Ghost Story

Rating 3½

Directed by John Irvin

Written by Lawrence D Cohen, from the novel by Peter Straub

Starring Fred Astaire, John Houseman, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Alice Krige, Craig Wasson and Patricia Neal

Four elderly friends living in a sleepy town in Vermont are haunted by an unspoken shared secret from their past. When David Wanderley (Craig Wasson), the son of Mayor Edward Charles Wanderley (Douglas Fairbanks Jr), dies a violent death and his brother Don (Wasson again, in a dual role) returns to the town, the secret begins to unravel and more deaths follows.

This 1981 horror film was a vehicle for four veteran Hollywood actors. The eldest, Fred Astaire, was 82-years-old, and still moving with agile and graceful nimbleness. The youngest, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, was ten years his junior. Another of the four, the double Academy Award winner Melvyn Douglas, died two months prior to the film’s release.

‘Ghost Story’ was also the first film, other than ‘Chariots of Fire’, to feature the excellent South African actress Alice Krige, whose screen persona often reminds me of Tilda Swinton.

It is probably close to 25 years ago that I first watched ‘Ghost Story’. I adored it. Not only did it satisfy my love of horror films and ghost stories, it also indulged my interest in “old” Hollywood. I was very much looking forward to watching it again and I was not disappointed.

At 110 minutes it is probably a tad overlong, although it apparently noticeably simplifies the story from the original novel. Certainly, the middle section in which Don Wanderley recounts the story of meeting and falling in love with Alma Mobley (Alice Krige, also playing a dual role) does rather drag the film down for a while. A lot of this lengthy sequence, which put me in mind of one of the those early 1970s British compendium horror films made by Amicus Productions, seems to have been little more than an excuse to have Krige walk around naked. To balance that, we are treated earlier on to a brief glimpse of Craig Wasson’s penis.

The acting is hammy (Krige notably excepted), endearingly so on some occasions and laughably so other times. The story is predictable enough and paints a dispiriting but all too predictable picture of the boastful and arrogant immaturity of a bunch of young men who fall in love with the same woman and treat her as an object to be toyed with, taking out their impotent anger on her when she belittles them.

In the end, ‘Ghost Story’ is well told, utilising a visually effective wintery setting. It has a suitably creepy tone and shock-tactic special effects are kept to a minimum, thereby maximising their effectiveness when they do arrive – something that should be noted by today’s CGI-obsessed filmmakers. The film was screened in 600 cinemas during its domestic release and grossed $23.3 million, a very respectable sum at that time.

Lawrence D Cohen, who wrote the screenplay, also adapted the Stephen King book ‘Carrie’ for the cinema (the celebrated 1976 Brian De Palma film).

No comments: