Older horror fans will likely recall the history of Amicus Productions and the British horror anthology films they released over the 1960’s to the 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 and the horror anthology film itself has seen occasional resurgences from the Creepshow films of the 1980’s to the more recent V/H/S franchise. Fan-favourite Trick ‘r Treat stands out as one of the better examples of the anthology format. Based on a stage play of the same name, Ghost Stories now has positioned itself as a return of the classic British horror anthology in the tradition of Amicus.
Professor and professional paranormal debunker, Phillip Goodman, is contacted by famous paranormal investigator, Charles Cameron. Missing for years and believed to be dead, Cameron challenges Goodman to investigate three separate cases of the paranormal that he was never able to fully discredit. One case involves a night watchmen at an abandoned old asylum for women who was haunted by the spirit of a young girl. In the second case, an odd young man named Simon Rifkind believes that he ran over the Devil while driving down a secluded road. The third case centers around financier Mike Priddle who claims he was 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 pushes you to the edge of your seat before making you jump only to repeat the process several times over.
Directors Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson use the whole screen to expertly place their scares. Ghost Stories is the kind of horror film that requires you to pay close attention to what’s going on in the background. It also aptly applies some intermittent reinforcement scheduling in the delivery of its frights, keeping you off 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, but two standouts include a creepy backseat passenger in Case 2 and 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, one of the most common pitfalls of anthology horror films is inconsistent quality across segments. One story often stands head and shoulders above the others, while another segment serves to drag the proceedings down. Nyman and Dyson’s Ghost Stories has no weak link of which to single out. Audiences will understandably have a favourite ‘case’, but Ghost Stories never feels choppy or overburdened by any one of its stories. 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 story feels convoluted often by virtue of the fact that it primarily exists just to give some overall sense of purpose. Yet Ghost Stories doesn’t feel like an anthology film aside from the title cards that inform the audience of the case number and subject. 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
As a humorous aside, I’ve always personally maintained that the British accents in the Hammer and Amicus films of the 1960’s and 1970’s 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 thinking about where I would place Ghost Stories in my mandatory Halloween viewing. Nyman and Dyson have delivered a smart and scary film that evokes the best of British anthology horror from the 1960’s and 1970’s. 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