Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ghost Story (1981)

Title: Ghost Story (1981)

Director: John Irving

Cast: Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., John Houseman, Melvyn Douglas, Alice Krige

Writers: Lawrence D Cohen, based on a book by Peter Straub


There are only a handful of ghost movies that I categorize as being good ghost stories. Among them are The Changeling (1980), The Ring (2000), The Others (2001), The Orphanage (2007), What Lies Beneath (2000) Carnival of Souls (1962) The Devils Backbone (2001) and a couple of others. It takes just the right amount of atmosphere and just the right story to get me spooked out by one of these. Mainly because I don’t believe in ghosts. I like the idea of ghosts and the supernatural, but I don’t believe any of it for a second. Still, watching a good ghost story reminds me what it was like to be afraid of invisible beings looking at you from another plane of existance. Taunting us from beyond their graves. In my book, Ghost Story can be categorized as one of the best ghost stories ever made.

Story centers around a group of elderly friends who have always called themselves -even since their college years- “The Chowder Society”. These old friends like to gather around the fireplace and spook the hell out of each other telling ghost stories. Deep down inside though, they are just looking for a way to forget a horrible event from their past. Something keeps bugging these four old gentlemen in their sleep. Something is giving all of them nightmares, disturbing their slumber. The past has come back to haunt these four individuals. Will they survive?

What this movie does extremely well is set the atmosphere. From the very first shots of the film, we start on the right place. Four old guys sitting in front of a fireplace telling each other ghost stories. The room is lit only by a campfire and some candles. Outside, a snow storm. And a full moon. The cinematography on this movie is top notch, making everything look creepy dark and cold. This is one of those ghost stories that takes place during the winter, which is really a perfect setting for a ghost story. So, heavy atmosphere, spooky looking houses, creepy looking woods and lonely roads make up an important part of this flick.

This movie harkens back to the days when older people were making movies. Don’t know if this has happened to you guys and gals out there, but sometimes when I watch older films, like from the 60s, 70s and early 80s I notice how older people use to star in them. I mean, mature actors make movies today (only not as often) but back then, even mainstream commercial films had older actors. Just look at anything from the 70s, you wont see young “it” boys and girls starring in films. Back then, filmmaking was an art dominated by 40 something’s. It feels strange, specially when todays films only star the youngest, hippest, hottest, people on the planet. Ghost Story’s cast is composed of four elderly dudes, which made me think immediately that a movie like that would never get made today. Today they would make this movie with four teenagers dealing with the same problem. The fact that four elderly movie stars starred in this movie made me expect a mild horror film, a ghost story with a spooky vibe and some old school storytelling. Boy was I taken by surprise to see that this movie had an actual edge to it!

This film has a very sexual angle to it that I was not expecting at all. There is lots of nudity on this movie, in this sense, it kind of reminded me of Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985) because its main female protagonist is practically nude through out the whole freaking film! This type of thing works only if the main actress is extremely beautiful, and I gotta tell you gents out there, actress Alice Krige really had what it takes to make her nude scenes work! Some of you might remember Alice Krige as "Christabella" the villanious ghost lady in Silent Hill (1999), only on Ghost Story she's like 30 years younger and a whole lot hotter. As a counter point we also have to endure full frontal nudity by actor Craig Wasson, whom some of you might remember as the guy who throws holy water on Freddy Kruggers bones in A Nightmare on Elm Stree III: The Dream Warriors (1987). After watching Ghost Story, I can see why he was chosen for that role! Dream Warriors and Ghost Story have lots in common as well! I have no doubt this film influenced the makers of  Dream Warriors. Another thing I wasn’t expecting where the awesome make up effects! Whenever we get to see the vengeful ghost, it’s through a rotting, decomposing corpse that scares the shit out of you whenever it appears! I loved it! Every time we see the corpse its in a worse state then the last time we saw it, in this way the film reminded me of An American Werewolf in London (1981). So be ready for some nifty make up effects.

Best part about this movie though is the story. It’s very layered and complex and unravels at just the perfect pace for this kind of film. The deeper down the mystery we get, the more crazy the story gets. The movies main theme is, the past will always come back to haunt you, no matter how far you try to run from it. This is one of those movies where a lot is explained through flashbacks and nightmares. I haven’t read the book the movie is based on, so I can’t really tell you guys and gals how faithful to the book the film was, but I can tell you the best part of the movie is the spooky story itself. After seeing this movie, it made me realize just how much What Lies Beneath was influenced by it. Im willing to bet that Robert Zemeckis the director of What Lies Beneath was a huge fan of this movie! You’ll notice I have avoided getting too specific with story details and that’s because I don’t want to spoil anything for you guys. Trust me, this one is a keeper, go and check it out!

Rating: 5 out of 5


Wings1295 said...

I have only seen small parts of this one. Have always meant to see it from start to finish. I think you have inspired me to do just that! Thanks!

And a great review!

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks Wings, it really is a great ghost story, it has that "slow burner" feel to it as well, but its worth it.

Simon said...

I have to watch this now.

Franco Macabro said...

Do it Simon! This movie is waaaaay too underrated! This movie should be talked about on the same sentence as films like The Changeling, and you know, awesome freaking ghost movies.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Ghost Story is a solid scare, does all the right things in all the right places, but rarely achieves the inspiration or formal eloquences of say The Innocents or the other ghostly tales you mentioned. If you havent already, the novel by Peter Straub is well worth a read.

Franco Macabro said...

@Shaun: I read that the book is actually more complex then the movie, I havent read the book, but this movie impressed me with its spooky atmosphere and eerie vibe.

Im going to put the book on my must read list. Thanks for commenting Shaun.

jeremythecritic said...

Sounds really intriguing. The movie's poster is also very cool I must add. That's a great observation you made about how older people you used to star in movies but now everything is so box office driven you'd rarely see any movie starring someone over 21, much less the age of the actors in this. That's hurt more modern films (and not just in the horror genre) because some kids just can't act and lack believability. I really like you pointed that out because I've also noticed it's a major problem these days. I'll be checking this film out.

Franco Macabro said...

Its true, for example, George C. Scott in The Changeling. Great ghost movie, great performance. But if it was made today, it would star some young kid instead. And it would loose that gravitas that an older actor like George C. Scott can bring to the role. Not to mention acting ability.

Hope you like the movie Jeremy! And thanks for commenting.


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