Based on a novel by Peter Straub, “Ghost Story” tells the tale of four elderly gentlemen who share a single, dark secret. Under the name “The Chowder Society”, the four men meet regularly to exchange pleasantries, and solidify the bond they’ve shared for decades. Their bond is a vow of silence, though each suffers with the guilt of a woman’s death 50 years ago.
The Chowder Society is Dr. John Jaffrey (Douglas), Sear James (Houseman), Ricky Hawthorne (Astaire) and Edward Charles Wanderly (Fairbanks, Jr.). 50 years ago, they were responsible for the accidental death of beautiful Eva Galli (Krige). Now, Eva has come back for her revenge. She appears under the name Alma Mobley, a secretary at a University where Edward’s son, Don, is a professor. She quickly seduces the younger Wanderly with all sorts of feminine guiles, and they begin a torrid affair.
Alma’s goal is to be married to Don. Not just anywhere, but in the town where he grew up (and where she was murdered.) Don is hesitant, especially as Alma’s behaviour grows more and more erratic. She sleepwalks, mutters strange things, and dodges many of his questions about her past. Still, the sex is good, so Don sticks around for quite a while before finally calling it off. Once he ditches her, Alma goes after his twin brother, David. Queue the body count meter, and the beginning of Alma/Eva’s vengeance.
Eventually, Don approaches the other members of the Chowder Society to tell his experience, which he believes to be a real-life ghost story. The remaining men recount the horrible secret they’ve kept for half a century, and with it, the only potential to survive the vicious ghost.
Many fans of Straub’s novel complain about the film adaptation. It omits or lessens the importance of certain characters. The acting by certain cast members is good but not great. There are inconsistencies in the plot and in the delivery. For the most part, the film feels like a made-for-TV adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel. So, why is “Ghost Story” relevant 30 years later?
Two of the strongest aspects of the film are the score and the make-up effects of the decaying villain. The score, composed by Philippe Sarde, was mainly lifted from the French film, “Le Chat.” The make-up effects were handled by Dick Smith, who was recently awarded an honorary Academy Award for his use of make-up effects. Among Smith’s other works are The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, Godfather & Godfather II, Amadeus, and Death Becomes Her.
Other notable facts: The pipe organ used by Lon Cheney in “The Phantom of the Opera” makes a cameo in this film. This was the film debut of Robin Curtis (Star Trek 2-4) and the last feature film for actors Douglas, Astaire, and Fairbanks, Jr. Douglas died later in 1981, Astaire died in 1987, and Fairbanks passed away in 2000.