Day 16: Whistle and I’ll Come to You
Double-billing time! Okay, admittedly, this wasn’t entirely a deliberate choice. This was actually one of the movies I had on DVD, based on a classic story by M.R. James which also happened to be one of my favourite ghost stories growing up, hence why I put it on the list. The original story is about an academic who comes across a strange old whistle while exploring the English coast. He blows it and naturally bad things happen.
However, what I didn’t realise was that the DVD in question I’d bought had not one, but two tv movie adaptations of the short story, one produced in 1968 and the other a more recent 2010 version starring John Hurt (one of my favourite actors, RIP) However, both movies were only about 40-50 minutes long, so I figured I might as well watch them and review them both and see how they hold up.
Probably the more faithful of the two to the original short story and also I reckon probably the better of the two? It takes a very classic black-and-white horror movie approach to the story, with the less in the way of big jump-scares/sudden shocks and more about the creation of an eerie atmosphere, slowly building and building in tension as the story goes on.
There are some genuinely fantastic moments and shots in this movie, including one not long after the protagonist finds the whistle, where we see a shadowy figure watching him from the beach as he walks away, a shot that immediately stood out to me as something special. (In fact, you can see part of it on the box-art above.) I’m pretty sure the 2010 filmmakers agreed with me on this one, because they very heavily reference that shot in a moment of their own. And there’s another one, on the same beach, involving a mysterious apparition in bedsheets that looks really great, spooky and unsettling for the time period.
That said, there are two things I’m not all that fond of. The first is Michael Hordern’s performance as the main protagonist. It starts pretty alright, but as the movie goes along, it goes from a quirky introverted professor character to… well… ‘Mr Bean’-lite. He just hams it up and overplays the quirkiness of the character way too much and it ends up hurting the movie as a result. In particular in the final climax, which is actually my second criticism. The final climax in the original short story was one of my favourite moments and freaked me the hell out. The final climax in this, in comparison, is… a little underwhelming. Even ignoring Hordern going over-the-top and sucking his thumb, it basically just amounts to a few sheets rustling about a bit. Considering it was my favourite moment in the original story, it’s just a tad disappointing, is all.
Still, I did like it quite a fair bit and I wasn’t really bored at any point. Plus, like I said, there are some truly classic shots and moments. SO I’d give it a fairly solid score.
Overall Grade: B+
Okay, as far as adaptations go… this takes a lot of liberties with the original source material. The main character is completely different, as are his motivations/drives, it has different themes and story beats and scares. Hell, there isn’t even an actual whistle in the thing, being replaced by a ring. And, honestly, I’m kinda mixed on a lot of the changes. Some work, some don’t, some are just headscratching (see the aforementioned whistle) and some are good but just make you wonder why it was stuck in a ‘Whistle and I’ll Come to You’ adaptation. Honestly, in hindsight, it’s probably better to think of this less as an adaptation of the short story and more a work lightly based on a similar premise.
And, taken on its own as its own work… it’s alright. It has some good moments of tension, some good spooky bits and John Hurt is fantastic as always. It goes for the whole ‘ghosts and symbols for mental/real-life issue’ thing, similar to the trend in recent horrors like the Babadook or Under the Shadow. And even if I don’t think it comes anywhere close to the heights of those movies, I give it credit for at least trying to be its own thing and handling itself with at least some level of competency. That said, it’s significantly less memorable than the 1960’s version and all the changes means that it loses a lot of what made the original ghost story so interesting to read. Still, maybe give it a check if you’re interested.
Overall Grade: B