- Fred Astaire as Rick Hawthorne
- John Houseman as Sears James
- Melvyn Douglas as John Jaffrey
- Douglas Fairbanks Jr as Edward Wanderley
- Craig Wasson as Don/David Wanderley
- Alice Krige as Eva Galli/ Alma Mobley
A creepy horror film that has a classy veneer and a stunning cast of mainly acting veterans, Ghost Story brings something else to the genre of creepy horror hauntings and does it very well.
In a sleepy, small New England town that is seen almost always covered in blankets of snow, four elderly men meet every so often for evenings of brandy and creepy tales. They are the Chowder Society, who have known each other since their days at college. The quartet compromises of business owner Ricky Hawthorne, lawyer Sears James, Dr. John Jaffrey and town mayor Edward Wanderley. Their club is an informal one but one they take very seriously and pride themselves on the ghost stories they recount to one another. Yet these creepy stories have nothing on what is about to happen to them in the real world. One of Edward’s sons dies mysteriously after seeing a decomposing apparition of a strange woman, causing him to fall to his death. Alarmed and mourning, Edward’s other son Don returns to his father’s sleepy town to reconnect with his father, but has his own questions and theories regarding the suspicious death of his twin brother. He believes that the events have something to do with Alma Mobley, a mysterious woman who he had an affair with before he left her due to her overbearing and cold tendencies. Alma in turns it seems moved onto his brother after being left by Don. Events take an even more sinister turn when Edward dies in a similar fashion to his son, leaving the others to contemplate what they should do. You see, events in the present day begin to mirror a key event from the men’s past involving a dark secret concerning the beautiful Eva Galli, who bore a strong resemblance to Alma. Realizing that they are now being haunted for a past misdeed that has intertwined with the next generation, the remaining members of the club begin to recount the most terrifying story of all to the searching Don; a true ghost story that involves them all and whose dark presence has returned to exact justice.
Tension grows within this film due to strong direction from John Irvin. He infuses Ghost Story with class, which offsets the often ghoulish and lurid subject matter at hand. He marvellously brings the hauntings to creepy life and delves into the script’s main themes of regret and sins of the past. I admired how Ghost Story didn’t feel the need to move at a very quick pace, instead allowing the chilling narrative to unfold with mystery. That isn’t to say that the film is slow, it just takes its time successfully building atmosphere and ambience. The cinematography and exquisite lighting create interesting juxtapositions in time; the present is shown as mournful, whereas the past is show with a painterly quality that belies the shocking horror that occurred. The score, while overblown in various moments, still crafts an eerie spell with sudden shifts in pitch and repeating dreamlike percussion. The same can be said of the make up effects for the ghost which may be dated but still pack a gruesome punch.
The main quartet of veteran actors are excellent in this film. Considering the fact that none of them were in particularly good health( the film would be the last film of Astaire, Douglas and Fairbanks), they are all on splendid acting form here. Fred Astaire is wonderful as the most amiable of the society, Melvyn Douglas is great as the most panic-stricken and John Houseman, with his gravelly voice and demeanor, exudes authority as the leader. Douglas Fairbanks Jr has the smallest role out of the bunch, but still makes a very big impact on the story. The four great actors add class and gravitas to the story and make it a cracking good yarn with their presence. Craig Wasson is well-suited to the part of the inquisitive Don, who is the first person to suspect something not of this world is at play. The main standout of the cast is Alice Krige who essays the dual roles of Alma and Eva that eventually merge as one. With her clear, deep voice, playful smile that at times really unnerves and pale glow that shimmers almost all the time around her , Krige is striking to watch as the vengeful spectre who won’t stop until justice is done. Her physical features as well as her otherworldly poise and unusual gestures leave a creepy and very haunting impact on the viewer. If you ever wanted to see a vengeful ghost that could also bewitch at the same time, you can’t go wrong with the chilling performance from Krige on display here.
A delightfully old-fashioned horror film that doesn’t feel the need to rush its story, Ghost Story is a marvellous entry into the horror genre that is best enjoyed with the lights off on a cold wintry night.