Four old men (Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Melvyn Douglas and the inimitable John Houseman), lifelong friends who all themselves the Chowder Society, meet on a regular basis to drink and tell ghost stories, giving each other the willies into the wee small hours.

When one of Fairbanks Jr.’s sons dies in mysterious circumstances (catapulted naked from a Mahattan high-rise by the decaying revenant corpse of his girlfriend!) his twin (Craig Wasson) returns home for the funeral. Haunted by his own demons, he has a story to tell, the story of a passionate and doomed love affair that almost destroyed him and ultimately killed his brother. And when his father dies, the victim of an apparent suicide, he’ll use that story to buy his way into the Chowder Society.

The price of admission, you see, is a ghost story, a tale of terror that’ll chill you to the bone. But the old men of the Chowder Society have one last tale of their own, one that’s lain buried for fifty years, one that may yet destroy them all…

Loosely adapting Peter Straub’s unwieldy and inexplicably popular doorstep of a novel while ditching the more Lovecraftian elements of the book in favour of its core concept of a bunch of old geezers sitting around scaring the bejeezus out of each other, director John Irvin and screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen (not to be confused with B-movie master Larry Cohen, director of It’s Alive and Q, The Winged Serpent) streamline the plot to craft a solid, workmanlike, little chiller which could have been titled I Know What You Did 50 Summers Ago.

The crucial casting of Astaire, Houseman, Douglas and Fairbanks Jr. as the elderly Chowder Club lends the film a faded elegance and nostalgic grandeur as the old troupers step up to the line like aging prizefighters determined to deliver one last time and for Fairbanks Jr., Astaire and Douglas this would be the last performance they gave, Douglas dying just months before the film’s release and, while Wasson is flavourless in his dual role, future Borg Queen Alice Krige is creepy, charming, wanton and terrifying as the frequently naked and vengeful ghoul.

Watching Ghost Story 34 years after its release, despite the overbearing, intrusive score that telegraphs EVERY! FREAKING! PLOT-POINT!, you can’t help but be struck by its restraint, its understatement, its reliance on its talented veteran cast to tell a tale well. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

DVD Review: Ghost Story
3.5Overall Score
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