Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Paperhouse

UK movie (1988). Vestron/Working Title/Tilby Rose. Pr Tim Bevan, Sarah Radclyffe. Exec pr Dan Ireland, M J Peckos. Dir Bernard Rose. Spfx Alan Whibley. Screenplay Matthew Jacobs. Based on Marianne Dreams (1958; vt The Magic Drawing Pencil 1960 US) by Catherine Storr (1913-2001). Starring Charlotte Burke (Anna Madden), Ben Cross (Mr Madden), Glenne Headly (Kate Madden), Gemma Jones (Dr Sarah Nichols), Sarah Newbold (Karen), Elliott Spiers (Marc). 92 mins. Colour.

Troublesome 11-year-old Anna has glandular fever, and during the consequent fainting fits – and then in Dreams – finds herself in an Otherworld, where stands, remote in the midst of a windswept Andrew Wyeth-like plain, the house she has been drawing in her sketchbook. In her waking hours she embellishes the drawings and thus embellishes the other Reality, giving the house an interior and an occupant, Marc, a boy whose legs – which she omitted to draw – are paralysed. Anna finds that, in the mundane world, Marc is another patient of her own GP, Nichols; he suffers from muscular dystrophy. Anna tries through her drawings to aid him, but discovers that, once drawn, any line becomes unerasable; thus, when she tries to bring her father to the Otherworld as rescuer, her careless drawing instead creates that Otherworld's drunken, psychopathic Villain – her incest fears incarnate. The two realities become progressively more interpenetrative. At last, in our reality, Marc dies; in the Otherworld, he escapes to an unknown destination by helicopter. Anna's dreams of the Otherworld end, but convalescing in Devon she discovers the lighthouse that stood near the "paperhouse", sees Marc's helicopter and hears his voice, and knows that he is somewhere safe. The movie remains equivocal about its events: all may be a product of coincidence and Anna's fever dreams (> Perception).

On release P was treated by the critics as a Horror Movie and, as such, considered inadequate. In fact, despite scary moments, it is a strikingly powerful piece of well worked-out fantasy. The children's performances make up for some less assured adult playing. With its superb evocation of childhood and its sharp ear for dialogue ("What's snogging like, then?" "Like kissing a vacuum cleaner."), P is a movie agleam with conviction. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.