Monday, August 27, 2012

Ghost Story (1981)



"Four successful elderly gentlemen, members of the Chowder Society, share a gruesome, 50-year old secret. When one of Edward Wanderley's twin sons dies in a bizarre accident, the group begins to see a pattern of frightening events developing."

Okay, you lucky people, since I've neglected "The Vault" part of my blog in favour of some absolutely terrible movies which have made me even grumpier than usual, I have now set myself a "50 Horror Movies Challenge" of only watching good horror movies until the balance is restored.

There won't be any particular order to how I review these movies other than just pulling them off my shelves randomly and rewatching them. All you really need to know is that whatever I choose will be something which you should definitely watch yourself. With only 65 days left until Hallowe'en, it should work out well and provide you with a few recommendations for the big night.

Due to watching a lot of ghostie films lately, I'll begin with "Ghost Story" from 1981.

What can I possibly say about "Ghost Story" which you don't already know or can't find out by looking it up on the IMDb? Probably nothing except that I'm going to say it slightly differently.

I bet you didn't know that every time I watch the film, I can almost smell the mothballs and nasty old man odour of the ancient actors who really shouldn't have got involved in this project at all. I have zero respect for any of them since it was obviously just a chance to them to grab a paycheck by cashing in on their names. Apart from Fred Astaire, all they did was turn up and look a bit worried, but, then again, what would anyone do with such a badly hacked screenplay anyway?

Oh, but there I go being all cynical again which I shouldn't be about an otherwise nicely done film. I'm certainly not going to discredit the entire careers of the veterans based on their performances in "Ghost Story", but the younger actors (which include anyone under the age of 70 in this) and the scenes set in the 1920s were simply far more interesting to me.

I know nothing about the 1920s outside of a few "Sin Cities" documentaries which led me to believe that they weren't quite so "straight" or puritanical as I used to think. Morals were apparently a lot more like today without the threat of AIDS but still with the chance of dying from "the clap", drug taking and alcoholism were rampant, and women had more equality in all these shenanigans than ever before. All this brings me to the character of Eva as played by Alice Krige.


Having never read the original novel by Peter Straub. I have no idea if Eva ever had more to her backstory, but what a fascinating story it would have been. What series of events led her to be the way she was, give her such spirit or the will to come back from the dead to get revenge on the men responsible for her demise? Well, the answer to the latter is contained in the film itself, but the feminist essay writers could still have a field day with this one.

The fact that Alice Krige was incredibly beautiful back in 1981 was a big plus for me since I thought she was absolutely vile in whatever "Star Trek" thing she starred in as a Borg. She was kind of sexy in "Sleepwalkers", for sure, but not so pretty. Couple that beauty with her acting and her final "Pinhead from Hellraiser"-style lines and you have the best reasons to buy yourself a copy of "Ghost Story" right now. As usual, I've found the full movie on YouTube and embedded it above so you don't really have to do that. I don't watch any of these older movies to promote them like a cheap salesman, as you know. If you want that, I can recommend quite a few other blogs for you to read instead of mine.

As I said, the scenes in the 1920s and the actors involved in them were a lot more interesting than their present day counterparts. You can blame all the characters' actions on their youth if you wish, but I found them to be a rather hateful gang of over-privileged wasters with hardly any redeeming qualities. I'm sure they were supposed to be teenagers but, really, the actors were older and couldn't quite get away with that.

They weren't matched up looks-wise to the old guys all that well either so, even with the flashbacks, "Ghost Story" often felt like two separate movies edited together. It wasn't badly edited, but the continuity occasionally left a lot to be desired, the characters were inconsistent, a lot of questions were left unanswered, and the resulting plot holes were large enough to drive a snowplow through.


Even the beginning with John Houseman tactlessly telling what appeared to be Edgar Allan Poe's "Premature Burial" story was the kind of thing which should have brought back a lot more memories to the "Chowder Society" who didn't say anything obvious about it. Surely, the similarities to their own shared secret would have prompted some discussion of the past at that point, but the mystery remained until much later in the film. I found this unrealistic, but it was the kind of thing which would have gone unnoticed theatrically for most viewers with no ability to rewind. With no VHS available until much later, I doubt that the original audience would have wanted to pay to sit through this movie again either.

Don't get me wrong, "Ghost Story" wasn't a bad movie at all, but, like most supernatural mysteries, it's something you should only watch once. Going back over it revealed far too many faults in the screenplay and highlighted how formulaic the majority of it was. With a running time of an hour and fifty minutes, there was a lot of lag and even some padding which was odd considering that there must have been a lot of conflation going on too. The ending came across both as rushed and as a whimper.

I'm still going to leave 'Ghost Story" in "The Vault" even though I would certainly only rate it as average if I was younger and had only watched it for the very first time. The effects have become very dated and the scares which relied on them for their shock value just don't work anymore.

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