in Shocktober

Ghost Story (1981)

If you thought I was done talking about 80s ghost movies with Melvyn Douglas, you’d be damn wrong. Though I’d always heard mostly negative things about Ghost Story there were still two reasons I wanted to see it. One, the film’s makeup effects were done by the legendary Dick Smith (The Exorcist, Scanners, Amadeus) and two, the cast. What kind of cast do you normally imagine for a horror movie? Sexy teens? Dumb jocks? Young people in general? Not here. Based off of the novel by Peter Straub, Ghost Story stars; Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, and John Houseman. Sounds awesome right? Not really. Actually, it kind of sucks.

The story is centered around a club of four wealthy old gents appropriately named “The Chowder Society”. The group meets weekly to tell macabre stories, but has been hiding a far more macabre secret for 50 years. What follows is the unraveling of a not so interesting mystery made up of melodramatic stories and cheap shock moments. That’s not to say that the “shock moments” aren’t effective and on occasion dumb fun. Still the whole movie has “Made-for-TV” written all over it. I’m going to assume this feel is due to the fact that it’s an unsuccessful adaptation of Peter Straub’s novel.

I’ve seen similar horror novel-to-movie downfalls in a couple of Stephen King adaptations. Our imagination can usually create something far scarier than what we could ever see on screen. So it’s easy for one writer or director to lose that impact when trying to capture a novel or even misinterpret why it’s supposed to be scary. The characters all seem like they’re in a horror soap opera with often bland dialogue and an almost episodic pacing that doesn’t feel right for a feature length film. I’m not gonna lie, the main reason I’m tiptoeing around most of the plot is because I just didn’t care to pay attention. It didn’t draw me in so I was bored.

If I had to say anything good about Ghost Story it would be to the skilled makeup veteran behind the screen and the skilled veterans on screen. Dick Smith’s makeup is so colorful and detailed that it just pops. As for the foursome that star, Astaire, Douglas, Houseman, and Fairbanks, they all do their best to elegantly handle the so-so material. Houseman especially is pitch-perfect with his spooky British voice. Ghost Story is a bit of a curiosity with its casting and overall appearance, but when it comes down to it, it’s a ghastly bit of a bore.

Fred Astaire comes to the realization that he’s in Ghost Story.