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  Man from Nowhere, The Night Warning
Year: 1975
Director: James Hill
Stars: Sarah Hollis Andrews, Ronald Adam, Anthony McCaffery, Shane Franklin, Reginald Winch, Robin Keston, John Forbes-Robertson, Edmund Thomas, Gabrielle Hamilton
Genre: Horror, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Orphan Alice Harvey (Sarah Hollis Andrews) arrives by train at this rural station, expecting to be met by someone who can escort her to Tower House, the old mansion where her elderly uncle George (Ronald Adam) lives, having been entrusted to take care of the girl as her sole living relative. But there's nobody about to greet her, and she gets into a scuffle with four urchins who are hanging around outside the station, not the best of receptions. Having received directions from the porter, she sets off down a leafy lane towards the house, but suddenly a man looms up from the undergrowth and frightens her...

The Man from Nowhere was one of the Children's Film Foundation's occasional excursions into horror, which given this was meant for kids was not particularly horrible, though many have memories of watching this as youngsters and being scared by the title character, even if the final explanation owed more to Scooby-Doo than M.R. James, in spite of the historical setting. Although leaving out any blood or gore, there was something to be said for establishing a simple, spooky premise and allowing it to play out to its natural conclusion (rather than its supernatural conclusion), which was achieved here with some class.

If anything, it was reminiscent of the sort of children's drama serial popular on the BBC of this decade, which was really no surprise since the screenwriter was John Tully who had penned adaptations of such staples of the British school reading curriculum as Kizzy and The Phoenix and the Carpet, among many others. Not only that but star Sarah Hollis Andrews had spent the year with a taste of stardom as the lead in a very well regarded adaptation of the classic novel The Secret Garden on television, therefore audiences of the day would be very familiar with the territory they were being invited to explore with this.

That plot features our heroine terrorised by the man in black who appears whenever she is alone to warn her to leave the mansion, in fact, leave the entire area, else dire consequences would be visited upon the girl. She's vague on the details about what it is the man is referring to, but becomes increasingly concerned not simply because this sinister figure keeps threatening her, but because nobody else can see him. Whenever she goes running to tell people about the menace, he is nowhere to be found, which seeing as how that takes up most of the plot can mean repetition and monotony are pressing on the narrative, though it was such a brief film that it was not a major drawback.

Alice, presumably named after the famous Lewis Carroll character in a light allusion to literature though she's probably more Pollyanna derived, is not entirely alone in her plight, for those urchins we saw at the beginning become her allies, with the leader Spikey (Anthony McCaffery) showing her around the forest and ultimately giving her the courage to take matters into her own hands. It's easy to feel helpless when you are being victimised, so there was an encouraging note of taking control of a situation which might otherwise have seemed impossible here, a positive message for the younger audiences even if they did feel underwhelmed by the explanation when they might have preferred a whiz bang denouement with magic powers and what have you. Rest assured, C.F.F. fans, the actual climax did feature a man falling into some water, so some traditions were staunchly upheld. Music by John Cameron.

[This is available on DVD under the title Scary Stories as part of the BFI's series of Children's Film Foundation releases, along with Haunters of the Deep and Out of the Darkness on the same disc.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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