Title: GHOST STORY
Year of Release—Film: 1981
Year of Release—DVD: 2004
DVD Label: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
One of the best pure Ghost movies I’ve ever seen, perhaps the best ever next to THE SIXTH SENSE, John Irvin’s 1981 film GHOST STORY is a film that I keep returning to, time after time. Working from a dark, suspenseful, truly frightening script (based on the novel by Peter Straub), and blessed with a cast composed of a Hollywood Who’s Who list, Irvin managed to construct a tale of supernatural revenge that holds up as well on it’s tenth viewing as on it’s first.
Starring four of the greatest performers of their generation—Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Melvyn Douglas, and John Houseman—this is a story of four elderly men, and the secret that has tied them together for more than fifty years. Referring to themselves as the “Chowder Society,” they meet regularly to tell each other ghost stories, each trying to top the others. The sudden death of the son of one of the quartet begins an increasingly horrific descent into their own ghost story… one that they may not survive.
As I stated, this cast is composed of some of the greatest actors of their generation, and even if they were past their prime, they still had more talent at their command than half the films released last year—combined. While Fred Astaire is remembered mainly for his musicals with dance partner Ginger Rogers, he was possessed of some serious acting chops as well. His body of work included both dramatic and comedic roles, and this film gave him the opportunity to flex those dramatic muscles. John Houseman’s performance is equally rich and layered, as Sears James, the de facto head of the Chowder Society. His natural arrogance makes an excellent counterpoint to Astaire’s good-natured down-home character. Fairbanks and Douglas are good in supporting roles,
as the father of two sons, both portrayed by Craig Wassoon, both of whom fall under the spell of the beautiful Alma Mobley, played perfectly by Alice Krige. Fairbanks
John Irvin’s direction is competent and steady; not brilliant, but he patiently lets the suspense build throughout the film, never revealing too much. The only letdown in the film is the climax, which in my opinion was a poor concept, poorly executed. But any dissatisfaction I might have with the last three minutes of the film does nothing to change the film’s status as one of my favorite movies, nor should it keep you from enjoying it.
The disc is a fine example of the quality that Universal usually invests in it’s DVD releases. The audio and video quality is superb, especially when compared to my antique VHS copy of the film. Subtitles are, as always, a much-appreciated bonus for the Unimonster, and this disc is no exception. Overall, it’s a wonderful presentation.
The only weakness of this DVD is the total lack of special features. While that would be acceptable on an ordinary film’s DVD release, it simply is not on a film of this quality, with this much talent connected to it. Not even a commentary track, when there are so many anecdotes that must exist regarding the four lead actors. 200+ years of acting experience; are you telling me no one’s still around who was impressed enough to have tales to tell?
While THE SIXTH SENSE is undoubtedly the best ghost film ever, at least on the first viewing, the fact that so much of it’s impact is predicated on the extraordinary twist ending does affect the subsequent viewing of the movie. As someone who will watch a favored film repeatedly, I find that my opinion of it has altered somewhat. GHOST STORY has no such inherent weakness; it’s as powerful on it’s fifth viewing as on it’s first.
This DVD is a bargain offering from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, with a list price of $14.98. Still you can find it cheaper, particularly from DeepDiscount.com. At any rate, you owe it to yourself to see this film, and you may find that it’s your favorite ghost film, too.