The BFI have already released some fine collections of short features from The Children's Film Foundation, a successful run of British television dramas screened as one-offs in the 1970s and 1980s which treated their young audiences with a level of respect unheard of in these times.

This is their first foray into spooky territory, and for the challenge they've opted to release three great spine-tinglers of yore onto one DVD.

"The Man from Nowhere" stems from 1975 and is directed by James Hill, who also gave us A STUDY IN TERROR and, er, BORN FREE.

In it, a young girl called Alice (Sarah Hollis Andrews) is escorted to the country where she is to stay with her Great Uncle (Ronald Adam) in his roomy mansion abode.

No sooner has Alice arrived in his picturesque village, however, than she starts receiving visitations from a well-spoken bearded chap in a hat and scruffy black suit. He refers to himself as "the man from nowhere" and tends to vanish as swiftly as he appeared. More disconcertingly, he repeatedly warns Alice that she is in grave danger if she continues to stay at her Uncle's place.

Despite her insistence, her Uncle and his elderly housekeeper Mrs Smee (Gabrielle Hamilton) don't believe Alice's tales of a strange man who visits her only when she's alone. Meanwhile, the local kids watch Alice's movements from afar, remarking that she passes resemblance to someone they knew of old...

More of a mystery than an outright horror yarn, "The Man from Nowhere" is nevertheless successfully spooky whenever the titular character appears. Shot from ominous angles and imbued with an eerie silhouette-style presence, his impact is heightened by John Cameron's subtly effective score.

John Tully's screenplay manages to fit an ample amount of character development and slow-burning atmosphere into a neat 57-minute frame. Scares are restrained; paranoia builds steadily and yet with just the right amount of ambiguity to keep the audience guessing.

Come the denouement, the story does admittedly peter out somewhat. But, hey, this was aimed at children ... as such, its reluctance to end nightmarishly is forgivable.

Beautifully and considerately shot, cleverly edited and finely performed, "The Man from Nowhere" is an excellent slice of quaint, old-fashioned spookiness.

Next up is 1984's "Haunters of the Deep". Director Andrew Bogle hasn't made anything else of real note, but this is really rather good.

Set in Cornwall, this portrays the place as a sleepy coastal town where an old tin mine is being resurrected into use by American businessman Roche (Bob Sherman). One afternoon, a business meeting of his is interrupted by hoary old Sea Captain Tregellis (Andrew Keir), there to warn the aspiring miners of the dangers hidden in the mine. Local superstition, it transpires, dictates that the ghosts of local kids who worked � and died � in the mine many moons ago still haunt the place.

This is laughed off by Roche, but his daughter Becky (Amy Taylor) isn�t so sure � especially as her new pal, local lad Josh (Gary Simmons) is so adamant that a child apparition has been beckoning him from up on a nearby hill,

Indeed, the ghost of young Billy (Philip Martin) does seem keen to get these kids to follow him to the mine. But for what purpose?

Ambience is brought to the ghostly scenes with layers of dry ice and a cool synthesiser soundtrack, lending "Haunters" a more overtly �scary� mood than its predecessor. The Cornish locales are well used and lend a timeless quality to proceedings, even if the kids� terrible haircuts do seem intent on undermining that.

With a twist in circumstances which serves to suggest not all ghosts are unfriendly, "Haunters" is a successfully gripping and quietly eerie hour-long proposition. And it�s always nice to see former Hammer star Keir on screen.

Finally we get to "Out of the Darkness", 1985�s offering from writer-director John Krish. It�s not to be confused with an American TV movie of the same year, starring Martin Sheen as a cop with a terrible moustache who�s tasked with tracking down the Son of Sam killer.

Anyhow, "Out of the Darkness" concerns Mike (Michael Flowers) and his sister Penny (Emma Ingham), who are staying with family in another grandiose country house. When they start receiving visitations from the ghost of a young lad who died of the plague in the 17th Century, they turn to curly-mopped local kid Tom (Gary Halliday) in a bid to uncover the mystery behind these appearances.

He leads them to local historian Julian (Michael Carter), who further explores the case and edges the kids closer to discovering the truth about their hosting village�s history.

Said to be based on a true happening in the Derbyshire village of Eyam, "Out of the Darkness" rises above its generic title and patently low budget aesthetics to provide some genuinely involving human drama (great performances; tight script) and a final act that elicits authentic woods-based scares.

Picture-wise, the BFI have made good work of the materials made available to them.

"The Man from Nowhere" looks great in a mostly clean 16x9 transfer struck from the original 35mm elements, with solid blacks and natural colours. It has a look of an old colour film, but this feels wholly suitable and I wouldn't be surprised if that was the intention of its makers. It's a great presentation.

Despite being almost a decade younger, "Haunters of the Deep" doesn't fare as well. It's got a softer, scratchier look and is pillar-boxed in its original ratio of 1.33:1. Despite a comparatively dull palette, it still satisfies on its own terms. Shot on 16mm, the look here is entirely authentic with regards to that medium.

"Out of the Darkness" was also shot on 16mm and is similarly pillar-boxed. It looks to be in slightly better shape than "Haunters", boasting largely clean imagery and some nicely bold colours.

English 2.0 mono audio is consistently good throughout.

The disc opens to a static main menu page. This allows the option to either "Play All" or select an individual film. There are no scene-selections or sub-menus.

The only extra in this set is an attractively produced 20-page booklet containing liner notes from John Tully, Michael Carter and Rachel Moseley. As is the norm with BFI releases, the booklet makes for a most agreeable addition to this set.

SCARY STORIES is being released as part of the BFI�s most welcome "Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film" season. Other releases are set to include ROBIN REDBREAST and SCHALKEN THE PAINTER.

Whether you remember these gems from first time around, or they're something completely new to you, this set comes highly recommended. The BFI have hit a home-run once again.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Bfi
Region 2 PAL
Rated PG
Extras :
see main review