Thursday, October 25, 2012


It is surprising that you can include Fred Astaire and horror in a sentence about a movie. Astaire was one of the great musical icons of the 1930s and 1940s. However, late in his life he made a little horror movie that is worth reviewing. Any horror movie is worth revisiting during the month of October. What is Halloween without a scary movie. Although the movie Ghost Story is not a moive that will keep you up after you watch it, it is pretty good and has some twists and turns. Ghost Story is a 1981 American horror film directed by John Irvin and based on the book of the same name by Peter Straub. It stars Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., John Houseman and Craig Wasson (in a dual role). It was the last film to feature Astaire, Fairbanks, and Douglas, and the first film to feature Michael O'Neill. The film was shot in Woodstock, VT, Saratoga Springs, NY and at Stetson University in Deland, FL. In a small New England town, four elderly friends form what they call the Chowder Society, an informal club where they regale each other with scary stories. Membership in the club, in fact, requires that one present such a story. The four friends are Ricky Hawthorne, a business owner, Sears James, a Lawyer, along with Dr. John Jaffrey and Edward Charles Wanderley, the Mayor. When Edward's son, David, living in New York, falls from a window after the girl he's sleeping with turns suddenly into a demon, Edward grieves. His other son, Don, a college professor who's fallen on hard times, shows up in town, not getting a great reception from Edward, who always preferred the other, more ambitious son. But now the four elderly gentlemen are unsettled and have nightmares. Clearly, something is bothering them. Edward becomes so distraught that he wanders across a bridge in the snow. When he sees the same female apparition that caused his son to fall to his death, Edward, too, falls to his death from the bridge. Although his death is ruled a suicide, his son Don and Edward's three remaining elderly friends doubt it. Don approaches the remaining three friends, requests membership in their group and offers up a bizarre "ghost" story of his own.

Don's flashback: A few years earlier, Don, then a promising junior professor, meets Alma, a beautiful if mysterious secretary who had come to work for the university. They immediately become involved in a torrid sexual affair that causes him to miss work and earn the scorn of the Dean who previously championed him. But Don finds a strange coldness about Alma, and he drops her. Later, he hears from his brother David that he has met the same girl in New York and intends to marry her. Don warns his brother that she's trouble, but to no avail. And indeed, Don suspects she caused his fatal fall from the building as seen earlier. In the present, the elderly friends react to Don's story. Sears discounts it, but Ricky believes him. Elderly Dr. John Jaffrey, after having a nightmare about the same woman, Alma, dies of a heart attack. This leaves only Sears and Ricky. Thus, they finally tell Don their own strange history with a woman who looked exactly like Alma.

Their flashback: Back when the four friends were young, the beautiful Eva Galli came to town, and, indeed, it's obvious that she's the same person as Alma in the present. The four friends are smitten with Eva, who encourages their sexual interest. It was Young Edward (Don's father) who first took her to bed, but he was impotent with her. Outside her house, the other three friends serenaded Eva in hopes of catching a glimpse of her when a shirtless Edward came to the window instead, giving the impression that he did sleep with her. Edward left with his friends, and the four became very drunk, discussing Eva's prowess in the bedroom. They returned to her house, where all but Sears danced with her. When it was proposed that they leave, Sears suggestively insisted on getting his dance, to which she pointedly responded that she intended to dance with all of them. She confronted Edward about what he had told his friends, then was about to tell them the truth when Young Edward leaped to silence her, knocking her down, accidentally smashing her head into the stone fireplace. Horrified, the young men believed that the unresponsive Eva was dead. They considered calling the police, but realized it would only mean wrecking their lives. Instead, they loaded her body into her car, then pushed it into the nearby lake. As the car descends, Eva stirred inside, looking out at them from the back window, screaming and hammering at the glass as the car sank beneath the surface, taking her with it.

Back in the present, Ricky and Sears admit that the death has haunted them all these years. Whereas Sears is dubious, both Ricky and Don believe that Alma and Eva are one and the same and that her ghost has returned to seek revenge. Don suggests they go to Eva's old house, now in ruins, to confront the past and her ghost once and for all. They go there, but Don falls on the rotting stairs and breaks his leg. Sears leaves in his car to seek help, leaving Don and Ricky behind. While driving through the snowstorm, Sears comes upon Eva's apparition. He slams on the brakes, and swerves to the side of the road. He survives, but is attacked by one of Eva's accomplices, Fenny Bate, and is presumably killed. Ricky nearly dies at the hands of Eva's other accomplice, Gregory Bate, but Ricky stabs him and escapes to get to the authorities, telling them to pull Eva's car up from the lake to reveal her body inside. This is intercut with Don, who confronts the rotting specter of Alma/Eva. Ricky and the authorities drag out the ancient car, wrenching open the rusted, corroded door, the un-dead rotting corpse of Eva lunges into view. It falls to the ground and begins to disintegrate before their eyes. Don is spared from her vengeance and the town is restored to peace. It is great to see movie icons like Fred Astaire, Melvin Douglas, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr at least one more time on the screen. The movie for me sort of drags in the end and loses steam, but the ending is gratifying enough. Throughout the year I like to watch Astaire movies like Follow The Fleet, The Bandwagon, and Silk Stockings, but I reserve the month of October to watch him in Ghost Story. It's a movie that won't really disappoint...

MY RATING: 8 out of 10


  1. David, I agree that on its own, the movie Ghost Story is well worth watching. What a wonderful cast! My problem was that I had read the book, and it was much more horrifying. The screenplay of the movie started off well, then veered off completely, much as happened with Stephen King's The Shining. Ghost Story could have been one of the true greats in horror if they had just used that superlative cast as written in the book. Too bad. Sometime you should read it. It will scare the hell out of you!

  2. I read the book before seeing the film. I understand why the film was a highly edited version of the book
    it was very convoluted and very long.Eva/Alma in the book is not a ghost in the accepted sense but a "shapeshifter". A great book well worth a read and I quite enjoyed the film;the 4 (in the book 5)members of the chowder society were brilliant and Alice Krige as Alma/Eva is such a good actress.Craig Wasson was so so he was the weakest of the cast. I have recently discovered your blog and love it.

    1. Glad you enjoy it. My writing is nothing prolific. I like to just publish items on nostalgic things that interest me. If you have any suggestions let me know!


  4. I want to find the scene where she tells one of the guys kiss me you Toad