Monday, March 2, 2020

Ghost Month Quick Picks and Pans

The Uninvited (1944) Ray Milland stars as music critic Roderick Fitzgerald, who travels to the English coast to escape the hustle and bustle of London. Along with his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey), they purchase a 200-year-old seaside mansion from a retired Navy captain (Donald Crisp). Instead of peace and quiet, Roderick encounters a restless spirit, along with the captain’s granddaughter Stella (Gail Russell), who’s inexorably drawn to the house. As Roderick begins to fall in love with Stella, he attempts to unravel the mystery about her past, as well as her mother’s untimely end. While the story gets a bit convoluted at times, the gothic visuals, snappy dialogue, and fine performances all around make this required viewing.

Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Below (2002) Director/co-writer David Twohy’s supernatural submarine film is a compelling mix of World War II drama and old-fashioned ghost story. After the crew of an American sub, the U.S.S. Tiger Shark, rescue three shipwreck survivors, unexplained events begin to occur. The tension continues to mount, as they’re relentlessly pursued by enemy surface ships, and we gradually learn about the crew’s dark secret. The tight confines of the submarine prove to be an inspired setting for this tale. The film features some fine ensemble work, with standout performances by Bruce Greenwood as Brice, the C.O., and Olivia Williams as Claire, a British nurse. Although the plot gets muddled in the middle, and there are a few unnecessary jump scares, it manages to find its footing by the climax. Recommended.

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD

Ghost of Mae Nak (2005) Writer/director Mark Duffield based this ghost tale on a vengeful ghost from Thai folklore. Mak and Nak (Pataratida Pacharawirapong and Siwat Chotchaicharin), naïve young newlyweds (who seem to attract bad luck wherever they go), are railroaded into purchasing one of the oldest houses in Bangkok by an unscrupulous seller. When Mak falls into a coma after a run-in with some thieves, it’s up to Nak to appease the centuries-old spirit that appears to have cursed them. Despite contrivances galore and over-reliance on some tired horror tropes, Ghost of Mae Nak keeps things interesting, thanks to its unique cultural perspective.

Rating: ***. Available on DVD and Kanopy

Ghost Team (2016) This amiable comedy about a couple of slacker friends assembling a ghost hunting group is more Scooby Doo than Ghostbusters, with more tease than please, but it has its moments. Despite a serious lack of money and resources, Louis and Stan (Jon Heder and David Krumholtz) stop at nothing to emulate their favorite reality TV show, “Ghost Getters.” Their team includes a would-be cop, a college burnout, and a fraudulent TV psychic (Amy Sedaris). They discover the truth is out there, although it might not be what they’re expecting. After a clever twist regarding the suspected paranormal activity, it’s too bad the ending falls flat. It might be worth a look, however, if you keep your expectations in check.

Rating: ***. Available on DVD, Amazon Prime and Kanopy 

Ghosthouse (1988) Umberto Lenzi’s (under the pseudonym Humphrey Humbert) haunted house movie might be schlock, but it’s never less than entertaining. Paul (Greg Rhodes), a HAM radio operator, hears a man calling out for help and screaming, which compels him to triangulate the source. With his girlfriend (Lara Wendel) in tow, his search leads him to an old house (we learn in the prologue that a girl murdered her parents there) in the country. Featuring an evil clown doll (Is there any other kind?), bad acting, over the top situations and characters making one terrible decision after another (why they keep going back into the cursed house is anyone’s guess), Ghosthouse may be better for laughs than frights, but sometimes that’s enough.

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD (Import) and Amazon Prime

Ghost Story (1981) Despite a pedigreed cast of classic actors (Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, John Houseman, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) this adaptation of a Peter Straub novel misses the mark as a horror film. It’s not particularly scary, and lead Craig Wasson is tepid in the dual role of twin brothers Don/David. To its credit, Ghost Story features an excellent performance by Alice Krige as Don/David’s mysterious love interest Eva, who’s inextricably linked with the past. There’s also some superb makeup effects by Dick Smith, which are used too sparingly. Unfortunately, the movie suffers from a case of the parts being better than the whole, with a meandering story that fails to elicit many chills.

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD


  1. Some intriguing short reviews, Barry!
    I may have to check my expectations and watch ghost team.
    Plus, ghost house sounds crazy ridiculous and fun!

  2. Thanks, John! Ghosthouse is pure 80s cheese - but good cheese. Ghost Team fun kind of let me down in the end, but it was amusing in spots.

  3. The Uninvited is one of the best gothic horror ghost stories I've had the pleasure of watching, and perhaps Ray Milland's best performance ever.

    On the other hand, Ghost Story is just plain, well, boring and unengaging. Such a wonderful cast, and all of them seem to be as bored with the production as I was.

    I will check out the others!

    1. Glad you agree about Ghost Story. It's too bad. It had so much potential to be better. I unreservedly recommend Below. Your mileage may vary with the others.