The Scariest Movie Donald Pleasence Ever Made: 1973’s THE SPIRIT OF DARK AND LONELY WATER



SHOCK revisits the classic British “scare film” THE SPIRIT OF DARK AND LONELY WATER.

When one thinks of late, lamented British thespian Donald Pleasence in relation to the horror genre, a myriad movies come to mind, chief among them naturally being his iconic turn as the ever-intense Dr.Loomis in John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN and a handful of its spotty sequels.

But sitting silently, short and sweet, in Pleasence’s prime professional period is one of the secret handshakes of horror; a genre movie that’s not a genre movie at all, rather it’s a public information picture, a “scare film” sculpted by Britain’s Central Office of Information designed to keep less savvy kids from dying a soggy, horrible death.

Directed by television vet Jeff Grant, the picture we’re speaking on is the terrifying THE SPIRIT OF DARK AND LONELY WATER, a 90-second quasi-ghost story that, as Grant himself has said, “plumbed the darkness…it set out to scare”.

And scare it did. And still does.


Unlike the more graphic children-targeted “scare films” or the period (like the numbing, half hour long gorefest APACHES), THE SPIRIT OF DARK AND LONELY WATER (or LONELY WATER as it’s often screened as) isn’t trying to batter kids with visceral frissons, rather it is more focused on atmosphere and dread, delivering in under two minutes what most feature length morality-based horror films rarely do.

In it, the drained, emotionless voice of Pleasence oozes over images of stagnant ponds and deserted riverbanks, mostly at dusk.

“I am the spirit of dark and lonely water,” he coos.

“Ready to trap the unwary, the showoff, the fool…and this is the kind of place you’d expect to find me. But no-one expects to find me here…”

Children foolishly playing alone or unsupervised near these “lonely waters” and deserted shore-lined dumps end up swallowed up, while the “spirit” – a black-shrouded, faceless wraith – drifts past their flailing bodies, a reaper assigned to watch over their wet demises.

The film was played on British television throughout the 1970’s and terrified an entire generation of kids who not only steered clear of “lonely water” but also stopped swimming. Some probably stopped bathing.

As soon as Grant’s mini-magnum opus found its way onto YouTube, those who remembered having nightmares about it were thrilled to have a nostalgic shudder or two, while those who had only heard whispers of its terrors were treated to a prime piece of hidden horror history.

Read more about the making of this classic kidsploitation gem over at Grant’s blog and watch the entire movie below.

And watch it in the dark. Alone.

“I’ll be back-ack-ack-ack-ck-k-k…”


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