Thursday, May 15, 2014

#1,368. Ghost Story (1981)

Directed By: John Irvin

Starring: Craig Wasson, Alice Krige, Fred Astaire

Tag line: "The time has come to tell the tale"

Trivia: Interiors were constructed inside the abandoned Union Station, the former New York Central Railroad's passenger train station on Broadway in Albany, NY and included a two story set

Based on a Peter Straub novel of the same name, 1981’s Ghost Story introduces us to the Chowder Society, an exclusive club that, for the last 50 years, has been meeting in the sleepy New England town of Milburn to exchange scary stories. The members of the club: Sears James (John Houseman), Ricky Hawthorne (Fred Astaire), Dr. John Jaffrey (Melvyn Douglas) and Milburn’s Mayor Edward Wanderley (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr), assemble once a week to frighten the pants off each other, yet there’s one story they refuse to tell: what happened to Eva Galli, a girl they all hung around with back in the ‘30s? For the better part of 5 decades, the quartet have kept the fate of this pretty young girl a secret, but when the four begin to have nightmares, each featuring, in one way or another, Eva Galli, they realize their past has come back to haunt them. When Edward Wanderley's son, David (Craig Wasson), inexplicably falls through the window of his New York penthouse and plummets hundreds of feet to his death, the elderly Mayor contacts his other son, Donald (Also played by Wasson), who returns home just in time to become embroiled in the mystery, which he feels is also connected to Alma Mobley (Alice Krige), an enigmatic beauty from his own past.

By the time they appeared in Ghost Story, the film’s four elder statesmen (Houseman, Astaire, Douglas, and Fairbanks) had 200-plus years of Hollywood experience between them, and sure enough, all four deliver solid performances. Also coming up strong (in a dual role) is Craig Wasson, an actor I’ve admired since his work in De Palma’s Body Double (he also appeared in one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a 4th season entry titled Hard Time). Outshining them all, however, is Alice Krige, both sexy and frightening as Alma, a woman whose burning desire masks a deep, dark secret. If nothing else, the cast of Ghost Story is enough to make it an interesting watch.

Which is definitely a good thing, seeing as the movie has little else to offer. For one, the film’s story meanders, taking far too long to guide us from point “A” to point “B” (a flashback sequence, where Donald is telling the Chowder Society about his experience with Alma, could have accomplished what it set out to do in half the time). The movie also features characters that bring absolutely nothing to the table (the worst offenders being a pair of escapees from a mental institution, played by Miguel Fernandez and Lance Holcomb, who are helping the vengeful spirit). Yet the most unforgivable flaw in Ghost Story is its simplistic mystery, which I’d already figured out by the film’s halfway point (As you can imagine, this made the last third of the movie something of an anti-climax).

Ghost Story does have a few scenes that’ll get your pulse pounding, as well as some effective jump scares, but aside from this and the performances of its superior cast, there’s not much here worth recommending.


David said...

I'm going to have to disagree with you on this one Doc! I like this movie; the ghost/revenant was extremely scary to me, I loved the setting and I guess I just have a thing for "slow-burn" ghost movies. That said, I can't really argue with your criticisms, the story does meander, that flashback is way too long and the mystery is extremely predictable. There's something about the atmosphere of this film that makes it really enjoyable to me. It's a good one to watch on a cold winter night, with a glass of characterful beer and the fire roaring.

Dave Karner said...

I saw this film when I was 17 or 18 years old. For someone impressionable, the sex scene and the intense practical effects were great. But oddly, the cold New England world and the very specific background to the terror really satisfied that longing to know just how a terror like this occurs. There were a couple of improbable moments, but overall, I thought this was a very scary and well made film.

James Robert Smith said...

I like this film. I don't love it...but it's a decent film. Strangely, considering how much horror fiction I read during the 70s and 80s, I have still never read the Straub novel upon which the film is based.