Ghost Story – UK, 1974

‘Will haunt you!’

Ghost Story is a 1974 British horror feature film directed and co-produced by Stephen Weeks (I, Monster) from a screenplay co-written with Rosemary Sutcliff and Philip Norman. The movie stars Marianne Faithfull, Leigh Lawson, Larry Dann and Anthony Bate.

In the 1930s, McFadden (Murray Melvin), invites two ex-university acquaintances Talbot (Larry Dann) and Duller (Vivian MacKerrell) to his family’s country house, for a weekend of game hunting.

As soon as they arrive, personality clashes, petty arguments and gloomy environment start on wear on the trio’s nerves. Worse still, McFadden neglects to mention that the place might be haunted…

Reviews:

“The film is slightly let down by the basic lighting and camerawork, and some clumsy comedy at the expense of sensitive twit, Talbot (Larry Dann). But the slack opening builds slowly and steadily as the parallel stories develop, and it’s cleverly unclear as to where reality starts and second-sight begins.” Black Hole

The film suffers from its low-budget, Stephen Weeks’ somewhat lackluster direction and a distracting score by composer Ron Geesin […] Weeks is capable of creating an unsettling mood, but he seems to have trouble sustaining it for any substantial period of time. Besides its numerous problems, I still think Ghost Story is an entertaining supernatural thriller with a fascinating premise. It contains some truly eerie moments…” Cinebeats

“Director Weeks does a beautiful job evoking the time period in this effectively spooky and atmospheric film, and there are several fine performances but some viewers may find the movie rather slow going.” James J. Mulay (editor), The Horror Film, Cinebooks, 1989

“This is like a vintage P.G. Wodehouse story as it might have been ghosted by Edgar Allan Poe” Marjorie Billbow, Cinema Today

” …Ron Geesin’s experimental score adds to the off-kilter atmosphere. Although the film’s cult appeal is due to the presence of Marianne Faithful, the performances are excellent all around […] Deliberately paced and understated, Ghost Story will prove rewarding to patient and attentive viewers.” Eric Cotenas, DVD Beaver

” …among several memorable set-pieces is a nightmarish scene of asylum inmates wresting control from their oppressive overseers, Anthony Bate and Barbara Shelley. Sadly, the spell-stopped mood occasionally slips over into passages of slackly edited tedium…” Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic, 2015

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” …there is a quality of the light and cinematography which gives the film a truly unique, nostalgic feel. Barring some questionable scenes at an asylum, which fall victim to histrionics, not helped by the quite awful prog rock influenced soundtrack, and the recurring problem of sluggish pacing, proceedings do get considerably more atmospheric.” James Benefield, Eye for Film

“There are scenes which scared the living daylights out of me… it is compelling and often very scary” Graham Jones, The Guardian

“Ultimately adding up a rather neat and engaging horror tale, Ghost Story begins somewhat less auspiciously as a slightly strained genteel comedy of manners […] a competent foray into supernatural territory, with lyrical intimations of an irredeemable past of incest and madness.” Jonathan Rosenbaum, Monthly Film Bulletin, British Film Institute, July 1975

“While the pacing may be on the slow side, the film is certainly not short on atmosphere. Aside from the locations, the cinematography and lighting ensure that we see just enough of what we need to in order to get our skin crawling.” Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop!

“The scenes during which the inmates break loose have a genuine sense of dementia to them, and this story would have made a pretty arresting short film. Sadly, these scenes appear as too-brief interludes during the mind-numbing antics of the three main protagonists.” David Flint, Ten Years of Terror, FAB Press

“Director Weeks does a beautiful job evoking the time period in this effectively spooky and atmospheric film, and there are several fine performances, but some viewers may find the movie rather slow moving.” TV Guide

” …the film suffers from unexceptional special effects and a fatal sense of dislocation as the horrors of incest and madness fail to surface sufficiently centrally as they are relayed through the appearance of a string-pulled doll.” Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

Cast and characters:

  • Anthony Bate … Doctor Borden – Beasts TV series
  • Larry Dann – Talbot – Tales of Unease TV series; The Body Stealers
  • Marianne Faithfull – Sophy Kwykwer – The Turn of the Screw (1992, narrator)
  • Sally Grace – Girl
  • Penelope Keith – Rennie – The Hound of the Baskervilles (1978)
  • Leigh Lawson – Robert – Hammer House of Horror TV series
  • Vivian MacKerrell – Duller
  • Murray Melvin – McFayden – The Phantom of the Opera (2004); The Devils
  • Barbara Shelley – Matron – Dracula: Prince of Darkness; Rasputin – the Mad Monk; The Gorgon; Cat Girl; et al

Running time:

87 minutes

Filming locations:

Despite being set in England, the film was shot mainly on location in India, at Bangalore Palace, Ooty, Tamil Nadu.

Release:

BBFC censors passed the film with an ‘AA’ certificate, suitable for fourteen year-olds to view.

In the USA, the film was released on VHS by Comet Video retitled Madhouse Mansion.

In the UK, Ghost Story was released on DVD as a 2-disc set by Nucleus Films on 18 November 2009.

Disc 1:

  • Widescreen (1.85:1) Presentation Enhanced for Widescreen TVs
  • English 2.0 Mono
  • Audio Commentary with Director Stephen Weeks, Moderated by Professor Samuel Umland
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English Subtitles

Disc 2:

  • Ghost Stories – an all-new 72 minute featurette including interviews with Director/Producer Stephen Weeks, Actors Larry Dann and Murray Melvin, British Horror Icon Barbara Shelley and composer (and Pink Floyd collaborator) Ron Geesin, with comments from critic Kim Newman.
  • Alternate opening credits sequence
  • Stephen Weeks’ The Making of Ghost Story
  • Stephen Weeks’ My Early Films (.pdf)
  • Terror, Tweed & Tiffin Essay by Darius Drewe Shimon
  • Original Press Book
  • The Chelsea Cobbler store commercial

And these previously unseen Stephen Weeks short films:

  • Owen’s War (1965 / B+W / 10m)
  • Deserted Station (1965 / B+W / 7m)
  • The Camp (1965 / B+W / 4m)
  • Moods of a Victorian Church (1967 / Colour / 9m)
  • Two At Thursday (1968 / B+W / 10m)
  • 1917 (1968 / Colour / 35m) – the lost Tigon film
  • Flesh (1969 / Colour / 3m)

Trivia:

Weeks apparently conceived the plot in 1969 with the intended title Asylum.

In a 2017 interview for “The Bill Podcast”, actor Larry Dann alleged that he has never been paid for his work on the film.

Wikipedia | Image credits: VHS Collector

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Categories: 1970s, British, doll, supernatural

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