Ghost Story

Grant Davies takes a look at the Saturn Award winning Ghost Story


Four elderly gentlemen, members of ‘The Chowder Society’ hold a tradition of sitting around a roaring fire telling scary stories over a couple of glasses of brandy. Our aging protagonists are 2 lawyers, the town physician and lastly, the town Mayor; all upstanding and highly-respected members of the small community. More recently, these men have been plagued by horrific dreams and phantasmal apparitions to do with a young woman – the beautiful Alice Krige in a very strange role – from their past.

Truly, it must be said that the players in “Ghost Story” are screen legends. John Houseman and Fred Astaire are the lawyers; Douglas Fairbanks Jnr. is the Mayor and Melvyn Douglas particularly stands-out as Dr Jeffrey, the weakest-link both physically and emotionally in the group. Indeed, some would argue that “Ghost Story” is simply worth watching for the final screen appearances of Astaire, Douglas and Fairbanks Jnr alone.  It’s an indulgent pleasure to watch these great actors bounce off with another, each gradually losing his mind to the guilt of a terrible and shared deed long-forgotten. Craig Wasson is the good doctor’s surviving son whose task it is to untangle the past and avoid the catastrophic end these men think is ominously inevitable.

The film runs very much like an actual ghost story; the scripted dialogue is direct and much of the movie takes place in flashback. The setting of the New England winter serves as an excellent backdrop for some consummate Jack Cardiff cinematography of a snow-clad town, its haunted mansions and their shuffling elderly occupants.

Nevertheless, at times the movie is a little docile and it’s clearly a gentle – albeit haunting – tale. Maybe this is the unintended impact of some rather plodding direction from John Irvin (a man incidentally most-noted for war movies like “Dogs of War” (1980) and “Hamburger Hill” (1987)). The disquieting musical accompaniment by Philip Sarde provides the most cogent attack on the audience’s sense of ease and apart from a couple of cheap-shock moments (most of which involve the rotten face of a long dead woman), there isn’t too much to make anyone jump out of their seat. Moreover, Dick Smith’s visual effects are understandably dated but if you can look past that are still reasonably effective in places.

All this doesn’t mean the film isn’t frightening; it’s just that it’s more of a brooding fear than a hide-behind-the-sofa feeling.

A few conspicuous plot-holes puncture the film’s second half and the scenes set in the 1930s are just a tinge too garish for my liking. In fact, the concentration on the younger selves of ‘The Chowder Society’ is an inconsiderate distraction from the events of the present day – where the much stronger cast have a better grip of the script and its material.

The last sequence is almost vexing and sits quite flimsily in a piece which never quite reaches the revealing climax the audiences yearns for. On the other hand, the rest of “Ghost Story” is in many ways a bewitching, atmospheric and well-performed chiller.

NB: The film was adapted from an altogether more sprawling novel by Peter Straub.


Hellbound and determined, Grant Davies of Hot Dog Cinema takes a look at the first half of the Hellraiser series. Does he find pleasure or pain?
An erotic tour-de-force in horror cinema, which is all the more astounding given that this was Clive Barker’s directorial debut.  The film is about man’s search for the dizzy heights of the ultimate physical experience; it’s about an unyielding passion and the exotic refinement of pain & pleasure. This is truly what is meant by adult and intelligent horror. “Hellraiser” also does something which many horror movies of the era failed to do – it bloody frightens you.

The Cenobite designs are fantastic and the script contains some choice-cuts of cerebral dialogue. Thankfully, ‘Pinhead’ is not the centre of the piece by any means.  Indeed, Doug Bradley is merely credited as the “Lead Cenobite”.  More importantly, Barker’s direction does not concentrate on our anti-hero Cenobites but rather on the motivations of our painfully dysfunctional cast. Here is where the film really excels and the performances of Claire Wiggins as the ‘evil stepmother’ character and Andrew Robinson as the ill-fated father are the best of the crop. The soundtrack too is a masterpiece, managing to stay hauntingly with you for hours afterward. Indeed, I have always thought that Christopher Young’s score epitomizes any discos that Hell has.

All in all, a visceral and articulate horror film which shows us where our darkest desires can lead.

Quintessential viewing.

Hellraiser 2: Hellbound

A bold sequel with an ambitious yet awfully muddled script. The gore factor here is much higher than in the original and there are some frankly horrific and disturbing sequences which could perhaps best be described as upwardly ‘nasty’.  Unfortunately, director Tony Randel doesn’t pull this one off at all and Hellbound collapses in on itself about half-way through proceedings amongst a plethora of absurd plot moves, incoherent story-telling and ridiculous special effects.

There are positives, such as stage-actor Kenneth Cranham’s portrayl of  the pleasure-seeking  ‘Dr Channard’ and Doug Bradley’s touching memories of ‘Pinhead’ in human-form. Such moments are regrettably few and far between in a film which foregoes the claustrophic  setting of family-life in Barker’s original in order to chase some broader ‘good VS evil’ plot device. For me, the film fails miserably in this vision and ends up being nothing more than a hugely disappointing collage of blood-soaked set-pieces.

Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth

This is a film which thrives on over-whelming violence and stunning visuals whilst watering-down the erotic mysticism of the earlier movies in the series. You get the feeling that Pinhead is edging closer to the standard cinema ‘boogeyman’ (Freddy Kruger, Michael Myers etc.) as his killing-spree becomes increasingly indiscriminate.  Nevertheless, Anthony Hickox’s direction is both fluid and punchy enabling the movie to hurl itself towards an aesthetically-pleasing  finale.  Doug Bradley’s performance as the human ‘Pinhead’ is great to watch and adds much-needed depth to a film which lacks the substance of Barker’s original premise.

All things considered, the magic of the first “Hellraiser” is a little lacking and we are left with a well-designed but sadly hollow shell of a movie. Despite this, the cynical professionalism of the film manages to land it way above “Hellbound” and many other genre efforts; meaning ‘Hell-on-Earth’ remains a well-made and entertaining franchise filler.

Hellraiser 4: Bloodline

The third – and last theatrically released – sequel in the ‘Hellraiser’ series begins in outer-space and acts as both prequel and sequel. As the former it’s an interesting take but as the latter it’s rather tame.  Surprisingly, ‘Bloodline’ is marginally better than you might expect and starts off with an impressively shot opening sequence involving a robot summoning the demon, ‘Pinhead’.

The movie is steeped in the mythos of LeMarchand’s Box (the box which opens the doorway to hell); and in fact, that box and the story of the family responsible for making the thing, are the stars of the film.  Horror film fans will no doubt recognise KimA Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 love-interest” Myers playing the wife of the latest in the cursed LeMarchand bloodline. In general though, the cast are dull and even the wonderful Doug Bradley’s one-liners are, by now, more annoying than playful.

Besides the usual spattering of gore, there isn’t that much to keep anyone but the die-hards interested.