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A Pleasing Terror (2009)
Nunkie Theatre

review by Steven Hampton

Genre fandom has long had a fond appreciation for the fine ghost stories by M.R. James, and many fans of classic TV enjoyed the BBC's great adaptations of A Warning To The Curious, and Oh, Whistle, And I'll Come To You, My Lad. Nunkie Films presents A Pleasing Terror, which is a showcase for a couple of James' spooky tales performed by Robert Lloyd Parry (who appeared at World Horror Convention, in Brighton, 2010), and is on a tour of suitably offbeat UK venues with his one-man show. (See www.nunkie.co.uk for details.)

Shot on location at Hemingford Grey Manor in Cambridgeshire, this video ably revives the oral tradition of storytelling. It is Jackanory, with scholarly incisive attention to detail, for literature buffs. Benefiting from candlelit settings, its offering of third-person oration, delivered in perfectly judged plummy speaking tones, is supplemented by acting out some twitchy mannerisms of story characters. With minimal sound effects (like distant church bells) there's nothing to distract us from the storyteller's voicing portents of doom, that provide more than enough chills, though Parry's intonation of the word "sometimes" raises a chuckle.

I won't reveal any details of the first story here, but suffice to say that Canon Alberic's Scrap-book reaches a humorous climax with the collector's timorous query: "Is this book for sale?"

The Mezzotint concerns an engraving (about an Essex poaching feud) by an unknown artist, chosen from an emporium catalogue. Not a very promising idea for a story, one might think, but - with James' descriptive flair championed by Parry - it becomes a magically-animated picture of phantasmagraphic awe, in the listening viewer's mind's eye.

Every delicate subtlety and menacing nuance is expressed with a mordant ironic wit, so we can hear every shadowy motion, feeling each new creepy revelation sneaking up on us. If only seven percent of our communication is words, then listen closely with your eyes, and shudder in the darkness. Robert Lloyd Parry is clearly a master of this form. See him performing live, if you can, but all fans of genre storytelling ought to buy this DVD to support this continuing venture to spread the appeal of M.R. James to new audiences (and readers!).

A second Nunkie DVD is in the works: A Warning To The Curious.

A Pleasing Terror



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