The Treasure of Abbot Thomas

The Treasure of Abbot Thomas ★★★★½

I will have to think a lot more about these 70s M. R. James adaptations but I can already state that they are mostly brilliant and taken as a whole among my absolute favourites in the Horror genre. I only wish they were feature films.
As a leading supernatural writer I hold James in higher esteem than Lovecraft. Okay, basically I hold almost every writer of the supernatural in higher esteem than Lovecraft, while acknowledging that Lovecraft probably is the most important of them, at least in the 20th century, by providing a coherent theory of the weird and at least one exemplary story for every major concept that would occupy the genre in the following decades up until now. Turning to James means unearthing a completely different approach at horror. Paradoxically Lovecraft, while coming close to the questionable category of the "unfilmable" author, has been integrated into every fibre of the horror genre cinematic or not. James on the other hand, who relies on textural effects for the success of his writing even stronger than Lovecraft, turns out to be quite filmmable, but only within the tight confines of the world where his literature came into being and by the help of films who "read" themselves. That is to say, that these BBC-adaptations have a very coherent take on the relation between written language and film. They know how to put into motion bits and pieces of written language, old manuscripts, Latin quotes, to make it seem that the supernatural entity they construct is a linguistic one. An impossible agglomeration of signifiers out of different historical strata. But just as James' stories they nonetheless deliver in the end by showing us a piece of the impossible. The Treasure of Abbot Thomas - probably my favourite James-Story and also my favourite adaptation so far - is a puzzle-solving film. Figuring out the meaning of the signifiers leads into a realm where meaning doesn't apply any more and the symbolic order crashes or whatever.

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