Ghost Story [1981]

Director: John Irvin
Stars: Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Jr. Douglas Fairbanks, John Houseman, Patricia Neal
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: R (Restricted)
Runtime: 111 minutes

Upon its release in 1981, John Irvin's version of Peter Straub's bestselling horror novel was deemed one of the worst adaptations that the genre had ever produced. Now it's available on DVD, and for the first time in widescreen presentation, and not much has changed. It's still a nearly unwatchable dud. Fred Astaire, John Houseman, Melvyn Douglas, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. play old friends, members of the self-created Chowder Society, who get together and tell ghost tales. The scariest story of all, however, is the one they never speak to each other. Fifty years ago, the four men accidentally killed a young woman, and now she's back (with much less meat on her bones) and seeking vengeance. Sound chilling? Well, in Straub's hands it was, and the novel remains the author's finest achievement. Irvin, however, distills Staub's rich characterizations, gradual tension, and creepy atmosphere, and replaces them with aging golden oldies (only Houseman appears to be having any fun) hamming it up and hokey special-effect shots of a rotting corpse. The film moves about as quickly as its ancient cast could during a relay race. The whole thing has arthritis. --Dave McCoy

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