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3.5 out of 5 stars
Ghost Story
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on February 28, 2015
I've seen bits and pieces of Ghost Story on television over the years and finally decided to purchase the dvd. I also decided to read the Peter Straub novel in which this movie is based right before watching this film. Considering this film was made in the early '80s on a modest budget I knew a lot of the book would be sacrificed in order for the studio to keep the film just under two hours. What a shame though in all things considered. That being said however, the film is technically well made by director John Irvin and production crew. The film is rich with creepy atmosphere in regards to production design and cinematography. The film's story is about a group of four elderly gentlemen played perfectly by silver screen legends Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr and John Houseman who have formed a club called The Chowder Society spend an evening once a month dressed in their best suits sipping brandy and telling each other ghoulish ghost stories. Telling these stories as we later discover is their own therapeutic way of blocking out an incident that happened in their lives fifty years ago. Things do not go as planned as something has come back after all these years to exact revenge on these men one by one unless something can be done about it. One of the sons of one of the club members named David is killed in a tragic accident early in the film and his twin brother Don played by Craig Wasson in a duel role comes back to town and believes his brother and later his father was murdered by a mysterious woman who seems to have been involved in all their lives between the past and present. Don and the remaining members of the Chowder Society worked together to piece together this mystery before they become damned themselves. I wont give away any more of the plot since this is a very engaging story from start to finish. The casting of the veteran cast is as I imagined it in the book. Wasson is adequate as Don and I would've liked for him to be more heroic as he was in Straub's story but the most impressive casting was Alice Krige in the sinister duel role of Eva/Alma. Such a haunting beauty she was in this film and it is easy to see why any man would follow her to their doom. Krige has become quite an accomplished actress since then most notably in films such as Stephen Kings Sleepwalkers and Star Trek: First Contact as the Borg Queen but here is where she made her first impression. Like I said earlier I knew most of Straub's novel would omitted in this film but I feel they should've left some important things in that don't make much sense here like the Bate brothers who in the book had more characterization to them and were more menacing nemesis but in the film their presence just doesn't make much sense. The makeup effects on the rotting ghouls is well done by Dick Smith (The Exorcist). Overall the film is worth a look on a dark winter night with all the lights out.
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Several elderly gentleman are tormented by the ghost of a beautiful woman who is also in hot pursuit of one of the men's sons. The reason behind her revenge makes an interesting story that may please soft-core fans of the genre.

Based on Peter Straub's novel (which I have never read), "Ghost Story" stars several famous, accomplished actors, Fred Astaire (devoid of his dancing shoes), John Houseman, Douglas Fairbranks Jr and a new comer, the beautiful Alice Krige. Overall, the performances are good by the ensemble cast but the real star, in my opinion, is Krige as Eva/Alma, the ruthless ghost who has risen from her frozen surroundings to get her revenge. Aside from being possibly the most attractive killer cadaver ever screened, her performance really stands out. She is seductive, cold and calculating and her voice, along with that accent, makes her rather unpleasant character kind of irresistible. She was indeed perfectly cast and it looks like she had a great time playing the elusive ghost tormenting the cowardly men of The Chowder Society. She also has some of the best dialogue in the film and delivers each line with a mixture of seduction and malice - "Dance with me you little toad", "I think I'll take a bite out of you", "I thought you'd be dying to see me", "I will take you places you have never been, I will show you things you have never seen and I will see the life run out of you".

The cinematography is also excellent here and the overall look and feel of the film is effective and at times, chilling. We get some beautiful, eerie shots of the sleepy, quaint village covered in ice and blankets of snow adding much needed tension and fear, a frozen lake, a dark crumbling house with leaking, crumbling walls and colourful period costumes.

The main problem with "Ghost Story" however is that it's a horror film with very little bite since the chills are few and far between. Although I have never read Straub's original novel, it has been stated that, not surprisingly, it is superior and very different to the film since several important elements were removed. Apparently Eva/Alma is a shape-shifter, a Manitou and this is not the direction the film went which is a shame as these otherworldly transformations would have raised the fright factor in the movie. With that said, the make up effects are very good. The vindictive spook appears in various stages of decomposition throughout unfortunately she appears for only a couple of seconds of screen time and the viewer has to wait another 30 minutes or so before the nasty corpse is briefly shown again. So despite a lovely leading lady, great performances and promising effects make-up, the film drags quite a bit.

This film may not satisfy the hard-core horror nut but for the casual viewer who prefers substance over guts and gore, you might enjoy this over-long but sinister early 80's tale of supernatural vengeance.
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It's been at least fifteen years since I read Peter Straub's Ghost Story, and I must admit I've forgotten almost everything about the actual story. What I do remember is my conviction that Straub's novel was truly a masterpiece of the horror genre. Straub is a complete writer, not some penny dreadful hack, and that almost guarantees that no film can possibly do any of his writings justice. Movies revolve around characters and actions, and Straub's fiction really plays on a much higher level. Frankly, I'm surprised that anyone would even attempt to adapt Straub for the big screen. Robbed of its atmospheric build-up, Ghost Story (the film) proves quite incapable of immersing you in the dark shadows haunting the Chowder Club Society meetings. Unable to take on a life of its own onscreen, Ghost Story feels to me like an old made-for-TV movie.

The four elderly, distinguished gentlemen who make up the The Chowder Society have been trading ghost tales and scary stories for decades. For fifty years, however, not a one of them has ever even thought about mentioning the most disturbing story of all, one that they all secretly share. Eva was her name, a saucy little newcomer who had all four of their college-age hearts pitter-pattering as they stumbled over one another pitching woo in her general direction. It's weird enough for four best friends to all be wooing the same girl at the same time, but the director manages to make it even stranger and more confusing. Two of the guys constantly giggle like schoolgirls, none of them seem to have a clue about the essential nature of man-woman communications, and they all combine to make one of the film's most climactic scenes little more than pedestrian in terms of their emotional reactions.

As older gentlemen, the members of The Chowder Society are quite distinguished and refined. It's a solid core of aging actors: Fred Astaire, John Houseman, Melvyn Douglas, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. It's rather sad in a way, though, watching true Hollywood greats rapidly approaching the ends of their careers. Astaire's dancing days were long over by this point, but his often-overlooked acting ability is quite evident here - he, Houseman, and a young Alice Krige (Eva/Alma) basically carry the movie on their backs.

Ghost Story isn't a bad movie by any means; clearly, though, it falls far short of the mark set down in Straub's original novel. There's just an almost complete lack of atmosphere on display here, even during the most dramatic scenes. Moving at a preternaturally slow pace, the film will surely turn off a lot of younger fans expecting a lot of in-your-face action from start to finish. It's hard to assign much blame for the ordinariness of this movie, though, as it really comes down to the fact that Peter Straub's fiction just doesn't lend itself to theatrical adaptation.
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on June 6, 2004
When I first saw GHOST STORY on its initial release, I found it to be an entertaining, if not faithful, adaptation of Peter Straub's frightening novel. Now, some 20 years later, I found the movie less entertaining. The main problem I think is the enigmatic nature of the ghost, Eva Galli or Alma Mosely. Was she evil or supernatural prior to her death? And why doesn't she kill Donald as she did his brother? Was she really alive when she went down in the car? And what in the world do the Bates have to do with anything? And the classic "I am You" line is powerless without an explanation.
John Irvin's direction is also lackluster and sober. Of all the classic actors involved, none of them showed the power they have possessed in other roles. Although a talented actor, Craig Wasson was woefully miscast. Only Alice Krige as the ghostly Alma and Jacqueline Brookes as Astaire's wife bring any luster or poignancy to the film.
It's not a bad film by any means, and it does have some frightening moments with a wonderful score by Phillipe Sarde. I wish someone would remake it, however, and bring out more of the wonderful scariness of the novel.
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In "Ghost Story", the old men who make up the "Chowder Society" bide their fading years in a freezing and apparently unending northeastern winter telling each other ghost stories. Then they start dying very unnatural deaths. We learn that the group - a close-knit old boy's club going back decades - has been living a sort of ghost story of their own, one that's supposed to exceed anything they've told each other. When the son of one of the old men dies under similarly mysterious circumstances, his twin brother returns to home to investigate. It seems that there's some link between a mystery woman both of the sons dated, and a strikingly similar woman who disappeared many years before when...
Oh, what's the use. This flick hasn't any surprises. Both Alma, the beautiful woman years earlier desired and destroyed by our aged anti-heroes, and the mystery woman loved by both sons, are one and the same. Alma (a very pre-assimilated-by-the-Borg Alice Krige), we learn, came to the home-town of the Chowders in a by-gone age, when life was good, the weather was warm and the old men were young enough to be played by Ken Olin. Sought, loved and seemingly shared by each of the men, Alma is killed in an outrageous fluke. The "Chowders" of course, being gentlemen, cannot consider answering for their admittedly unwitting homicide, and cover up their tracks. Sealing the secret with a vow of silence, they set themselves up for Alma's horrific vengeance from beyond the grave. Years later, when they are old enough to be played by John Houseman, Alma returns.
This flick was a major disappointment - even before I knew who Alice Krige was. When we first meet them, the Chowders are basically non-characters - already ghosts themselves. Our ghost is also a mystery - but for the wrong reasons. Instead of irony or poetic justice, you've got to wonder why she postponed vengeance until the Chowders are old enough to be at death's door. I'd accept that the Chowder's guilt gave Alma power them - but how does that net sweep the sons of one of her killers? Instead, the script just gives her the power to scare people into falling out of high-rise buildings and off of bridges and - when there are no cliffs or open windows around - the power to simply suck life out of the living. Alice Krige, as Alma, seems more alive than anybody else in this flick - until the script decides she needs some special effects and turns her into a rotting corpse. The story grants her the despair and rage of a lonely and cold death, giving her more dimension than anybody else in the story. Wisely, the story preserves her fate as a victim, even as she seeks to dispatch her killers. Still, her vengeance is hollow because none of her haunts seems alive enough to warrant her ectoplasmic revenge. The script is light on effects, implying that it was going for the subtle route - but that requires mystery, character and plot-power that this flick painfully lacks. The special effects are lackluster and the editing is incredibly sloppy. Near the end, the cinematographers seem to have forgotten what time of day a scene is set in. Rather than pick apart the irony of ghost stories (in which the dead come alive by their desire for justice, while the guilty living seem to be walking ghosts) the film plods until it reaches an ambiguous climax clear in only a single respect: this is the least scary movie will ever see.
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on September 14, 2002
Knowing that "the movie is never as good as the book" doesn't help this horrific mess of a film. That being said, I saw the film when it came out 20 years ago, and it was bad then. Now, after having just put down the book, I would revise that rating down another notch to "atrocious."
I won't go on and on, but I do have a question: why bother basing a film on a book and utilizing almost none of the characterizations, plot nuances or, most importantly, sense of pervasive dread inherent in the novel and so completely necessary to films in this genre?
The book I literally could not put down, all the superlatives apply: engrossing, frightening, thought-provoking, evocative and suspenseful. The film unfortunately seems to have been written by someone who lifted the names and locations from the novel, while leaving out almost everything else.
A dream cast completely wasted (John Houseman, Melvyn Douglas, Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). Employing one of the worst actors in the business (Craig Wasson) to play the lead--not to mention opening the film with a mind-numbingly gratuitous shot of him plunging nude from a window--ugghhh, didn't need to see that AT ALL (not that there was much to see, ahem).
It all adds up to disaster and, worse, boredom. This film is a travesty in every sense of the word and an insult to Peter Straub--he should have sued.
This begs to be remade--only PLEASE this time do it right.
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on May 1, 2002
Even if I hadn't read the incredible book on which this movie is only nominally based, I'd still hate it. It's one of the least coherent, illogical messes ever committed to film.
It's hard to know where to begin blasting this movie. It's so melodramatic as to be frequently laughable, for starters. The soundtrack, which is sometimes hauntingly beautiful, is more often jarringly inappropriate.
The script is inconsistent, bringing up names out of nowhere and never explaining them (such as the name of the town in which the story takes place, which comes off sounding like a character who doesn't exist the way in which it is brought up), and introducing characters who drop out of the action equally inexplicably (Fenny Bates).
The two young lover leads, Craig Wasson and Alice Krige, have zero chemistry together (Krige moved on to better roles, at least). Wasson is cast in a dual role, playing both the lead and his brother, seeming no different at all except for a paste-on moustache, which is just bizarre, considering there is no mention of the two being twins and any other actor could have been cast. He also has the most comically inappropriate full frontal nude scene ever gratuitously thrown into a movie, again for no appreciable reason.
The effects are generally pretty bad - especially in the aforementioned comically inappropriate gratuitous full frontal nude scene, which is employed while Wasson's character falls unbelievably out of a window.
The entire reason for the ghost's haunting makes no sense at all, making her seem merely petty and not really sympathetic at all (considering her death was accidentally caused) - and why is she after Wasson's dual characters, anyway, considering they had nothing to do with her demise?
But the worst of all sins in this film is the portrayal of the haunted old men - splendid actors all, completely wasted in this awful mess - in their youth. They are all effeminate beyond belief, tittering like girls constantly, even dressing in drag for a party scene. They don't even bear much resemblance to their older counterparts.
This movie is just embarrassingly awful, in every way. Read Peter Straub's book instead, and see what the movie missed.
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on July 30, 2001
Beautiful ALICE KRIGE stars in this mind-bending extravaganza centred around the guilty thoughts of "possible" dirty old men. Something that happened during, shall we say an ungarded moment of passion, between the four male students and an alluring, seductive female new-comer to their village. A crime follows? Or does it? The quartet [Astaire, Houseman, Fairbanks Jr., Douglas] remain bound over the years, then with the passing of the moon, perhaps ...... something very old and nasty [with cronies] comes to life and starts a pattern of seduction, starting with the male offspring of one of the old guys!
During a one night stand with a [now reconstructed] beautiful stranger one sibling is thrown [?] from his high rise apartment [Craig Wasson in a dual role]. Unintelligble? That's how it goes, and the horror continues - and the original four are being dispatched one after the other. Based on the novel by Peter Straub it is not a perfect script. Lots of difficulties with the conclusion, but it is Alice Krige who triumphs in this movie - a maddening beauty, enough to drive anyone over the edge!.
Now, where is the DVD version? Please restore to wide-screen, with the deleted scenes please [including the sightless spectral Ms. Krige, a special effect considered too disturbing for 1981].
Another point of view? "Vertigo" Similar horror!
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on March 11, 2001
Worse than there's any excuse for, this is a terrible screen version of Peter Straub's not bad 1979 gothic. It was obviously made on the cheap by people who didn't know much about horror movies but is inept in special ways. Why, for instance, does most of the movie take place in a series of poorly lit hallways? If there's a movie with more hallways in it than this one, I'm not aware of it. The movie makes a big deal about unfolding in the town of Milburn, which seems to be populated by about six people. When we do see a handful of extras, they look exactly like extras and you can sense them making an effort to be unobtrusive. Much of the movie apparently never made it to the screen; the end credits list several characters never seen. The movie, which never recovers from its awkward introductory scenes, comes to a dead halt during the campus flashback sequence, which was also the weakest, most "writerly" part of the book. Others reviewers here have mentioned the waste of Patricia Neal, the pained acting of Craig Wasson, and the porcelain beauty of Alice Krieg, who somehow survives the cinematographer's botch job (she outclasses the movie as a whole and has a great evil giggle to boot). To the list of complaints against the filmmakers, I'd like to add 1) the director's bizarre penchant for men in dresses (in a movie where practically nothing happens, there are not one but two such scenes); 2) editing and an overall narrative logic that rival the lunacy of "Mommie Dearest"; and 3) the hilariously bad "special effects" by Albert Whitlock, which are so primitive they'd put William Castle into despair. Do I have anything good to say about this movie? I liked opening credits and the musical score by Phillipe Sarde, which does musically what the idiot filmmakers should have done visually.
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on August 31, 2000
This was made in 81 with a bunch of old Hollywood Actors telling a Ghost Story. Not much that makes a movie worth seeing for me, as there are hundreds of bad horror-films from that period of time in a similar vain ( "Hell House", "Burnt Offerings" ) and I dislike nearly all of them. However, this is different. VERY different. The plot is good and the actors are believeable. Not one scene in the movie that doesn't make any sense. Suspenseful from the first second, the movie captured my attention and destroyed my well-sleeping abilities for almost two weeks. The appearences of the Ghost come completely unsuspected and they are CREEPY AS HELL! ALICA KRIEG'S make up ( if she actually plays the "THING" I mean ) is more than chilling, although you don't get to see her in her whole rotten glory just a few seconds. But this is enough to make you want to turn the lights on and hide in your Bed! Believe me! You remember the End of Psycho- the Discovery of Norman's Mother? These kind of scenes are happening every 15 minutes here, and they manage to be really shocking. All the actors do a great job ( Alica - where are you today? ) , and the direction absolutely succeeds. This is one of the best Horrormovies ever and it is very unfair to put it in one bag with pointless movies like "Hell House". Buy it, and maybe you will agree!
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