The first thing that strikes you about John Irvin’s Ghost Story is the cast. The film opens with Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr and John Houseman dressed to the nines, telling ghost stories around a roaring fire.
They provide the film of Peter Straub’s novel with an old Hollywood gravitas that’s matched by the absolute po-faced-ness of this frequently chilling tale.
They play the four members of ‘The Chowder Society’, who regularly gather to scare each other silly, but a dark secret from their past is back to frighten them to death. Ed Wanderley (Fairbanks Jr)’s son Don (Craig Wasson) returns to get the to the bottom of his brother’s sudden death.
He’s convinced that his mysterious ex Alma (Alice Krige) is somehow involved, a suspicion that’s confirmed when he finds an old photo of the elders with a young woman who looks just like her.
Although the film is packed with Hollywood royalty, the absolute star of Ghost Story is Jack Cardiff’s incredible cinematography. The picturesque small New England town looks like a greeting card, but the shadows in the old houses are fantastically sinister.
It’s a wonderful film to look at, and this Blu-ray does it justice, with the superb effects work by the great Dick Smith standing the test of time.
As for the story, that’s a bit more rickety. The first half establishes a chilly air of dread, but the pacing goes off track once we head back into the past.
The flashbacks are well-shot and well-acted, and Krige (probably best known for her role as Star Trek’s Borg Queen) is fantastic in the dual roles of Alma and Eva, but the sheer length of these segments drags, sapping some of the peril of the present.
There’s a lot that works, however, like the intimidating Gregory Bate (Miguel Fernandes) and his creepy child, who hang around to make sure The Chowder Society knows what’s coming, and the finale is terrific.
Although it’s a little too clunky and plodding to merit classic status, Ghost Story is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a good chill on a cold, dark night.