Four longtime friends (Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., John Houseman) share a terrible secret that they are forced to confront after their lives are disrupted by strange and inexplicable supernatural events.
Reaction & Thoughts:
In the 1980s, Universal Studios made a genuine attempt to reclaim their crown as the indisputable creators of the best and most effective horror films. After remaking Dracula in 1979 with great success, and revitalizing the werewolf sub-genre with An American Werewolf in London (1981), the studio decided to try their luck again by acquiring the rights to Peter Straub’s popular 1979 novel Ghost Story.
As with all best-selling books, readers and moviegoers in general waited with anticipation to see how the scary, but complex supernatural novel would be adapted to the screen. Unfortunately for many, Ghost Story the movie, fails to capture the intricate and puzzling dense structure of the book, with the filmmakers opting to simplify most of the themes that made the book a runaway hit.
Although the film adaptation falls short of its potential, I personally enjoyed the eerie Ghost Story. With an all-star cast and great production values, the film captures the cold and windy New England atmosphere quite well, and provides enough thrills and chills to satisfy fans of old-fashioned ghostly tales.
Ghost Story, written by Lawrence D. Cohen (Brian De Palma’s Carrie and TV’s It), manages to sustain a scary and tense atmosphere from the enigmatic beginning to the out-of-this-world ending.
Director John Irvin (The Dogs of War) should also get some credit for being smart enough not to play his cards all at once, allowing time for the audience to absorb the story’s many threads before unleashing the most terrifying aspects of the story. Even though some horror aficionados will get impatient with the film’s deliberately slow development and its limited use of gore, patient viewers will be rewarded with the restrained but fun thrills and chills that the film manages to deliver.
Veteran actors Astaire (Funny Face), Douglas (Being There), Houseman (The Fog), and Fairbanks Jr. (Sinbad The Sailor) provide the film with effortless elegance and star quality; their realistic performances are big pluses. Alice Krige (Chariots of Fire), however, walks away with the movie. Krige has this ethereal quality that makes her avenging ghost very real, and very, very scary. The cast also includes Craig Wasson (Body Double) as Fairbanks’s sons, and Patricia Neal (Hud) as Astaire’s wife.
Philippe Sarde’s (The Tenant and Tess) superb, chilling musical score sounds great, and truly enhances many of the film’s suspenseful sequences. The camera work is by Jack Cardiff (Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes), one of the greatest cinematographers of all time. The make up was designed by Dick Smith (The Exorcist and Amadeus). Special effects by Albert Whitlock (The Andromeda Strain and Earthquake).
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Ghost Story is not the best film of its kind, but it is so well done that the parts that don’t really work are easily forgotten once the film reaches its spooky and nightmarish climax. Although far from perfect, Ghost Story is an absorbing film; one of Universal’s last horror movies made for an older crowd. Color, 110 minutes, Rated R.