Ghost Story Review

The Film

Stephen Weeks' stock amongst Brithorror fans is not too high. His version of Jekyll and Hyde, I Monster, is regarded poorly amongst many who would take an interest, and I feel this is much undeserved. I rather like the opportunity afforded to Christopher Lee to give one of his best performances and the lack of kitsch and camp in a horror film from these isles. Weeks approach to that subject seemed earnest and direct to me, and the same attributes are to be found in his later film Ghost Story.

Filmed largely in India substituting for Edwardian England, the piece resembles some of MR James writing, even namechecking him along the way, and the better period portmanteau stories of Amicus. Set, I guess, in the thirties, it involves the aristocratic and somewhat effete Mcfadyen inviting former fellow university graduates Talbot and Duller to a weekend in the country at an old country house. Talbot is surprised by the invitation as he was not close to the two who are much more well to do than himself and soon he believes that he may be the subject of a prank and games by his fellows. It transpires that Duller has an interest in the paranormal and that Mcfadyen has lied about the house, and Talbot starts to dream of the house's history and becomes obsessed by a Victorian doll.
A slow burn that finally knits together its elements, this basic three hander relies on creating a convincing period and central performances. The class differences are always at the back of Talbot's fears and his dreams are revealed as dark secrets from the house's heritage. His growing unease becomes a mental unravelling and as the sins of an aristocratic past are revealed to him, he is lost in a danse macabre. The haunting of the living will continue and they will be asked to keep paying for the murder, abuse and misery of their predecessors.

The basic tale is slight, the running time is similarly short and the intent is to creep the viewer out. This is greatly aided by a thoroughly uneasy soundtrack from Ron Geesin, an often imaginative choice of camera angles and the central almost pinteresque playing of the three men. Larry Dann is gauche, socially untutored and awkward as Talbot, Melvin is twitchy, arch and camp, and Vivian Mackarell is all superiority and arrogance. Their lack of chemistry coupled with Dann's warm portrayal mean that the viewer sides with him over his posh cohorts and take on the perspective of his eventual bewitchment.
The sequences revealing the past sins of the house play easily as both hysteria or history, and even if the device of a haunted doll has never really worked for me then at least here it is done with commitment. Whilst I wouldn't consider Ghost Story a classic, it is a very effective and well performed piece and anyone liking a bit of class with their horror would do well to appreciate it.

Technical Specs

Ghost Story is presented at roughly 1.66:1, it is both anamorphic and progressive. The underlying print carries some damage and a general lack of vibrancy in the colour. The transfer itself has goodish contrast but whites are not sparkling and blacks are not inky, colours have not been boosted though and edges show minor support. Given the basic materials this is a reasonable presentation which has not been overly manipulated, what you get is a clear film-like image which is slightly soft but basically sound. There is plenty of grain and perhaps a few compression artefacts but this is perfectly acceptable.
The mono soundtrack again shows some sign of wear and tear but the reproduction is relatively clear of distortion if not perfectly detailed. Some of the effects seem muddy in low frequencies but dialogue is always clear and well articulated. There are no subtitles.

Special Features

Professor Samuel Umland "moderates" the commentary with Stephen Weeks and it is definitely the case that Weeks shines through despite him. Umland's contributions may keep the conversation going but they lack knowledge of the film or Weeks' work and are often as banal as "I like this". Weeks explains that the film was shot in India and seems to genuinely admire the finished product. Perhaps an interview with the director may have been more successful. The extras on the first single layer encoded disc are completed by a longish theatrical trailer.

Disc two carries a bounty of short films from the director from the sixties to early seventies. These range from world war one footage mixed with Wifred Owen's poetry to much more experimental work like Flesh where the objectification of the female form is eventually contradicted by images of scars and meat. A couple of the films turn into fiction pieces, the Tigon produced 1917 featuring a story in the trenches of the first world war and Two at Thursday which follows a new love affair. The films are of varying quality both in terms of art and transfer but give an insight into this directors concerns and experiments with technique.

After these films there is the inclusion of an alternate opening titles sequence and two pdf based extras covering the film's making and publicity. The latter two documents were not included on the review copy we received. Six trailers for other Nucleus releases complete the extras.

Editor's Note: There is one other substantial bonus feature that should be on the retail discs but is not mentioned here:

Ghost Stories - an all-new 72 minute featurette including interviews with Director/Producer Stephen Weeks, Actors Larry Dann and Murray Melvin, British Horror Icon Barbara Shelley, composer (and Pink Floyd collaborator) Ron Geesin, with comments from UK critic Kim Newman.


Summary

Ghost Story is a curiosity but a well acted creepy one that fans of Brithorror should catch along with those who may have enjoyed TV adaptations of MR James. Nucleus have put together a very interesting package that gives much needed information on the director and this intriguing film.

Film
7 out of 10
Video
6 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
9 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

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