Halloween Scene: Ghost Story (1981)

ghost story poster Every year my wife and I watch two classic Christmas movies during the holiday season: Holiday Inn and White Christmas. The former starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire as was the plan for the latter, but Astaire said he was retired at the time, so Danny Kaye got the part. Remembering that got me thinking about Astaire’s career and whether he was actually retired or not. To the IMDb! That’s where I discovered that the song-and-dance man’s last movie actually came in 1981 and was a horror flick! Better yet? Ghost Story also stars Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. John Houseman and Melvyn Douglas. As a kid I inexplicably loved Cocoon, so I think there might be a part of me that enjoys watching old people in genre films. To the top of the Netflix Queue it went!

The four men have been friends in a small New England town for 0ver 50 years going back to when they were young men and decided to call themselves the Chowder Society. Basically, they get together and tell each other ghost stories, which becomes prophetic when one of their sons winds on the wrong side of a massive fall after seeing a girl he slept with turn into a gross monster (a la The Shining).

That leads the dead guy’s brother, David, back home where he meets the remaining members of the Chowder Society, a group whose membership is dwindling thanks to a series of nightmares, hauntings and seemingly accidental deaths. David recounts the story of meeting a woman he fell for and even proposed to but broke it off thanks to her crazy behavior. After telling this tale, the Chowder boys explain that they had a somewhat similar experience with a woman when they were kids that, let’s say, did not end so well and may or may not have lead to them living a very real ghost story.

I don’t want to say too much more about this film because I went in with blinders on and wound up really enjoying the twists and turns of the story. In fact, I was working on something when I started Ghost Story yesterday and got a bit distracted, so I actually went back about a half hour so I could stay with it better. Even after doing that, I’m still not 100% sure of the story and want to watch it again in a few months. I’d also like to check out the novel it was based on by Peter Straub.

Director John Irvin used an excellent mix of traditional haunting movie tricks like disembodied voices and creepy sounds while also employing some truly spectacular death make-up resulting in a creepy film that comes at you from all kinds of angles.

A lot of times on this blog I’ve written something like, “I loved this, but it’s not like it’s a long-lost gem.” That’s not the case with Ghost Story. This is a movie packed with greatness that I’ve never even heard before! Hopefully some of you will check it out because I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Christmas Stories: Holiday Inn (1942)

Well, I already failed in my plan to do one of these Christmas Stories posts every day of December leading up to Christmas. Last night I got a little carried away enjoying some cocktails, watching Funny People with the missus and then skipping between SNL and a Jay-Z concert on the Madison Square Garden channel (yup, that exists). Anyway, Em and I (mostly Em) decorated the house today and even though both of our football teams got beat by seemingly worse teams, we had a pretty good day. We even capped the afternoon off by watching one of our favorite Christmas movies Holiday Inn.

This 67-year-old classic starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire is a favorite of my mom’s. Every year when I was younger, my mom would put on older Christmas movies like this, White Christmas, The Bells Of Saint Mary, Miracle On 34th Street and, of course, It’s A Wonderful Life. When I went away to college, she sent me a copy of this and a few of the others, which is how Em first saw it and she’s been hooked ever since.

The story revolves around Crosby and Astaire who were a pair of song and dance men working the New York club circuit. Crosby wants out, so he buys an inn in Connecticut and eventually decides to turn it into a club that’s only open on holidays. So, you get treated to all kinds of big huge holiday-themed dance numbers and some great comedic moments stemming from the fact that Astaire (who stayed in the song and dance business and also stole Crosby’s soon-to-be-fiance away from him on his last night in the biz) wants to steal away Crosby’s first hire and love interest played by Marjorie Reynolds. This follows a fantastic drunken dance scene. Crosby tries all kinds of tricks to keep the two apart, for fear of losing his number one squeeze again (like Crosby changing the tempo of the Washington’s Birthday number so they can’t get too close).

I’m not the biggest fan of musicals, but the ones I do like are backstage musicals, ones where the singing and dancing makes sense because it’s a being done by people in the musical/singing/dancing business. Sure there’s a few times when characters start singing out of nowhere, but it’s forgivable. You also get treated to “White Christmas” several times which Crosby’s character writes in this universe.

Okay, it’s impossible to talk about Holiday Inn without bringing up the one thing the movie has become relatively infamous for: blackface. To celebrate President Lincoln’s Birthday (which used to be it’s own holiday), most of the inn’s staff is in blackface singing and dancing. Even Crosby comes out in it, as does Reynolds with her hair done-up all kinds of ridiculous. It’s certainly cringe-worthy and I can understand why it would rub people the wrong way, but it doesn’t feel like it was done with malice, just an unfortunate time capsule from a time when that was socially acceptable. So, THAT happens.

So, if you’re feeling in the mood for a black and white musical that not only celebrates Christmas but most of the other holidays full of charming people with great voices and who are light on their feet, this is where it’s at in my opinion.