A Ghost Story for Christmas Films Ranked

6. The Mezzotint (2021)

The Mezzotint gives the original tale a fresh, kicker ending.

A strange mezzotint piece comes to the attention of a museum curator, showing the front of an old country estate. The trouble is that every time someone looks at the image again, it has changed. The moon cycles through the sky, and a strange, horrifying skeletal figure slowly sneaks out of the trees towards the house, intent on mischief.

With the original story possibly one of the inspirations for short stories such as “The Sun Dog” and “The Road Virus Heads North”, this version has an incredible amount of restraint to it. For the most part, the only horrific thing which happens is the changing of the painting, and it is purely down to the acting, writing, and direction, which manages to slowly up the creep factor. The image itself is terrifically disturbing, and as the events progress towards their ending, when this adaptation’s new ending kicks in, the film blurs from a residual haunting (see the Nigel Kneale 1972 film The Stone Tapes) to a demonic presence.

The Mezzotint probably should have cut about 20 seconds before the end for the maximum Jamesian feeling, but it doesn’t diminish too much from what is a remarkably confident handling of a story which, in theory, should be incredibly difficult to translate to screen.

5. The Tractate Middoth (2013)

Need more ‘Doctor Who’ connections? How about Sacha Dawan (before he became The Master) helping Louise Jameson (decades after her time as companion Leela) track down a mysterious book in which her very wealthy uncle, before he died, hid her will, giving her ownership of his entire estate. Except that people who play cruel jokes like her uncle don’t die easily, and a strange figure in a black cloak covered in cobwebs haunts the steps the young librarian takes.

The best of the modern James adaptations, it follows incredibly faithfully the original story, managing to give a new lease of life to the story with beautiful cinematography, astute direction by Mark Gatiss, and a brilliant performance from Dawan as the eager but awkward librarian’s assistant.

Every shot is gloriously realised, a real gothic feeling in each second, even when in the middle of a beautiful summer’s day. There is the of a treasure hunt, as per Abbot Thomas, but here it always maintains that lurking feeling of gloom and dread, even when those dust mites aren’t floating ominously in the sunbeams.

The Tractate Middoth is a great, fun time; James and Gatiss’ best pairing.

4. The Dead Room (2018)

If someone had never heard of Mark Gatiss, and wanted an introduction to him, it would be easier just to watch this short film than looking him up.

The only non-James adaptation of the modern era, The Dead Room sees the brilliant Simon Callow (who had previously played Charles Dickens in the Gatiss-penned 2005 ‘Doctor Who’ episode ‘The Unquiet Dead’) play the voice of a radio show called “The Dead Room”, where each show would have Callow’s Aubrey Judd read a ghost story for the audience. Of course, things aren’t that straightforward, and soon Judd’s past comes to haunt him… literally.

It’s somewhat shocking that Gatiss himself didn’t play Judd, considering how Judd’s reminiscence of the great ghost story tellers of old (James, Blackwood, Le Fanu) could have been ripped straight from one of his interviews or documentaries. The film is a love letter to ghost stories, the evolution of them, of the past and future changing the way we approach fear, understand the world around us. Judd’s hatred of technology and modern ghost stories (being improperly told, of course, with no style or ability to hold until the proper moment of climax) becomes the main way that the hauntings present themselves. Callow’s acting is extraordinary, and his narration of his past is heartbreaking in all the right ways.

The Dead Room is a surprisingly effective chiller, a hidden delight.

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