DirectorJohn C. Irvin
Release Date(s)1981 (November 24, 2015)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
Ghost Story is based upon the novel of the same name by horror maestro Peter Straub. It tells the tale of four older gentlemen known as The Chowder Society who meet on a weekly basis to share ghost stories with each other while something dark and sinister from their pasts catches up with them. It was originally released in 1981 and despite not much appreciation from critics or audiences in general, it still managed to gain a cult following later on due to both home video and repeated cable showings.
Ghost Story’s plot and its eventual outcome are quite reminiscent of many horror stories before and since, which is probably why it wasn’t appreciated during its initial release. What I found the most interesting about it was its attention to its visuals and its set design. There are some stark uses of color, as well as some atmospheric locations used to tell its story, feeling less like window dressing than one would perceive. The story itself, at least the initial setup, is an intriguing one, but doesn’t pay off perhaps as memorably as it begins. It feels very much like a movie based on a book, and it plays out in a very ’slavish to the original material’ sort of way. I haven’t actually read the source material to know that for certain, but it just comes across that way to me (honestly, I’m not overly familiar with Straub’s work outside of his collaborations with Stephen King).
It’s also interesting that there were two horror projects made during the early 1980’s that cast notable actors that were all past their primes. Ghost Story features Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, John Houseman, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (with Craig Wasson and Alice Krige filling out the other two main roles). In a similar, House of the Long Shadows, the cast features Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and John Carradine (also with two other actors filling out the other main roles, Desi Arnaz, Jr. and Julie Peasgood). Having seen both movies, Ghost Story is much more interesting by comparison, and in hindsight, might have benefited more from a cast of horror icons, giving them something a little more interesting to do. That idea lacks a firm basis in reality, of course, as they were projects made at different studios and didn’t have anything to do with each other. But of the two, Ghost Story has more solid performances and stronger visuals, which is probably why it’s a bit more respected after the fact.
Ghost Story’s Blu-ray presentation via Scream Factory is a very strong one. It’s the kind of movie that shows its age in high definition, meaning opticals and softer shots stand out more than ever before. Grain levels are generally well-handled, showing off a nice amount of fine detail. Colors are quite strong as well, including skin tones. The opening scene of a meeting between the Chowder Society is lit only by red, and the shadow detail isn’t quite up to the task due to how dim it is. Black levels in general are pretty solid, and both brightness and contrast levels are satisfactory. There are no signs of digital augmentation to be found, but there are some minor film artifacts leftover, mainly dirt and flecks. The soundtrack, which is an English 2.0 DTS-HD track stemmed from the film’s original mono, is a surprisingly strong track. Dialogue is usually clean and clear, and both sound effects and score have some strong fidelity to them. It’s a well-spread out mix as well, giving sounds more opportunity than usual on a mono track. It’s a great presentation, overall. There are also subtitles included in English for those who might need them.
There’s also a terrific set of supplemental material included as well. There’s an audio commentary with the director John C. Irvin; the Ghost Story Genesis featurette, wherein Peter Straub reads from his book, commenting on how it was executed in the film; the Ghost Story Development featurette, which gets into more of the actual making of the movie; the Alice Krige: Being Alma and Eva interview; Albert Whitlock Visual Effects with Bill Taylor, which takes a look at the movie’s special effects; the original theatrical trailer; a TV spot; a set of radio spots; and a still gallery.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release of Ghost Story certainly has plenty to offer, both in the presentation itself and in the supplements. It’s not a film that’s particularly strong, but it has some interesting elements to it that make it a film worth seeking out. And now that it’s been spiffed up for the first time in high definition, that isn’t a task that’s difficult to carry out anymore.
- Tim Salmons