances and period detail, some faintly creepy images and nice shot compositions throughout. The presentation of the ghost children, who have long purple fingernails (which reminds one of later Hong Kong vampire movies) and bloody holes on their chests where their hearts have been removed, is fairly interesting, as well. Unfortunately, the storyline (Robin Chapman adapted the James story; part of his Ghost Stories of an Antiquary collection) is a little on the predictable side. It runs 35 minutes.

The same story was previously filmed for British television in 1966 (part of the Mystery and Imagination series). Young lead Gipps-Kent went on to a successful acting career, which was cut short after he suffered a fatal morphine overdose - a possible suicide. He was just 28 years old.


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