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Saturday, 5 January 2013

70s occult TV bows out: casting the runes


The ghost stories of Victorian writer MR James were a particularly popular choice for adaptation in the early 70s as part of the BBC Ghost Stories For Christmas, but the 1979 version of his tale Casting The Runes is still a lost treasure. Jacques Tourner had made a film of it, Night Of The Demon, in 1957 and there was a 1968 ITV teleplay, but the ITV Playhouse take on it in 1979 is like an overview of the previous decade's popular culture occult obsession. Prudence Dunning (Jan Francis) is the gradually spooked out journalist victim, whose TV documentary exposure of supernatural charlatans reactivates an old vendetta by reclusive mystic Julian Karswell (Iain Cuthbertson). Ten years before he had similarly been mocked by a journalist, John Harrington, whose mysterious death in snowy Yorkshire opens the drama. Now Karswell casts the doom-laden runes for Dunning, and as he lurks in libraries, cuts a brooding black-clad figure in long-shots over bridges and messes with her mind in Dunning's home and his study it's how and whether she can fight back that racks up the suspense. Well, what you do if a warlock put a curse on you?

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