Earlier this week I rewatched Ghost Story which I’d seen on a big ol’ multiplex screen a couple times when it first came out in 1981. Normally I wouldn’t so much as bat an eye over this, but recently I read a fine review of The Fog over at Film Miasma. It started off with the following: “There’s always something fun about watching something you haven’t seen in 40 years.”
True enough but damn. Hadn’t really considered that.
To add a little more perspective, 40 years before 1981 would obviously have been 1941, the year of Citizen Kane, The Black Cat, The Maltese Falcon, and The Wolf Man just to name a few highlights. My point is, in 1981, I thought all those movies were ollllllld. Now here I am, writing about a movie that’s just as old now as those were then.
Damn. Hadn’t really considered that either.
My point, I guess, is that I really liked Ghost Story back then. Still do. It holds up tolerably. Admittedly the 16-year-old me was far more affected by a naked Alice Krige than is the current me. I also read the novel shortly after that, but can’t remember which was better (leading me to believe that the movie must have been, or the book would have stood out).
The story involves four old white dudes who get together to share horror stories. They call themselves The Chowder Society, a veritable who’s who of old Hollywood: Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., John Houseman. The group has been getting together for a good long time, basically ever since their college days.
Things get complicated pretty quickly (spoilers are nigh). Ned Wanderly (Fairbanks) is mourning the death of his son, David, supposedly dead by suicide (we already know differently). At their father’s behest, David’s brother, Don, has returned to his hometown of Milburn. Both brothers are played by Craig Wasson whom I generally like although he always strikes me as a generic knockoff version of John Savage. I’ve also been told some folk liken him to Bill Maher.
And now The Chowder Society gets picked off one by one. Ned sees his dead son in town, follows him, runs into a ghost, and falls off said bridge. Dr. Jaffrey (Douglas) sees the ghost and has a heart attack. That leaves Sear James (Houseman) and Ricky Hawthorne (interesting name choice for a ghost story and played by Astaire). The two remaining Chowderheads finally reveal the truth about the ghost to Don.
It turns out that as young men, all four lads fell in love with the same woman, Eva Galli. I’ll skip most of the details, but will point out that they sort of accidentally murder Eva. Watch the movie. You’ll see why it’s sort of accidental. The upshot of all this is that it’s Eva has returned as a ghost seeking vengeance. It’s not clear why now particularly, nor what it is that has brought her back. I guess I’ll have to revisit the book.
It’s also worth pointing out the white dudeness of the plot. At the time of the murder, these were college boys with their whole lives ahead of them. Aww, poor things. Rather than face any consequences, they try the ol’ tried and true coverup. Oops. Truth is, if they’d confessed, they’d probably have gotten a slap on the wrist. Y’know, just like rapist scumbag Brock Turner did back in 2016. Ultimately, I harbor the same contempt and loathing for these sleazy little misogynists and their futures as I do for Turner and his.
Well. Seems I had something to get off my chest. Moving on.
By far the most interesting part of the movie is Alice Krige. She’s not just attractive, but striking, and yet there is something indescribably off about Eva. Some of it might be projected by viewers who know the story, but it’s more than just that. Somehow she just infuses her every scene with tension and unease. She’s fascinating and unnerving, like a dangerous snake.
It’s also well worth mentioning that for 1981, there are some damn fine practical effects, likely due to the participation of Rick Baker. Don’s final vision of Eva as well as her “emergence” from a watery grave stand up to time remarkably well.
Roger Ebert liked this movie–much more, apparently, than what he called Straub’s “unspeakable prose.” I can only imagine what ol’ Rog would have to say about Lovecraft. I don’t remember it being that bad. Then again, I don’t really remember the book at all. Guess I better go dig up a copy.
Available to rent on Prime and Vudu