by Steve Kirkham
1974’s Ghost Story should not be confused with the same named early 80s Fred Astaire movie.
It is the 1930s and two acquaintances from University – timid Talbot (Larry Dann, probably best known for tv work including Sooty & Co.) and imperious Duller (Vivian MacKerrell – apparently the inspiration for the character Withnail from 1987’s Withnail and I) – meet on a train, having been invited by snooty McFayden (Murray Melvin, an actor you will recognise from numerous roles) to an old country house for a weekend of shooting. It’s an impressive old pile even if it has seen better days and is more than a little creepy. Talbot explores and comes across odd things including an old porcelain doll… before long he is feeling ostracised by his so called friends and being scared by the freaky figurine that appears to have a life of its own. He is also assailed by visions from the past history of the house – are they real? Ghostly apparitions? Is he time travelling or is it all in his mind?
Interestingly whilst this appears to be set in England it was – apart from a few scenes – shot in India, though the whole affair is resolutely English stiff upper lip in its execution – all frightfully jolly hockey sticks with the three lead actors giving very mannered and clipped performances and coming across as genuinely oddball. Most of their scenes are too languorous and drawn out. More successful and intriguing are the scenes from the past in the madhouse (the film was released in the States as Madhouse Mansion and was even offered to Amicus early in its development as Asylum – they turned it down then cheekily proceeded to make a film with the exact same title). These parts include Marianne Faithfull, Penelope Keith and Hammer Queen Barbara Shelley in her last cinematic outing.
Writer/director Stephen Weeks – best known in horror circles for the interesting if flawed version of Jekyll and Hyde I, Monster – unfortunately fails to deliver a film which fully convinces being far too slow and understated. The cinematography by Peter Hurst does add to the look and feel and the music score by Ron Geesin is sometimes jaunty and often odd if effective. The whole thing was all a bit peculiar and drags badly in places.
You are also left with one abiding question – just what is wrong with jam sandwiches!
Fans of the film will find much to enjoy with this new Blu Ray release from Nucleus (who previously released this on DVD). The film has a nice if not outstanding HD upgrade and as usual they present a tranche of extras for your edification.
Ghost Stories: The Curious Tales of the Making of Ghost Story – which is a newly recut and tweaked version of the documentary which was on the DVD; a trailer, alternate credits, a gallery of various ephemera.
Plus The Bengal Lancers! Scenes from a film Weeks was making which sadly collapsed; a test sequence shot in 1969 for Gawain & the Green Knight; plus a whole bunch of shorts and adverts made by Weeks.