Overlooked & Underseen: Ghost Story (1981)
Several years ago, while watching Alice Krige as The Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact, my (now) husband asked me if I had seen Ghost Story. I said I hadn’t even heard of it. He told me it was something I needed to see. If you’re an Alice Krige fan, it’s something you need to see, too.
The film is based on Peter Straub’s 1979 book of the same name. It’s the story of four life-long friends, played by Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., John Houseman, and Melvyn Douglas. We meet them as accomplished, rich elderly gents in the New England town they’ve lived in most of their lives. The four of them, long ago, founded their own sort of club, called The Chowder Society. They are the only four members of said club and all they do is sit around drinking expensive scotch and telling each other ghost stories.
Fairbanks, Jr. has a two sons, twins in fact, both played by Craig Wasson. When one dies in a freak accident (freak being the operative word here, you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it), the other is called home. He doesn’t want to be there but he does it out of duty for his Dad. Distraught over his dead son, Fairbanks stumbles, in a daze, out into the freezing cold. He ends up dying and his death is ruled a suicide. Wasson doesn’t buy it. He thinks some shenanigans are afoot and wants to get to the bottom of it.
He begins to rummage through his dad’s things and finds a photograph tucked away in a trunk. It’s a photo of The Chowder Society from the 1920s with a woman whose face is blurred. He doesn’t know what to make of it and takes it to the club. He proposes to them a ghost story of his own, so that he can become a member of the club. They, at first pooh-pooh him, but eventually acquiesce. His story involves a woman (Alice Krige) with whom had a love affair when he was an English professor. He goes on to describe his relationship with this woman whom he thinks might have something to do with his brother’s death. Wasson’s story prompts the remaining members of the society to tell their own ghost story. The tale that follows includes the woman from the photo, sex, jealously, and murder. Could both stories be about the same woman?
Ghost Story is pretty much “The Alice Krige Show” and everyone else is just happy to be in her world. She is, to use a phrase from my English friends, “sex on a stick”. Sadly, the only thing I had seen her in before Star Trek was an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 where Dylan has fled town and into the bed of Krige at her horse ranch. Really, who could blame him?
The film is not as much terrifying as it is very atmospheric. Irvin does a wonderful job of weaving from story to story, from present day to the past. The performances are all really great, too, especially from Krige and Astaire. This movie marked the last film roles for Astaire, Douglas, and Fairbanks. A special shout out to Pat Neal, who shows up for a couple of scenes as Astaire’s wife.
Ghost Story was finally made available on Blu-ray in 2015 via Shout! Factory. The film is also available for rental on a few different streaming services.