"Dance with me, you little toad."
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 09/12/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Pull down the shades and turn off the lights as it's time for a ghost story, of sorts...Ghost Story (1981), based on the bestselling Peter Straub novel, was directed by John Irvin (Raw Deal, Next of Kin), and lists an impressive cast including Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and John Houseman. Also appearing are Craig Wasson and relative newcomer Alice Krige, whose only other film appearance prior to this was Chariots of Fire (1981), although she has since had a long career, and I most remember her as the creepy mother from the film Sleepwalkers (1992), which was adapted from a Stephen King novel. She's also the best element in the film.
The film takes place mostly in a small New England town and is about four elderly men, members of The Chowder Society (they get together regularly to tell each other ghost stories), and a secret they've shared for the last 50 years, one that coming back to haunt them, both figuratively and literally speaking. It seems these men, now town elders, participated in an event, one which they vowed never to speak of again, but has begun to manifest itself, possible through guilt, in terrible nightmares suffered by all four men. Also, there's a little matter of a couple of nasty deaths...
Having read about this film so long ago in a Fangoria magazine, I had wanted to see it at the time it came out, but, alas, being all of about 11, I was restricted from partaking in all the nekkid and/or gory goodness of R-rated films. So, what's the deal with this film? Based on excellent source material and incorporating an experienced and highly talented cast, you'd think you'd have a real winner on your hands, right? Well, yes and no...what one may really notice the most after watching this film is the missed opportunity. I think the main problem is the same one suffered by author Stephen King in that the source material, the novel by Straub, is very lengthy, highly detailed, and extremely difficult to transfer onto the silver screen without seriously altering the material. Sure, the main elements will come through, but it's the intimate, complex details that tend to get lost, the ones that give the story depth and heart. The actors do a wonderful job, although Wasson, even though I like him a lot, seemed an odd choice to play the son of one of the elderly men. He ends up being sort of the catalyst that forces the older gentlemen to dredge up secrets buried, but never forgotten. The cast is wonderful, the direction well, done, the sets and scenery highly effective, but the element that brings the film down is that even at almost two hours, the story is missing the ookie goodness from the novel. Obviously the adapter had to pick and choose what parts to keep and what parts to omit, as is the case with any novel adapted to the screen, but the poor decisions as to what to keep and keep out become apparent as the story progresses, and the viewer begins questioning why the story becomes spotty and even crumbles at some points. The pacing is extremely slow, giving up little until it's ready. This may cause some viewers to become bored, but I rather enjoyed the gradual build up as it allowed for the viewer to really become immersed and soak up the positive, along with the negative, aspects of the plot. There are numerous flashbacks throughout, as the mystery unfolds, and I thought they were handled particularly well. The motivations of some key plot elements seemed unclear, specifically the Krige's character and the reasoning as to why she had contact with one of the elder men's sons, but I was able to get past that. I thought the special effects were done very well, and helped immensely in adding a somewhat gothic feel to the film. The film was definitely a horror movie, but took the road less traveled focusing on more of the horror inherent within the story, rather than providing the visceral imagery we've come to expect in modern horror films. The nudity in the film seemed a bit gratuitous, and while I enjoyed seeing an attractive woman bare her assets, it wouldn't have hurt to have a little less. There are some really good scares here, and given a bit of patience, the viewer will be rewarded. There are weaknesses in the story, and viewers who've read the book will most likely be disappointed, as the film just cannot compete, even though it does give a good effort. All in all, a solid, spooky, atmospheric slow-moving horror film with definite flaws that more or less equal its' strengths.
The wide screen print here isn't as good as it could be, as the picture appears murky and has a dull, lifeless quality. This isn't constant, but very apparent in a number of scenes. The audio could use a bit of remastering, as it's uneven, soft and hard to discern sometimes, but there are English subtitles available, which I made use of through most of the film. There are no special features other than a theatrical trailer, which I found a bit disappointing. While this isn't one of the better truly scary films I've seen, it does have something to offer, as it's certainly not the worst, either. It wouldn't be among my top recommendations, but if you find yourself one lonely and dark night looking for a bit of a fright, you could do a lot worse. If you've read the book, you might do well to skip the film.
First Rate Elements But Not Without A Few Flaws
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 08/28/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
""I will take you places you've never been. I will show you things you have never seen and I will see the life run out of you." What a great, unsettling line of dialogue. It's from Ghost Story, a movie some people like quite a bit and which, probably, more people can take or leave. Despite the film's flaws, and there are several, I like the movie a lot. It's about four men, now quite old, and a woman named Eva Galli.
"Eva Galli...there, I've said it," says Sears James, one of the old men. "Well, what happened to her?" asks Don Wanderley, the son of one of the other old men. "We killed her," says Ricky Hawthorne, another of the old men. "The two of you?" "All of us," says James. "The Chowder Society," Hawthorne explains, "in the Spring of 50 years ago."
The Chowder Society is made up of four successful men who have been friends since childhood. There's Sears James (John Houseman at 79), Ricky Hawthorne (Fred Astaire at 82), John Jaffrey (Melvin Douglas at 80) and Edward Wanderley (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, the youngest of the four actors, at 72). They meet regularly in the evening to sip brandy and tell ghost stories to each other. When they were young men they met a woman named Eva Galli (Alice Krige) who fascinated them. She lived alone in a mansion. She was beautiful, free spirited, intelligent. They all in their own way fell in love with her. And one night something terrible happened. They covered it up and tried to forget her. Now, it seems their own ghost story is coming back for them.
What are the movie's drawbacks? The film seems too long, mostly because much of the background is told in flashbacks with younger actors portraying the four old men. Another part of the story is told in flashback dealing with a contemporary element. The flashbacks, for me, just take far too much time to establish the base of the story. Second, there are too many skin shots of Craig Wasson as the son of one of the men and Alice Krige rolling around in bed or staring out of windows. The skin isn't essential to the story and seems to be nothing more than pandering to the audience.
What makes the movie work for me? A number of things. Astaire, Houseman, Douglas and Fairbanks bring a lot of history and nostalgia to the movie. They also bring a good deal of skill. It's pleasing to see these actors given a chance to do their stuff one more time. This was the last film Astaire and Douglas made. Second, the whole idea of old men sitting around a fire, sipping brandy, and scaring the bejeesus out of each other while something from their past slowly circles nearer to them makes for a fine setup. Third, the look of the film is first rate. The story largely takes place in a small, picture-perfect New England town with two-story brick mansions which have mullioned windows and pocket doors, and the white church with a steeple is next to the town square. There's snow on the ground, snow falling, trees stark with bare branches and a full moon at night. Eva Galli's old, boarded up mansion, empty since she disappeared, is a decrepit, decaying horror for anyone brave enough to rip down the boards and enter. Fourth, Craig Wasson does a fine job as the puzzled, worried son who gradually realizes that a woman he thought he loved a few months before his father died looks an awful lot like Eva Galli in the one faded photograph of her that remains. Fifth, Alice Krige is terrific. She plays two parts but the same essential character. She gives off waves of sexual challenge. When she turns quiet and simply looks, there are moments when you really don't want to know what she's seeing.
The DVD picture looks fine. There are no extras."
My own diatribe voting for this movie.
Ophelia74 | NC | 10/07/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've read very mixed reviews of this film. I suppose I can understand how those who have gotten used to seeing high rate gore and special effects could get used to letting their imaginations lapse when it comes to seeing this movie. Those who can only focus on the sex scene - well, I imagine that has something to do with their brains being the size of a lima bean. This movie, you must remember, was made in 1981, so no, the special effects aren't up to modern day picky standards (although the scenes with Eva in all her glory are pretty gruesome). The majority of the book has been left out, and you'll just have to get over that, because it's hard to channel an entire book the length of Ghost Story into a 1 1/2 hour movie. So the focus is on Eva, her death, and her revenge. It is all about the revenge in this movie for what a group of high society boys did one summer night and tried to cover up. The storyline is presented romantically, the music is haunting and beautiful (unfortunately the soundtrack is out of print), and the sleepy snow scenes (like the opening scene) are unsettling and enchanting as Eva's vengeful laugh is dubbed in. This is a good, creepy movie. I will end my diatribe with this - grab a large bowl of popcorn, a Coke (or preferred soft drink), wrap your legs up in a comfy throw blanket, turn out every light in the house, and give this movie a go. If you just don't like it, close your eyes and listen to the music."
Slow and long story but worthy of your time
Get What We Give | Georgia | 10/26/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Ghost Story feels, at times, like it was designed to be a mini series. It's too long and there are several false starts and too much expositional material as the director attempts to include far too much of the information laid out in the novel.
The premise is that in this New England township there is a group of very well heeled old codgers who regularly get together to share ghost stories with each other. Their continued friendship through the years seems to have been cemented in a singular deed that they committed in their youth - a deed that none of them dares to mention and none of them wishes to revisit.
However, the old boys' past comes roaring into the present when one of them loses a son in a freak accident. After the accident his twin brother begins a relationship with a woman whose past, present, and future are very weird. Through this relationship, he feels compelled to investigate his brother's death and what connection it has with his father and the other members of the Chowder Society (the storytelling group of the old men).
It is these flashback/present day/recent past recollections made by Craig Wasson's character that bogs down the film. It would seem that this material could have been much more effectively told in the film by simply a short spat of dialogue.
Where this film excels is in the very real horrors of the ghost who is seeking revenge against the members of the Chowder Society. This is due, in no small part, to the remarkable and stellar cast that Ghost Story boasts: the historically far too little used John Houseman, Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Melvyn Douglas, Patricia Neal, Alice Krige (in one of her first and best performances), and Craig Wasson.
This is a ghost story. As with The Changeling and The Haunting (1960), it depends not on gore or tricks to deliver its horror. It builds based on characters and actions of the characters.
When the "reveal" occurs and the resolution begins, you can actually feel the dampness, and the oppressive atmosphere. You can sense the urgency of the characters - their need to complete their tasks before all is lost. But can they? Should they? After all, it was these old mens' actions that brought about the reality of this Ghost Story.
Worthy of your time. Check it out."