Older horror fans recall Amicus Productions and the British horror anthology films they released in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Some of these old-school British chillers included classics like Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, The House That Dripped Blood, Asylum, and Tales from Crypt. Horror legends like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing regularly appeared along with a host of familiar British character actors.
Amicus Productions folded in 1977. Horror anthology films have gone in and out of style in the ensuing years. In the 1980’s, we got the Creepshow and, more recently, the V/H/S franchise. Fan-favourite Trick ‘r Treat stands out as one of the better examples of the anthology format. Now Ghost Stories now has positioned itself as a return of the classic British horror anthology in the Amicus tradition.
Famous paranormal investigator, Charles Cameron contacts professor and professional paranormal debunker, Phillip Goodman. Missing for years and believed to be dead, Cameron challenges Goodman to investigate three separate cases of the paranormal. Each case was one that Cameron claims that he was never able to fully discredit. One case involves a night watchmen at an abandoned old asylum haunted by the spirit of a young girl. In the second case, an odd young man believes he ran over the Devil while driving down a secluded road. Lastly, the third case centers around a financier terrorized by a poltergeist.
Scary Film-Making at its Finest
Ghost Stories is one of the more genuinely scary movies I have watched in quite a while. A methodically paced film, Ghost Stories actually benefits from its anthology format. Its well-executed slow-burn approach builds and relents with each story rather than dragging across a single 90-minute narrative. The overall result is a fun film that repeated;u pushes you to the edge of your seat before making you jump.
Directors Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson use the whole screen to stage scares. In Ghost Stories, you’ll need to pay close attention to the background and screen corners. The directors also use some intermittent reinforcement scheduling with their frights. As a result, you’re constantly kept balance for much of the movie. Some of the jumps in Ghost Stories are dragged almost to the point of being agonizing. Each segment has its share of chilling moments. A standout includes a creepy backseat passenger in Case 2, proceeded by a nail-biting investigation of an abandoned asylum cell from Case 1.
Ghost Stories is the kind of horror film that requires you to pay close attention to what’s going on in the background.
Avoids The Usual Pitfalls of Anthology Films
Typically, anthology horror films are often plagued by an inconsistent quality across segments. One story often stands out, while another segment drags things down. Nyman and Dyson’s Ghost Stories has no weak link of which to single out. Audiences will obviously have a favourite ‘case’. Yet Ghost Stories never feels choppy or overburdened by any story. It’s the rare anthology films that feels like a complete narrative.
One of the reasons Ghost Stories works so well across its different segments is the wrap-around story that connects each ‘case’. In most anthology films, the wrap-around is convoluted often by virtue of the fact that it really just exists to give the movie an overall sense of purpose. Yet Ghost Stories doesn’t feel like an anthology film. In fact, without the appearance of title cards informing you of the case number and subject, Ghost Stories feels like a single story unfolding. Each segment feels like it’s part of a bigger narrative and the flow of Ghost Stories is organic as a result. What ties all of the stories together feels like more than just a fun twist – the climax almost compels you to re-watch the movie from the beginning.
Each segment feels like it’s part of a bigger narrative and the flow of Ghost Stories is organic as a result.
British Accents Make Everything Better
I’ve always believed that the British accents in the Hammer and Amicus films made even the more ludicrous premises feel dignified. Ghost Stories is bolstered by outstanding performances across the board and, yes, British accents. Andy Nyman pulls triple duty, not only serving as a director and writer, but also playing Professor Goodman. He thoroughly convinces as a man whose personal beliefs and purpose are challenged and left crumbling. Martin Freeman (Cargo) also continues to impress as one of the better actors working today. Even when he is playing a supporting role Freeman typically stands out as one of the better things in any movie in which he works.
If there’s another performance that hopefully turns heads it’s from Alex Lawther. Fans of Black Mirror will recognize Lawther from the episode, ‘Shut Up and Dance.’ As young Simon Rifkind, Lawther is a ball of manic and quirky energy, eliciting just the right balance between creepy and oddly sympathetic.
We Have Another Candidate for Best Horror Film of 2018
My first reaction upon finishing Ghost Stories was an immediate desire to go back and watch it again. I’ve already started considering where Ghost Stories will fit into my mandatory Halloween viewing. Nyman and Dyson have delivered a smart and scary film that evokes the best of 1960’s and 1970’s British anthology. In what has been another strong year for the horror genre, Ghost Stories is another candidate for any ‘Best of’ horror list for 2018.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A