The Myth of the Great Ghost Story

It’s Halloween and with that comes a certain degree of obligation.  It’s one thing to post about horror throughout the month of October but on the day itself, a day that this year falls on my regular posting day, it’s absolutely required.  And yet, I don’t feel like it.  You see, this isn’t the only place I write and over the years I’ve covered about a million different takes on horror from every perspective I can think of and now, finally, it feels like I’m spent.   Not because I have nothing more to say on the subject but because what I want to talk about the most simply doesn’t exist anymore.  Maybe it never did:  The Great Ghost Story.

Each October I get the same knot in my stomach that comes from the same self-imposed pressure:  I want to write about horror, as I love the genre so much, but I feel that I talk about the same things with horror again and again.   I tell myself I need something new, something different to break through the thick, apathy-drenched wall of malaise I build up around myself this time of year that never happens at any other time of the year (“Oh no, it’s December!  If I can’t think of another Christmas movie post I’ll die!”).

A part of the problem is that I’ve said many times in the recent past that I don’t want to write about the classics anymore because I’ve written about them so many times already.  And I’ve had many a suggestion from others to go in a different direction, such as Thai horror, suggested by writer Peter Nellhaus, as expert an expert as you’re going to find on the topic.  Others tell me about the great horror movies made in Europe as well and how there’s a whole new store of classics just waiting for my discovery whenever I decide to take the first step.  And I’ve watched some horror from Europe and Asia and, yes, I like a lot of it and certainly I can recognize the quality of a modern day classic like Let the Right One In but there’s still something missing.  And when I examine what that something is I come to the inescapable conclusion that what appeals to me about horror is dead, literally.  As in, ghosts.  Not the walking dead or the undead, two things I certainly like, but the roaming dead, the drifting, wandering dead.  The non-corporeal dead.

The problem with that is that Hollywood has always treated ghosts and hauntings with decidedly less aplomb than most other areas of horror.  And I’m not talking about modern day horror chillers like Paranormal Activity (which I liked) about vengeful spirits but good, old-fashioned stories about ghosts and hauntings in which the footage isn’t found, it’s created and the bloodshed is minimal but the atmosphere is high.  The thing is, Hollywood simply doesn’t have a very good track record of making that kind of story work.

For instance, a couple of years ago I got myself excited to watch Ghost Story again.  I hadn’t seen it since 1981 and thought, “Ah, I remember that being a good, old-fashioned ghost story with spooky mood and atmosphere of exactly the kind you just don’t see anymore.”  And then I watched it and realized I was wrong.  It was decently done but felt curiously short on mood and atmosphere except for the scenes involving Alice Krige exacting revenge upon her assassins and those scenes were unfortunately as brief as they were few.

Another great memory was The Changeling, which I also watched again a couple of years back and, once again, found myself powerfully underwhelmed by the whole experience.  The mood and atmosphere, even in the dusty, cobweb covered attic scenes, was practically non-existent as the whole movie has a kind of anti-style style to it, more akin to a television movie of the period than a theatrical release.

Or sometimes, I find that a ghost story from the past has unnecessary side stories that, at the time, may have made the filmmakers feel like they were making the story deeper but upon reflection, seem insincere.  This happened when I revisited The Lady in White and found the story of the janitor accused of the crime and shot dead in front of his wife and children, not only unecessary to the story at hand but from a completely different movie altogether, perhaps one about prejudice in a small town.  And since the story never bothers to take us into the lives of the affected wife and children, it feels like a calculated subplot, meant to be introduced and abandoned to add faux-depth to the story.

Going back a little further I find more success.  Burnt Offerings has some good mixed in with a larger share of bad, The Legend of Hell House from 1973 still works for me and the British chiller of the early sixties, The Innocents, also still has power.  Reaching back to the forties I can find a movie like The Uninvited that works superbly well for what I have in mind.

But that’s it and that’s not a lot.   Considering how much haunted houses and ghosts play into our understanding of the supernatural, it’s odd how little effect it has on horror.  Horror, for the most part, sticks with monsters (vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc) when it comes to supernatural and when it does deal with a haunting it prefers to go with a violent outcome over a gentle one.  That is to say, Hollywood prefers the multiple killings of a Ghost Story or the explosion of effects of a Poltergeist over the careful and precise revelation of why a ghost remains at all.  It’s one of the great joys of The Uninvited that the ghost is slowly but surely smoked out and her past revealed for all to see.   And it was the great disappointment of The Changeling that this same method of story development fell so flat.

It’s not that Hollywood can’t make a good ghost story anymore, it’s that they don’t seem to want to.  In and out of Hollywood, from overseas to independent, ghost stories do crop up on occasion (The Woman in Black, The Pact) but the big stuff with the big marketing from the big boys in Hollywood just doesn’t happen anymore (maybe I should count my blessings).   Look, I love both Ringu and its American remake (The Ring) but what I really want is a ghost, vengeful or not, haunting a house, not killing anyone who doesn’t pass around a tape.

Maybe one day another great haunted house movie will come out of Hollywood but I’m not holding my breath.  Most movie fans come down hard on remakes but, frankly, I find them especially useful for movies that had great stories but didn’t execute very well the first time around.   And to my mind, movies like Burnt Offerings and The Changeling are absolutely ripe for remakes so let me be the first to suggest it to any filmmaker out there who has the ear of someone in Hollywood with the power to greenlight.  It’s been so long since Hollywood’s given us a great ghost story that it feels like a myth that there ever were any.   Bringing back a tradition so ingrained in our primal psyches (that something beyond our understanding is right there in the house with us), and doing it well, would be a spirited addition to the horror canon and, if successful, might haunt the box office for years to come.

0 Response The Myth of the Great Ghost Story
Posted By John Armstrong : October 31, 2012 9:00 am

Did you see _The Awakening_ during the three weeks it was released around here back in August? 70 theaters max, so probably not. You might check it out when it finally gets a DVD release.

Posted By John Armstrong : October 31, 2012 9:00 am

Did you see _The Awakening_ during the three weeks it was released around here back in August? 70 theaters max, so probably not. You might check it out when it finally gets a DVD release.

Posted By David : October 31, 2012 9:04 am

Greg, it must be just an oversight – but you didn’t mention Robert Wise’s The Haunting, surely a film that ticks all the boxes for you.

Posted By David : October 31, 2012 9:04 am

Greg, it must be just an oversight – but you didn’t mention Robert Wise’s The Haunting, surely a film that ticks all the boxes for you.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : October 31, 2012 9:21 am

John, no I didn’t see that but will certainly give it a look. Thanks.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : October 31, 2012 9:21 am

John, no I didn’t see that but will certainly give it a look. Thanks.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : October 31, 2012 9:25 am

David, yes, merely an oversight. The Haunting is another great one and there are probably a few more I didn’t mention either but I think, generally, that there just aren’t many great stories of hauntings out there. And even if there are another dozen or so from forty years ago, it still means we need more now. Frankly, I’ll take just one to every ten zombie or torture horror movies and be happy.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : October 31, 2012 9:25 am

David, yes, merely an oversight. The Haunting is another great one and there are probably a few more I didn’t mention either but I think, generally, that there just aren’t many great stories of hauntings out there. And even if there are another dozen or so from forty years ago, it still means we need more now. Frankly, I’ll take just one to every ten zombie or torture horror movies and be happy.

Posted By David : October 31, 2012 9:36 am

Greg, a couple of films that might tempt your taste for atmosphere and earthbound spirits -

The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre, starring Martin Landau and Judith Anderson, a TV movie made in the early sixties (I think I read somewhere it was originally intended as a Pilot, but turned down because it was too scary). I remember it from late night TV when I was 12 as surprisingly setting my nerves on edge. Never seen it on tape or DVD.

Full Circle, starring Mia Farrow. Alt Title The Haunting of Julia, it is chock full of atmosphere and unsettling moments. Made in the mid or late seventies.

Posted By David : October 31, 2012 9:36 am

Greg, a couple of films that might tempt your taste for atmosphere and earthbound spirits -

The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre, starring Martin Landau and Judith Anderson, a TV movie made in the early sixties (I think I read somewhere it was originally intended as a Pilot, but turned down because it was too scary). I remember it from late night TV when I was 12 as surprisingly setting my nerves on edge. Never seen it on tape or DVD.

Full Circle, starring Mia Farrow. Alt Title The Haunting of Julia, it is chock full of atmosphere and unsettling moments. Made in the mid or late seventies.

Posted By Peter Nellhaus : October 31, 2012 10:31 am

The Others would fit the bill, of haunting, but not killing, and with that nice twist at the end.

Posted By Peter Nellhaus : October 31, 2012 10:31 am

The Others would fit the bill, of haunting, but not killing, and with that nice twist at the end.

Posted By Roderick : October 31, 2012 10:47 am

Okay Greg here’s what you do: you track down the original TV version of The Woman In Black and then you watch it and you see how it is done. No, don’t thank me.

Posted By Roderick : October 31, 2012 10:47 am

Okay Greg here’s what you do: you track down the original TV version of The Woman In Black and then you watch it and you see how it is done. No, don’t thank me.

Posted By Peter Nellhaus : October 31, 2012 10:48 am

And thanks for the mentioning me.

Posted By Peter Nellhaus : October 31, 2012 10:48 am

And thanks for the mentioning me.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : October 31, 2012 12:16 pm

David, The Haunting of Julia is another one I like a lot. The sixties and seventies seems to be a good time for this type of film, given the other favorites I listed.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : October 31, 2012 12:16 pm

David, The Haunting of Julia is another one I like a lot. The sixties and seventies seems to be a good time for this type of film, given the other favorites I listed.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : October 31, 2012 12:19 pm

Peter, The Others is a really good one, too. And it’s one of the few modern ones that works reasonably well.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : October 31, 2012 12:19 pm

Peter, The Others is a really good one, too. And it’s one of the few modern ones that works reasonably well.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : October 31, 2012 12:21 pm

Rod, I didn’t even know there was a tv version and since I didn’t know I won’t thank you. I’ll thank Marilyn. But I will track it down and watch it. And then I’ll thank Sam Juliano.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : October 31, 2012 12:21 pm

Rod, I didn’t even know there was a tv version and since I didn’t know I won’t thank you. I’ll thank Marilyn. But I will track it down and watch it. And then I’ll thank Sam Juliano.

Posted By Doug : October 31, 2012 12:23 pm

It may play more as a comedy, but there are some horror elements and plenty of ghosts in “High Spirits” by Neil Jordan-Peter O’Toole, Daryl Hannah, Beverly D’Angelo in an Irish castle.
Connie Booth-”Polly” in Fawlty Towers-adds to the fun.
I know-it’s not straight up horror.
I mentioned a gem recently on another post here which definitely is horror: “I, Madman”. I watched it again the other night, and it fills the bill.

Posted By Doug : October 31, 2012 12:23 pm

It may play more as a comedy, but there are some horror elements and plenty of ghosts in “High Spirits” by Neil Jordan-Peter O’Toole, Daryl Hannah, Beverly D’Angelo in an Irish castle.
Connie Booth-”Polly” in Fawlty Towers-adds to the fun.
I know-it’s not straight up horror.
I mentioned a gem recently on another post here which definitely is horror: “I, Madman”. I watched it again the other night, and it fills the bill.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : October 31, 2012 12:27 pm

Comedy does more with hauntings and ghosts than horror drama does, actually. But I definitely want the return of serious, well-thought-out ghost stories.

Nonetheless, I enjoy many ghost comedies, from Blithe Spirit and Topper to The Canterville Ghost and Ghostbusters. Just this weekend, my wife and I saw The Ghostbreakers at the AFI and while only one scene contains a ghost, it’s actually done rather well and has a great eerie quality to it.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : October 31, 2012 12:27 pm

Comedy does more with hauntings and ghosts than horror drama does, actually. But I definitely want the return of serious, well-thought-out ghost stories.

Nonetheless, I enjoy many ghost comedies, from Blithe Spirit and Topper to The Canterville Ghost and Ghostbusters. Just this weekend, my wife and I saw The Ghostbreakers at the AFI and while only one scene contains a ghost, it’s actually done rather well and has a great eerie quality to it.

Posted By Betty Lou Spence : October 31, 2012 2:08 pm

I think that the story of Sarah Winchester and her crazy mansion could make a great movie. Basically she had builders work constantly on her mansion, so that evil ghosts wouldn’t get her. She had a nightly seance from midnight to 2 AM for over 30 years by herself. Her story could make a really great horror movie but also a great drama with some atmosphere.

Posted By Betty Lou Spence : October 31, 2012 2:08 pm

I think that the story of Sarah Winchester and her crazy mansion could make a great movie. Basically she had builders work constantly on her mansion, so that evil ghosts wouldn’t get her. She had a nightly seance from midnight to 2 AM for over 30 years by herself. Her story could make a really great horror movie but also a great drama with some atmosphere.

Posted By Shuvcat : October 31, 2012 3:33 pm

@Betty Lou, the Winchester house was supposedly the basis for the 2002 TV movie Rose Red, allegedly by Stephen King but as it turned out written by someone else, I forget who. It’s basically The Shining stretched out over four hours. Beautiful house, though.

Posted By Shuvcat : October 31, 2012 3:33 pm

@Betty Lou, the Winchester house was supposedly the basis for the 2002 TV movie Rose Red, allegedly by Stephen King but as it turned out written by someone else, I forget who. It’s basically The Shining stretched out over four hours. Beautiful house, though.

Posted By swac44 : October 31, 2012 4:23 pm

I remember really enjoying the book that inspired The Haunting of Julia, which was simply called Julia by Peter Straub, also the author of Ghost Story, but I don’t think I’ve seen the movie version (I remember seeing a copy in the very early days of VHS, but haven’t come across one since). I loved the fact that it was set in the Holland Park neighbourhood of London, which is also home to the youth hostel where I stayed on my first trip to England in 1980. I can see how it would make for a good haunting on the screen.

I wish someone would take another crack at Ghost Story though, I remember being disappointed by the film after loving the book, and I wonder why other Straub works haven’t made it into movie form. I recall being quite taken with his novel Shadowland about two boys and a mysterious uncle who turns out to be a magician.

A couple of other effective ghostfests that come to mind are from Spain: The Devil’s Backbone and The Orphanage, the first directed by Guillermo del Toro and the second produced by him. Both pretty chilling (they both include child ghosts, which always seem creepy).

Posted By swac44 : October 31, 2012 4:23 pm

I remember really enjoying the book that inspired The Haunting of Julia, which was simply called Julia by Peter Straub, also the author of Ghost Story, but I don’t think I’ve seen the movie version (I remember seeing a copy in the very early days of VHS, but haven’t come across one since). I loved the fact that it was set in the Holland Park neighbourhood of London, which is also home to the youth hostel where I stayed on my first trip to England in 1980. I can see how it would make for a good haunting on the screen.

I wish someone would take another crack at Ghost Story though, I remember being disappointed by the film after loving the book, and I wonder why other Straub works haven’t made it into movie form. I recall being quite taken with his novel Shadowland about two boys and a mysterious uncle who turns out to be a magician.

A couple of other effective ghostfests that come to mind are from Spain: The Devil’s Backbone and The Orphanage, the first directed by Guillermo del Toro and the second produced by him. Both pretty chilling (they both include child ghosts, which always seem creepy).

Posted By Emgee : October 31, 2012 4:46 pm

Don’t Look Now is kind of a borderline case; is there really a ghost of the girl watching over her parents? Still, creepy enough.
I fear that nowadays horror is equated with blood and gore; ghosts just don’t do it for the average horror fan. Unless he goes on a bloody killing spree.
Atmospheric horror; is it dead and buried or can it still rise from the grave?

Posted By Emgee : October 31, 2012 4:46 pm

Don’t Look Now is kind of a borderline case; is there really a ghost of the girl watching over her parents? Still, creepy enough.
I fear that nowadays horror is equated with blood and gore; ghosts just don’t do it for the average horror fan. Unless he goes on a bloody killing spree.
Atmospheric horror; is it dead and buried or can it still rise from the grave?

Posted By Chubbles MacWuss : October 31, 2012 5:41 pm

Don’t think anybody’s mentioned “The Ghost & Mrs. Muir” — a stone cold serio-comic classic of course & very entertaining …

What about something like “Portrait of Jennie” — but I guess you’re looking for ghost stories more in the horror genre sense … Whereas something like that film or certainly “The Bishop’s Wife” are more in the upbeat “touched by an angel” category …

Of course the single greatest film involving ghosts is probably Mizoguchi’s “Ugetsu” — one of my all-time favorites …

Posted By Chubbles MacWuss : October 31, 2012 5:41 pm

Don’t think anybody’s mentioned “The Ghost & Mrs. Muir” — a stone cold serio-comic classic of course & very entertaining …

What about something like “Portrait of Jennie” — but I guess you’re looking for ghost stories more in the horror genre sense … Whereas something like that film or certainly “The Bishop’s Wife” are more in the upbeat “touched by an angel” category …

Of course the single greatest film involving ghosts is probably Mizoguchi’s “Ugetsu” — one of my all-time favorites …

Posted By AL : October 31, 2012 7:07 pm

THE CHANGELING “…didn’t execute very well…”? Seriously?

Posted By AL : October 31, 2012 7:07 pm

THE CHANGELING “…didn’t execute very well…”? Seriously?

Posted By Doug : November 1, 2012 12:41 am

Two of many: “Hamlet” and “Macbeth”-Ghost stories with a capital ‘G’, the ghosts haunt but do not kill…except one variation of Hamlet that I saw where the last royal standing, the Queen, is stabbed by a flying dagger-she turns and by the look on her face we know that she recognizes the ghost of her late husband, Hamlet’s father.
I think that Shakespeare would have loved that twist.

Posted By Doug : November 1, 2012 12:41 am

Two of many: “Hamlet” and “Macbeth”-Ghost stories with a capital ‘G’, the ghosts haunt but do not kill…except one variation of Hamlet that I saw where the last royal standing, the Queen, is stabbed by a flying dagger-she turns and by the look on her face we know that she recognizes the ghost of her late husband, Hamlet’s father.
I think that Shakespeare would have loved that twist.

Posted By Ben Boom : November 1, 2012 7:47 am

Really, you talk about good ghost stories and leave “The Orphanage” out? Other Spanish ghost stories worth seeing: “Nos Miran” and “The Others”.

Posted By Ben Boom : November 1, 2012 7:47 am

Really, you talk about good ghost stories and leave “The Orphanage” out? Other Spanish ghost stories worth seeing: “Nos Miran” and “The Others”.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : November 1, 2012 9:05 am

Portrait of Jennie is a personal favorite of mine, by the way. I love a lot of William Dieterle, especially The Devil and Daniel Webster and Jennie is a great, and romantic, ghost story, as is The Ghost and Mrs Muir.

I also love The Orphanage but here’s the part I don’t think I stressed well enough in my piece: “but the big stuff with the big marketing from the big boys in Hollywood just doesn’t happen anymore.” I’m talking about Hollywood ghost stories and when Hollywood does it now, it’s usually comedy and borderline kiddie (think The Haunted Mansion with Eddie Murphy). I’m really lamenting Hollywood abandoning the good, old fashioned ghost story, that’s all. Yes, some are still made but not many. (and I make no claims for consistently stating my ideas clearly – sometimes I don’t do a very good job with it)

At the same time, movies brought up here in the comments, like The Others and The Haunting, are great reminders to me of a few that I failed to mention and good recommendations for anyone looking for a good ghost story. Sometimes I think I write about movies just so film experts can show up and provide a mini-canon for whatever topic it is that day. I think I’ve gotten better guidance on film viewing from comment sections over the years than I ever have from reading a particular critic or a film book.

And AL, we just see things differently here. For me, The Changeling‘s director, Peter Medak, makes visual choices that work against the movie entirely. The pov shots of the miniature wheelchair chasing Claire are unintentionally funny and the scene of George C. Scott fainting should have been removed entirely. If a director can’t look at Scott, and the natural power he exudes through his persona into every performance, and know that fainting just doesn’t work with him, then, Jesus, I don’t even know. And the climax of the film plays more like the climax of a Hawaii Five-O episode than a horror film. I think it’s an excellent story that should be made again. Maybe the Medak version will be the best we ever get but if someone else can do it better I’d love to see them give it a try.

Also, despite my misgivings, I’ll take The Changeling over most horror I see today. It’s important to note that just because I critique something doesn’t mean I hate it. Often times it means I like it enough to be disappointed that it didn’t deliver as I hoped it would. If I hate it, I don’t say anything about it, ever because, who cares? If it stinks, it stinks, why bring it up?

Posted By Greg Ferrara : November 1, 2012 9:05 am

Portrait of Jennie is a personal favorite of mine, by the way. I love a lot of William Dieterle, especially The Devil and Daniel Webster and Jennie is a great, and romantic, ghost story, as is The Ghost and Mrs Muir.

I also love The Orphanage but here’s the part I don’t think I stressed well enough in my piece: “but the big stuff with the big marketing from the big boys in Hollywood just doesn’t happen anymore.” I’m talking about Hollywood ghost stories and when Hollywood does it now, it’s usually comedy and borderline kiddie (think The Haunted Mansion with Eddie Murphy). I’m really lamenting Hollywood abandoning the good, old fashioned ghost story, that’s all. Yes, some are still made but not many. (and I make no claims for consistently stating my ideas clearly – sometimes I don’t do a very good job with it)

At the same time, movies brought up here in the comments, like The Others and The Haunting, are great reminders to me of a few that I failed to mention and good recommendations for anyone looking for a good ghost story. Sometimes I think I write about movies just so film experts can show up and provide a mini-canon for whatever topic it is that day. I think I’ve gotten better guidance on film viewing from comment sections over the years than I ever have from reading a particular critic or a film book.

And AL, we just see things differently here. For me, The Changeling‘s director, Peter Medak, makes visual choices that work against the movie entirely. The pov shots of the miniature wheelchair chasing Claire are unintentionally funny and the scene of George C. Scott fainting should have been removed entirely. If a director can’t look at Scott, and the natural power he exudes through his persona into every performance, and know that fainting just doesn’t work with him, then, Jesus, I don’t even know. And the climax of the film plays more like the climax of a Hawaii Five-O episode than a horror film. I think it’s an excellent story that should be made again. Maybe the Medak version will be the best we ever get but if someone else can do it better I’d love to see them give it a try.

Also, despite my misgivings, I’ll take The Changeling over most horror I see today. It’s important to note that just because I critique something doesn’t mean I hate it. Often times it means I like it enough to be disappointed that it didn’t deliver as I hoped it would. If I hate it, I don’t say anything about it, ever because, who cares? If it stinks, it stinks, why bring it up?

Posted By James : November 1, 2012 9:06 am

I loved The Orphanage, and something that I appreciated about that film is that it ends on a singular note of grace and serenity that struck me as very unusual in tone for a ghost movie.

Another recent ghost story I liked (though not as much as The Orphanage) is Stir of Echoes. I saw that one around the same time I watched a more financially successful movie, The Sixth Sense, and I thought the former was the better film. I still do.

Posted By James : November 1, 2012 9:06 am

I loved The Orphanage, and something that I appreciated about that film is that it ends on a singular note of grace and serenity that struck me as very unusual in tone for a ghost movie.

Another recent ghost story I liked (though not as much as The Orphanage) is Stir of Echoes. I saw that one around the same time I watched a more financially successful movie, The Sixth Sense, and I thought the former was the better film. I still do.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : November 1, 2012 9:14 am

I also like the Christmas party ghost story in the great Dead of Night, with the little boy ghost upstairs that the little girl finds. It’s not the most famous or beloved of the tales told in that movie but I like it a lot anyway.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : November 1, 2012 9:14 am

I also like the Christmas party ghost story in the great Dead of Night, with the little boy ghost upstairs that the little girl finds. It’s not the most famous or beloved of the tales told in that movie but I like it a lot anyway.

Posted By swac44 : November 1, 2012 9:30 am

One ghost story I finally got around to watching this week, which I don’t recommend, is the misbegotten Disney chiller The Watcher in the Woods, which fails in most regards due to some poor casting (lead actress Lynn-Holly Johnson is pretty awful here, or at least very poorly directed) and the studio tinkering that defanged the whole project before filming even started, let alone the bungled release that sees current DVDs coming with three different endings, each more ludicrous than the last.

There are a few decently atmospheric scenes scattered throughout, and some nice work from an underused Ian Bannen, but even Bette Davis can’t save this turkey. Kind of sad seeing as it comes from John Hough, director of The Legend of Hell House and Twins of Evil, not to mention some prime ’60s episodes of The Avengers.

I recommend reading the review of it over at DVD Savant, if you were ever remotely curious about catching up with this bargain bin staple (the Anchor Bay special edition, with commentary by Hough, is out of print, but for $5 you can get the Disney disc with the alternate endings and trailers bearing a unique disclaimer warning that this isn’t your typical Disney film, so leave the little ones at home).

Posted By swac44 : November 1, 2012 9:30 am

One ghost story I finally got around to watching this week, which I don’t recommend, is the misbegotten Disney chiller The Watcher in the Woods, which fails in most regards due to some poor casting (lead actress Lynn-Holly Johnson is pretty awful here, or at least very poorly directed) and the studio tinkering that defanged the whole project before filming even started, let alone the bungled release that sees current DVDs coming with three different endings, each more ludicrous than the last.

There are a few decently atmospheric scenes scattered throughout, and some nice work from an underused Ian Bannen, but even Bette Davis can’t save this turkey. Kind of sad seeing as it comes from John Hough, director of The Legend of Hell House and Twins of Evil, not to mention some prime ’60s episodes of The Avengers.

I recommend reading the review of it over at DVD Savant, if you were ever remotely curious about catching up with this bargain bin staple (the Anchor Bay special edition, with commentary by Hough, is out of print, but for $5 you can get the Disney disc with the alternate endings and trailers bearing a unique disclaimer warning that this isn’t your typical Disney film, so leave the little ones at home).

Posted By Cary Watson : November 1, 2012 12:13 pm

It’s a bit curious that there are so few filmed ghost stories there are considering that there are so many literary ghost stories. I think filmmakers are just too tempted to go the horror route because it’s so easy to throw blood around have sharp and nasty things jump out at the audience. The best ghost story I’ve seen recently, and one of the best ever on my scorecard, is Lake Mungo, an Australian film. It uses the faux documentary technique but it’s done brilliantly, and it almost qualifies as more of a drama than a ghost story. My review of it is below:

http://www.jettisoncocoon.com/2011/07/film-review-lake-mungo-2008.html

Posted By Cary Watson : November 1, 2012 12:13 pm

It’s a bit curious that there are so few filmed ghost stories there are considering that there are so many literary ghost stories. I think filmmakers are just too tempted to go the horror route because it’s so easy to throw blood around have sharp and nasty things jump out at the audience. The best ghost story I’ve seen recently, and one of the best ever on my scorecard, is Lake Mungo, an Australian film. It uses the faux documentary technique but it’s done brilliantly, and it almost qualifies as more of a drama than a ghost story. My review of it is below:

http://www.jettisoncocoon.com/2011/07/film-review-lake-mungo-2008.html

Posted By Emgee : November 1, 2012 4:16 pm

Another pretty good comic take on the ghost story i want to mention is The Ghost Goes West. Hardly a classic, but worth a look.

Posted By Emgee : November 1, 2012 4:16 pm

Another pretty good comic take on the ghost story i want to mention is The Ghost Goes West. Hardly a classic, but worth a look.

Posted By Anonymous : November 1, 2012 5:17 pm

I’m really keen to see Lake Mungo, partly because I love all things Australian, but also because I’ve actually been there. But I’ve also heard good things about this feature, hopefully it won’t be too hard to track down a copy.

Posted By Anonymous : November 1, 2012 5:17 pm

I’m really keen to see Lake Mungo, partly because I love all things Australian, but also because I’ve actually been there. But I’ve also heard good things about this feature, hopefully it won’t be too hard to track down a copy.

Posted By Jenni : November 2, 2012 10:18 am

Turkey or not, The Watcher in the Woods did have enough weird and suspenseful moments to scare my kids-they still mention that Disney film to this day and how it “creeped” them out!

Posted By Jenni : November 2, 2012 10:18 am

Turkey or not, The Watcher in the Woods did have enough weird and suspenseful moments to scare my kids-they still mention that Disney film to this day and how it “creeped” them out!

Posted By Shuvcat : November 2, 2012 10:28 am

Part of the problem with Watcher In The Woods was that in the book, the “watcher” isn’t a ghost but an alien being. I heard that Disney filmed an ending which revealed the alien but it didn’t test well with audiences, so they revamped it into a “ghost” story.

Posted By Shuvcat : November 2, 2012 10:28 am

Part of the problem with Watcher In The Woods was that in the book, the “watcher” isn’t a ghost but an alien being. I heard that Disney filmed an ending which revealed the alien but it didn’t test well with audiences, so they revamped it into a “ghost” story.

Posted By Brian : November 3, 2012 8:47 pm

After just seeing The Ghost Breakers, it does indeed have a genuinely eerie quality to it. Although I thought I was seeing it for the first time, there was a strange sense of familiarity to it and I realized the ghost scenes in the old mansions were ones I had seen and were affected by as a very young child…young enough not to know who Bob Hope was!
It was kind of a nice little treat as it reminded me of being a kid
on Halloween.

Posted By Brian : November 3, 2012 8:47 pm

After just seeing The Ghost Breakers, it does indeed have a genuinely eerie quality to it. Although I thought I was seeing it for the first time, there was a strange sense of familiarity to it and I realized the ghost scenes in the old mansions were ones I had seen and were affected by as a very young child…young enough not to know who Bob Hope was!
It was kind of a nice little treat as it reminded me of being a kid
on Halloween.

Posted By swac44 : November 4, 2012 12:03 pm

The $5 bargain bin DVD I picked up had all three endings for Watcher in the Woods, and the last involves the alien puppet (for a company that pioneered animatronics and later owned the Muppets, the alien is pretty lame) taking Lynn-Holly Johnson to some foreign dimension that looks like a set rejected for Tron. No wonder they ditched it, it’s completely laughable.

I can see how the film would be way more effective with kids, but unlike Haley Mills, or Jodie Foster in Candleshoe, Johnson’s performance doesn’t hold up so well for adult viewers.

Posted By swac44 : November 4, 2012 12:03 pm

The $5 bargain bin DVD I picked up had all three endings for Watcher in the Woods, and the last involves the alien puppet (for a company that pioneered animatronics and later owned the Muppets, the alien is pretty lame) taking Lynn-Holly Johnson to some foreign dimension that looks like a set rejected for Tron. No wonder they ditched it, it’s completely laughable.

I can see how the film would be way more effective with kids, but unlike Haley Mills, or Jodie Foster in Candleshoe, Johnson’s performance doesn’t hold up so well for adult viewers.

Posted By Addison : November 8, 2012 2:39 pm

Re:- Watcher in the Woods, it’s a kids ghost story, Disney for Pete’s sake, so don’t judge it too harshly.

Re:- TV version of Woman in Black. He’s quite right. It is well done and scary.

But if you want a different ghost story find “The Stone Tape”. A British TV play from the 70s by Nigel Kneale. Difficult to find but worth it.

Posted By Addison : November 8, 2012 2:39 pm

Re:- Watcher in the Woods, it’s a kids ghost story, Disney for Pete’s sake, so don’t judge it too harshly.

Re:- TV version of Woman in Black. He’s quite right. It is well done and scary.

But if you want a different ghost story find “The Stone Tape”. A British TV play from the 70s by Nigel Kneale. Difficult to find but worth it.

Posted By Dave M. : November 10, 2012 5:30 am

Definitely check out LAKE MUNGO if you’re looking for a slow burn creepy ghost story flick that sticks with you after viewing. Well acted and directed. I found it compelling but if you’re into jump scares every ten minutes this one isn’t for you.

Posted By Dave M. : November 10, 2012 5:30 am

Definitely check out LAKE MUNGO if you’re looking for a slow burn creepy ghost story flick that sticks with you after viewing. Well acted and directed. I found it compelling but if you’re into jump scares every ten minutes this one isn’t for you.

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