GHOST STORY (1981)
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1981’s Ghost Story is a combination of supernatural chiller and mystery based on a book by Peter Straub. It tells of the Chowder Society, four elderly men who have known each other since college. Sears James, Edward Wanderley, Ricky Hawthorne and Dr. John Jaffrey (John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Fred Astaire and Melvyn Douglas), all gather together once a week to tell horror stories. One of their spooky stories comes to life, when the ghost of a mysterious woman (Alice Krige) starts to haunt them and their kin. Soon members and family members are dying tragically and Edward’s son Don (Craig Wasson) comes home to investigate after the death of his twin brother. What he finds is a mystery fueled by a terrible secret, the one grim story the Chowder Society won’t tell.
Classy flick is directed by John Irvin from a script by Lawrence D. Cohen, based on Straub’s book of the same name. It’s atmospheric and very old fashioned and has a great cast of actors. Sadly it’s also a very dull and slow paced flick with the scares few and far between and a mystery which isn’t very hard to figure out. There is some nice SPFX make-up from the legendary Dick Smith and it is relatively bloodless, despite the era it was made in. The performances from the veteran cast are all good. Krige is very sexy and mysterious as the spectral femme fatale, though Wasson seems a bit miscast, especially in his scenes as twin brother David. Despite all the talent in front of and behind the camera, the film just plods along and takes almost two hours to reach a conclusion we all already know is coming. There is also the edition of two characters, escaped lunatic and son Gregory and Fenny Bate (Miguel Fernandes and Lance Holcomb) that add nothing to the story. It would have flowed smoother without them, even if they were in the book. A well intended film, but also a bit of a misguided one as well. It simply should have been consistently scarier and perhaps with a director more comfortable with the supernatural elements…elements Irvin almost seems to try to avoid.
In conclusion, it’s a noble effort with a lot of talent involved, but one that unfortunately fails to deliver the chills. It’s atmospheric and looks good, by way of Jack Cardiff’s cinematography. It has a few spooky moments and the score by Philippe Sarde is very effective. What really holds this flick back is simply a far too pedestrian pace, taking longer to tell the story than needed and a director just not taking full advantage of the trappings of such a tale. Definitely a movie that hasn’t aged well either, despite a very classy cast of legendary actors.
Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) spooks.