Based on the novel of the same name written by the late James Herbert, The Secret of Crickley Hall mini-series is separated into three one-hour parts on the DVD (no blu-ray exists for this title.
In Part One we see the Caleigh family lose one of their own and in a way all to common these days. Eve (Suranne Jones) is on the playground with her youngest, Cam (Elliot Kerley), half watching him make the rounds on the various swing sets and slides only twenty feet away. She falls asleep ever so briefly and when she awakes, he’s gone. Eleven months later we learn he was never found, and we get the sinking sense he may be dead. The boy’s Father, Gabe, decides to take his remaining two children, Cally (Pixie Davis), Loren (Maise Williams) and wife Eve on a working holiday to Crickley Hall located in a township that was ominously christened, Devil’s Cleave.
Once at their new home, the story cuts to 1943 where we learn Crickley Hall used to be an orphanage run by brother and sister, Magda and Augustus Cribben, and at this particular moment in its history, the Cribbens were looking for a new teacher. Enter Nancy Linnet (Olivia Cooke) who quickly learns the Cribbens are cruel; the children are being abused by Augustus, who insists on routinely beating them with his special cane. He also relishes lingering in the cellar in the dark and occasionally tormenting a child with death by threatening to throw him down this immense storm drain, if he doesn’t get his shit together.
Back in the present, we meet caretaker, Percy Judd (David Warner) who knows a lot more of the Hall than he lets on. The local cemetery is lined with gravestones of orphaned kids who supposedly died in a flood back in ’43. He’s devoted his life to looking after their graves. In ’43, his younger self, played by Ian De Caestecker, is seventeen and working for the Cribbens as a caretaker, he’s also smitten with Nancy.
The rest of the hour bounces between past and present until we finally encounter the ghosts of the hall. Locations for where this was shot have intrigued me, for some of them resemble the locations from 1986’s Rawhead Rex. I’m curious as to whether they used the same church.
Generally, I’m not a fan of ghost movies where actors are needed to portray the ghosts, since I find the phenomena ghosts create to be far scarier, but this mini-series struck a good balance, showing the first signs of the ghost children to be almost ephemeral as Eve sees them run up the stairs. Partial phantoms they were and it was creepy even though there was no menace to that scene at all.
In Part Two while Eve in present day decides to go searching for answers to what Crickley Hall was, Nancy in 1943 goes on a mission to get those kids away from the Cribbens. Eve learns of the orphanage history and that the children died within the Hall itself in the flood but she’s met with opposition from certain contacts who may be able to help her find her son, whom she thinks is somehow linked to the ghostly manifestations of the Hall. Nancy from ’43 is shockingly met with equal opposition from the adults she goes to who care nothing for these children, for back then adults were believed over kids.
For spoiler’s sake I can not divulge much of what transpires in the final Part except to say all storylines come to their natural resolution, and heartbreakingly so.
The switching between eras continues almost right up to the end as both storylines play themselves out with a final “confrontation” of sorts where both intermingle. It’s serene, and the same time tear jerking. For horror aficionados there’s a momentary appearance of a rotted, “living” corpse that was actually surprising to see in the midst of a tale that’s centered on the ephemeral.
All the transition points between 2012 and 1943 were cleverly done, so much so it reminded me of Highlander (1986). Not exactly like that, but close enough to mention. The ending reminded me of another flick, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (1975), where in that film a major character was being dragged towards a certain similar doom while others were in a race to stop it and we the viewers were on pins and needles wondering if they were going to make it in time to stop it.
As for the technical specs the mini-series appears to be in a 1.78:1 anamorphic aspect ratio that was slightly problematic for me. Any time the camera did any kind of panning it was somewhat jittery and yet the panning of the opening credits was smooth as can be. I’ve seen this before in overseas movies transferred for region 1 viewing. Had the transfer been better, the jittery panning wouldn’t be an issue. I only mention this for those viewers who are sensitive to anomalies in DVD transfers, which I occasionally am, though once I got immersed into the story it tended to fall into the background.
The audio is in English only, as are the subtitles, and in Dolby Digital 5.1. There are no extra features.
I’ve never read the novel, so I can’t say how faithful the The Secret Of Crickley Hall is. Either way, I highly recommend this James Herbert adaptation!