Movies Till Dawn: Ghost Stories for Christmas

“Ghostwatch” (1992, 101 Films/MVD Visual) British mock-documentary (though nothing about it is funny in the least) tricked out as a live TV investigation of supernatural activity involving a mother and her two daughters plagued by a poltergeist whose scope of menace quickly expands beyond their cramped London home. Director Lesley Manning and writer Stephen Volk (“Gothic”) are exacting in their attempt to pass off “Ghostwatch” as a real BBC special, complete with real TV presenters (Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, Craig Charles of “Red Dwarf”) and a call-in line which was besieged by terrified viewers who believed that the broadcast was real during its original (and to date, only) broadcast. Manning’s use of the documentary/news-style approach (a common horror technique today, but fairly unique in ’92) proves exceptionally effective here: the blandness of the camerawork and the presenters’ cheery banter is deceptively soothing before the supernatural phenomena overtakes not only the house but also the broadcast itself in initially subtle (and exceptionally creepy) ways that lead up to an all-out assault. A considerable (if not always acknowledged) influence on the “found footage” horror subgenre and a high-water mark for TV fright fare, “Ghostwatch” gets a 30th anniversary presentation with 101 Films’ standard and Limited Edition Blu-rays, which feature a retrospective making-of doc, highly informative commentary by Manning, Volk, and producer Ruth Baumgarten (a second and equally enjoyable track features historians Shellie McMurdo and Stella Gaynor), as well as an archival interview with Manning. Those with a few extra ducats should pony up for the Limited Edition release, which adds a reproduction of Manning’s shooting script with her annotations, a booklet featuring essays on the impact of the original broadcast and a short-story sequel by Volk, art cards, and reversible cover art.

Lady Morgan’s Vengeance” (1965, Arrow Video) The apparent drowning death of her beau (Michel Forain) spurs Barbara Nelli, a young Scottish lady of means, to marry her runner-up suitor, Harold (frequent Eurocullt dastard Paul Muller). No sooner have the wedding vows been said that Harold mounts a successful gaslight campaign to drive Nelli to suicide – all the better to lay hands on her property – but Lady Morgan proves resourceful even after death. Italian B&W thriller from Massimo Pupillo lays out all the Gothic trappings to detail Nelli’s revenge on Muller and his conspirators (Erika Blanc and American bodybuilder Gordon Mitchell) but holds greater interest by refusing to clarify if his heroine and pursuers are actually alive or dead (a notion shared with other Italian period chillers like “Nightmare Castle”); the answer comes, more or less, in a surprisingly morbid conclusion. “Lady Morgan” was among a number of ’60s-era Italian horror films to go unseen in the States, and Arrow’s Blu-ray – part of its impressive “Gothic Fantastico” set – introduces it with a wealth of extras, including commentary by critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, visual essays by Mark Thompson Ashworth and Kat Ellinger (the latter focusing on the roles of women in Italian horror films), and interviews with Pupillo (audio only), Blanc, and Muller. Galleries of lobby cards and a photobook adaptation and the trailer round out this worthwhile disc.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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