Horror Film Review: Ghost Story (dir by John Irvin)


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A Fred Astaire horror movie!?

Yes, indeed.  Ghost Story is a horror movie and it does indeed star Fred Astaire.  However, Fred doesn’t dance or anything like that in Ghost Story.  This movie was made in 1981 and Fred was 82 years old when he appeared in it.  Fred still gave an energetic and likable performance and, in fact, his performance is one of the few things that really does work in Ghost Story.

Fred Astaire isn’t the only veteran of Hollywood’s Golden Age to appear in Ghost Story.  Melvyn Douglas, John Houseman, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. all appear in the movie as well.  They play four lifelong friends, wealthy men who have formed an informal little club called The Chowder Society.  They gather one a week and tell ghost stories.  Myself, I’m wondering why these four intelligent and accomplished men (one is a lawyer, another a doctor, another a politician, and another is Fred Astaire) couldn’t come up with a better name than Chowder Society.

(But I guess that’s something that people do up north.  Harvard has something called the Hasty Pudding Club, which just sounds amazingly annoying.)

Unfortunately, the members of the Chowder Society have a deep, dark secret.  Way back in the 1930s, the boys listening to too much jazz and they all ended up lusting after the mysterious and beautiful Eva Galli (Alice Krige).  As Astaire explains it, “We killed her, the Chowder Society.”

(Of course, there’s more to the story.  It was more manslaughter than murder but either way, it was pretty much the fault of the Chowder Society.)

And now, decades later, a woman named Alma (Alica Krige, again) has mysteriously appeared.  When she sleeps with David (Craig Wasson), the son of a member of the Chowder Society, David falls out of a window and ends up splattered on the ground below.  David’s twin brother, Don (also played by Craig Wasson), returns to their childhood home and attempts to make peace with his estranged father.

However, now the member of the Chowder Society are starting to die.  One falls off a bridge.  Another has a heart attack in the middle of the night.  Fred Astaire thinks that Eva has come back for revenge.  John Houseman is a little more skeptical…

I pretty much went into Ghost Story with next to no knowledge concerning what the film was about.  I thought the plot desription sounded intriguing.  As a classic film lover, I appreciated that Ghost Story was not only Fred Astaire’s final film but the final film of Douglas and Fairbanks as well.  Before he deleted his account, I had some pleasant interactions with Craig Wasson on Facebook.   I was really hoping that Ghost Story would be a horror classic.

Bleh.

Considering all the talent involved, Ghost Story should have been great but instead, it just fell flat.  Alice Krige is properly enigmatic as both Alma and Galli and really, the entire cast does a pretty good job.  But, with the exception of exactly three scenes, the film itself is never that scary.  (Two of those scary scenes involve a decaying corpse and it’s not that hard to make decay scary.  The other is a fairly intense nightmare sequence.)  Largely due to John Irvin’s detached direction, you never really feel any type of connection with the characters.  I mean, obviously, you don’t want to see the star of Top Hat die a terrible death but that has more to do with the eternal charm of Fred Astaire than anything that happens in Ghost Story.

Add to that, Ghost Story‘s special effects have aged terribly.  There are two scenes in which we watch different characters fall to their death and both times, you can see that little green outline that always used to appear whenever one image was super imposed on another.  It makes it a little hard to take the movie seriously.

Sadly, Ghost Story did not live up to my expectations.  At least Fred Astaire was good…

Shattered Politics #48: The Kidnapping of the President (dir by George Mendeluk)


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Agency was not the only Canadian film to be made about American politics in 1980.  There was also The Kidnapping of the President, a low-budget political thriller that, because it has since slipped into the public domain, can currently be found in a few dozen DVD box sets.  In fact, you may very well own a copy of The Kidnapping of the President without even realizing it!

Don’t worry if you do.  The Kidnapping of the President is a fairly harmless little film.

U.S. President Adam Scott (Hal Holbrook) is visiting Toronto when he gets handcuffed to a South American revolutionary named Roberto Assanti (Miguel Fernandes).  Assanti locks President Scott in an armored car that is wired with explosives and then demands a hundred million in diamonds and two planes.  (Though the film never explicitly states it, I imagine that Assanti was primarily motivated by jealousy over the fact that Che is on a million t-shirts while Assanti remains fairly unknown.)  It’s up to secret service agent Jerry O’Connor (William Shatner) to negotiate with Assanti and rescue the President!  Meanwhile, the ethically compromised Vice President (Van Johnson) is left as acting President in Washington and struggles to keep things calm while his ambitious wife (Ava Gardner) plots for a brighter future.

Overall, the Kidnapping of the President is okay for what it is.  It’s neither exceptionally good nor memorably bad.  It just sort of is.  Hal Holbrook is always well-cast as a President and William Shatner gives a typical Shatner performance, which is either a good or a bad thing depending on how you feel about William Shatner.  And, for that matter, Miguel Fernandes is a properly unlikable villain though he never really seems to have the charisma necessary to make him believable as the dynamic leader that he’s supposed to be.

Probably the most interesting thing about The Kidnapping of the President is that it doesn’t try to pass Montreal off for being a location in the United States.  Instead, the film was not only filmed in but is actually set in Toronto as well.  When Jerry attempts to deal with the local authorities, that means that he ends up talking to a bunch of very polite men in red uniforms.

But what’s strange about this is that the people of Toronto are so excited about the arrival of the President.  You half expect to hear one extra say, “I never thought I’d live long enough to see the day that a leader that I can’t vote for and who has next to nothing to do with my everyday life would come to visit Toronto.”

Don’t get me wrong.  If you follow me on twitter, then you know that I am unashamed to declare my love for all things Canadian.  And obviously, as neighbors, Canada and the United States do have a close relationship.  But would people in Toronto really be that excited to see the President?

If so, I think we really owe the people of Canada an apology for not knowing more about their government.  At the very least, we should definitely invite Stephen Harper over for lunch.