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.