The Sherlock co-creator and Doctor Who writer scares up some terrifying small screen recommendations.
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Actor-writer-director Mark Gatiss is a huge fan of dead things.

"I've always loved ghosts," says the Brit, whose many credits include co-creating Sherlock with Steven Moffat and writing episodes of Doctor Who. "I've always loved horror but ghosts were my favorite things. I've been reading ghost stories from a very early age."

Over the last few years, Gatiss has adapted several spooky stories by author M.R. James for the small screen under the umbrella title A Ghost Story for Christmas. His latest chiller of an offering is The Mezzotint which premieres on BritBox Dec. 24.

"It's a classic James story," says Gatiss. "It's about a museum creator who buys an old form of engraving, a mezzatint. It seems to be a very ordinary picture of a very ordinary house. But when his friend looks at it he says, 'This is much better than you said it was, the moonlight is very well caught.' He says, 'There isn't any moonlight.' But there is! The moon has now come out, and the next time he looks there's a figure on the lawn, and the next time he looks the figure is closer, crawling across the lawn. Basically a long forgotten tragedy is happening again within the framework of the picture."

A Ghost Story for Christmas: The Mezzotint
The Mezzotint
| Credit: Michael Carlo/BritBox

The tale stars Rory Kinnear, probably best known for playing Bill Tanner in the James Bond franchise.

"I've always loved Rory's work," says Gatiss. "He's such a dry wit, he's such a funny man. But also he does that kind of bottled panic and terror very brilliantly. So he was just perfect."

Below, Gatiss talks about his favorite spooky TV shows. Read alone at your peril!

Doctor Who (1968-today)

MARK GATISS: I'm a lifelong fan. I grew up with Jon Pertwee as my Doctor, and he was exiled to earth, so a lot of the horrors were very domestic horrors. So shop window dummies coming to life and big chemical works. It looked like where I grew up. I think that was part of the reason I was so frightened of it. It felt very possible. If you live in a 17th century house, you may already feel like you've got a ghost, but if you live in a [modern] house you probably think you're safe. But perhaps you're not!

The Ghosts of Motley Hall (1976-78)

GATISS: Growing up, I was mad about ghosts and horror. There was a great, almost forgotten now, show called The Ghosts of Motley Hall, written by Richard Carpenter. Ghosts, the comedy series now, is very much in that area. It's a collection of ghosts from different periods, but it's a charming show and really deserves to be much better known. Very funny and very moving, actually.

Children of the Stones (1977)

GATISS: Children of the Stones had a huge influence on me. It's so creepy. It was filmed in Avebury, and it was about a guy and his son who come to live there, and there's a strange sort of lord of the manor played by the great Ian Cuthbertson. The legend is that people were turned into stone in some time in pre-history and it starts to happen again. They have this fantastic catchphrase. Instead of saying, "Good morning," everybody says, "Happy day." It's like a proper proto-folk-horror.

Supernatural (1977)

GATISS: It was a series examining the roots of gothic horror. Each episode would take a familiar legend, like Dracula, and sort of spun it on its head. There's a werewolf one and one with Jeremy Brent, which is utterly terrifying, called "Mr Nightingale." Terrifying! But the best one is a brilliant thing called "Night of the Marionettes" in which Gordon Jackson plays a man obsessed with Byron and Shelley. He's traveling across Europe trying to find the source of Frankenstein, and they stay in this inn run by Vladek Sheybal from From Russia With Love, and there's a giant puppet show in the basement of this inn, and the puppet show is called The Workshop of Filthy Creation. [Laughs]. And basically, they're not really puppets, they're corpses. It's absolutely ghastly and really one of most weird things ever broadcast. I highly recommend it.

The Haunting of Hill House (2018)

GATISS: More recently, I enjoyed very much The Haunting of Hill House. I think one of the brilliant by-products of Netflix and others wanting to make longer format things is a lot of things that would never be touched, or would end up being a very compromised movie, have the breadth to breathe like this. I mean, The Haunting, the Robert Wise movie, is possibly my favorite horror movie, but I thought the longer format for the series was really great, and I look forward to a lot more in that vein. I haven't seen [Midnight Mass]. Steven Moffat's son (Louis Oliver) is in it, so I've got to watch it. I'm very excited about that, actually.

Gatiss' three previous A Ghost Story Christmas episodes (Martin's CloseThe Tractate Middoth, and The Dead Room) are now screening on BritBox. The streaming service will premiere The Mezzotint Dec. 24.

Watch the trailer for The Mezzotint above.

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