Peter Straub’s “Ghost Story”, published in 1978, is one of the best horror novels of the late 20th century.
The film revolves around four young men who encounter a supernatural entity that infects them in their old years, seduces a pair of their grandchildren and will not rest until the last one of them is eliminated.
Despite the title, it is not about a ghost but rather a centuries-old being presenting itself in the form of a seductive young woman; In the same way that Stephen King’s “IT” is not about a clown but about a generational ghoul that appears in the form of Pennywise the Clown.
King was a huge fan of Strobe’s novel and was clearly his inspiration when he wrote “IT” (first published in 1986).
Both involve young and old versions of characters grappling with life’s difficulties, as well as encounters with a being who never stopped stalking them.
Whereas “IT” is about the horror inflicted on children by corrupt authority figures around them, “Ghost Story” is about a group (“The Chowder Society” rather than “The Loser’s Club”) who make a fatal mistake as young adults and are haunted by them. Literally that terrible gaffe in the twilight years.
There are scenes in Straub’s novel that never left me, like the disturbing and disturbing opening in which a man kidnapped when she was a little girl, and held her hostage as she drove across the country.
As the unsettling beginning progresses, we wonder if the guy is keeping the girl as his prisoner, or vice versa. Very sneaky from Straub, to begin on such an observation: How can I stop reading then?
There is also a part where two boys spy on a haunted house through a telescope and see the beautiful and seductive story antagonist looking at them. They watch with curiosity, which turns into horror as they realize that she can hear everything they say about her, even when she is at an impossible distance from them.
Then there’s the final, awesome scene, a car crash in which an object like this turns into an angry wasp (the image is on the stunning hardcover original).
Strobe’s novel is a multi-layered, richly addictive work. John Irvin’s 1981 film adaptation is very good; It’s a case, unlike Jack Clayton’s 1983 adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” where the ambition, special effects technology, confidence in long storytelling for the big screen and the studio’s confidence in such a task was ahead of its time and not available to filmmakers .
These are good films with massive moments but nowhere near as amazing in novel and world-building as the works on which they are based. Bradbury and Straub’s novels must be remade as films today. For now, we have Irvin’s movie, uneven and “simplistic” in its narrative but full of wondrous touches.
The choice of actors is a big plus and a problem at the same time. On the positive end, Fred Astaire, John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Melvin Douglas embody the Chowder Society, who evoke awe and immediacy in their roles.
Today’s equivalent would be played by Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier and Clint Eastwood.
Seeing some of the legendary members of the golden age of Hollywood playing weak, intelligent men who dread at the end of their lives is awe beyond just the casting. Esther and Houseman are particularly adorable (though why would American Ken Olin play the young Houseman in the extended flashback?).
Alice Craig plays “The Ghost,” one of the most underappreciated actresses with a body of stunning action. Krige got her big break in Best Picture winner “Chariots of Fire,” where Ben Cross in slow motion overshadowed Vangelis for everyone else.
Krige is a thriller in “Ghost Story,” delivering a truly hypnotic and frightening performance. Craig’s later work has been in genre films, and just look at her performances: The Borg Queen in “Star Trek: First Contact” (1996) and the witch in “Gretel and Hansel” last year. Craig is amazing in every way she is.
If he didn’t play the young champ Craig Wasson, who looks like the more handsome Bill Maher and was always, at best, not bad. Wasson does not live up to the requirements of the role.
“Ghost Story” is an interesting genre entry, because it’s not gory, shakes up by revealing ghostly makeup designs as it takes care of its subject matter and themes.
She also has a female antagonist, as Alex Forrest in “Fatal Attraction” (“I Won’t Ignore”) is actually the heroine of the film, and her revenge mission is fully justified.
There are some refreshing elements out of the ordinary here. The problem isn’t that it’s not a ghost story for Straub, but Wasson doesn’t pull us in like everyone else on screen and doesn’t add up on everything.
In the novel, it makes sense that Alma Craig is an evil spirit and a physical being who can have sex and manipulate men from afar. In the movie, this “ghost” is a physical, sensual object, and at times, things like Casper pass through.
Irvine, who made Dogs of War before that, gives this all he has. The frequent use of dim red light makes for amazing compositions, Dick Smith’s famous makeup effects are gross and vivid, and the opening story within the story (which includes a person buried alive) is masterfully orchestrated, as is the horrific main accident that mirrors a grueling moment similar to a car sinking in an iota. From the movie “Psycho”.
Houseman is led by spirit standing on the road an image that gets copied a lot and has never been this cool.
There’s maturity, ambition, and a classic feel here that was most exotic for a big-budget horror movie from the early ’80s. ‘Ghost Story’ is elegant…it’s also not as great a Straub or fantastic novel as it could have been. I’m waiting for Straub’s new R-rated, three-hour, $100 million novel.