Saturday, 12 July 2008

A-HAUNTING WE WILL GO : My Ten Favourite Ghost Films


Have you ever seen a ghost ? I believe I have - twice. Both times the experience was totally unexpected and was over in a flash. I'm not saying that anybody standing next to me would have shared my experience and accept it as being subjective. Even now I'm not 100% sure I believe in ghosts....but I know I saw them. Which would seem to me the best way to make a ghost film. To qualify for my list of favourite ghost films the ghosts in the movie must be genuine - which immediately disqualifies the very enjoyable William Castle version of THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. I present the films in no particular order of preference although I will indicate my all time favourite when I get to it......

My first choice is, coincidentally, probably the first ghost film I ever saw. It is Rene Clair's charming 1936 production THE GHOST GOES WEST and far from being a scarefest it is a gentle romantic comedy with Robert Donat as the son of a Scottish Laird who, because of a perceived act of cowardice during the rebellion against the English, is cursed to wander the halls of the family castle forever. Problems and fun begin when an American family decide to buy the castle and relocate it across the Atlantic. Although it borrows some of its elements from the film versions of Oscar Wilde's THE CANTERVILLE GHOST it can more than stand on its own as a first class comedy. Second on the list is Lewis Allen's THE UNINVITED(1944) starring Ray Milland and Gail Russell as the man who moves into a Cornish house only to discover it is haunted by the ghost of a previous tenant. Gail Russell plays Stella (the classic song "Stella by Starlight" comes from this film) who is the object of the ghost's attention. Off hand I can't think of a "serious" ghost movies before THE UNINVITED which, along with being a genuinely spooky entertainment is perhaps why so many people remember it so fondly. My next choice is my all time favourite cinematic ghost story. It is Jack Clayton's THE INNOCENTS (1961) starring Deborah Kerr in her best ever role as Miss Giddens, the nanny hired to care for two young children, Miles and Flora, in a creepy old mansion. The film is intentionally ambiguous about the whether the ghosts are real or simply figments of Miss Giddens sexual and religious problems. I'm prepared to give the ghosts the benefit of the doubt while fully embracing the idea that Miss Giddens has serious psychological problems. I re-watched it recently and it has lost none of its power to chill. Only a fraction below THE INNOCENTS in my estimation is Robert Wise's 1963 film THE HAUNTING based on Shirley Jackson's novel "The Haunting of Hill House". One of the reasons that Jack Clayton's film just pips Wise's to the post is that despite its technical excellence and the superb

cast (with a special mention of Rosalie Crutchley's wonderfully sinister housekeeper) is that despite the big buildup about the scientific investigation of Hill House nobody ever really seems to be doing anything. Despite that it is a wonderfully creepy movie and one in which the house itself almost steals the show, from the actors. Next up is THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE directed by the underrated John Hough. It is, despite being based on a novel by the excellent Richard Matheson, a bit of a rip-off of THE HAUNTING. But it stands on its own feet as a terrific scary movie with some very well staged fright scenes (the scene where medium Pamela Franklin - who was Flora in THE INNOCENTS - discovers something crawling around under the blankets of her bed is classic) and a great cast led by Clive Revill and Roddy McDowell. There is also a surprise appearance by a unbilled actor which is worth waiting for.

Peter Medak's THE CHANGELING is a slowly unfolding mystery of the "why is this house being haunted" variety with George C.Scott as a composer who rents an old house only to discover he isn't quite as alone as he thought. Have you noticed how many cinematic hauntings tend to centre on children and nurseries. THE CHANGELING is one of these..and the ghosts of children can be among the most disturbing (M.R. James story "Lost Hearts" which has been adapted successfully for television is a first class example.) and children play a big part in THE OTHERS which has a great performance from Nicole Kidman as a mother living in a secluded house in the Channel Islands.

The children have a rare disease which means they are allergic to sunlight, the servants are growing more sinister by the day and there are noises in the house....everything is definitely not as the seem (certainly not an understatement here!). Peter Straub's GHOST STORY is one of my favourite horror novels but, unfortunately, it was totally mutilated for the screen. Happily this did not happen to another of his novels when it was filmed as FULL CIRCLE with Mia Farrow. As well as being deliciously creepy this film has the added attraction for me of being filmed in an area of London where I used to live. The film seems to be almost forgotten now (along with another decidedly weird Mia Farrow vehicle, THE SECRET CEREMONY) so if you get a chance to see it don't miss out. No list of favourite ghost films would be complete without an entry from Japan. Japanese cinema has a great tradition

ion of ghost stories and in recent years they have virtually dominated the genre with films like JU-ON to the point where the films are being, automatically it seems, being remade by Hollywood. My choice comes from an early period that produced such classic traditional ghost tales as KWAIDAN. My choice is the extremely spooky KURONEKO. The story is set in medieval Japan and tells of two women who are rapedand murdered by marauding samurai. The return from the dead to take a terrifying revenge. For my final choice 1s the 1947 romantic ghost story THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR directed by Joseph L.Mankiewicz with Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney in the eponymous roles I was first introduced to this story in an excellent BBC radio production and later saw the rather enjoyable television series but neither can match the charm of the original movie.


Well, that's my ten favourites....others spring to mind, such as THE WOMAN IN BLACK(1989)THE SHINING(1980) and POLTERGEIST(1982) and, of course, the excellent films in the BBC "Ghost Stories for Christmas". Any of these titles could have made it on to the list, as could Nicolas Roeg's DON'T LOOK NOW, but in that case I decided that it didn't really fit the criteria of my list, brilliant though it is.


Cerpts said...

What a list!!! I've sadly never seen THE GHOST GOES WEST and for some reason always thought it was something like BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA! Imagine my surprise! And directed by Rene Clair?!?!? I've got to seek THAT one out. There are only a couple other movies on your list I have a problem with and the problem is I've never seen them. Notably KURONEKO and FULL CIRCLE. But now, of course, I'm wanting to see those as well!!! All the other films on your list I absolutely adore -- with the exception of THE OTHERS which I only saw once whenever it first came out on video. I didn't DISLIKE it but it didn't blow my hair back either, as I recall. At the time, I suppose I thought it was very similar to THE INNOCENTS but at the earliest opportunity to watch it again I shall.

Weaverman said...

I love THE OTHERS (The title, according to Christopher Frayling, is probably inspired by a line at the climax of THE INNOCENTS) not particularly because of the "twist" which had been used at least twice before, but because of the whole mood of the film, the visuals and the very clever stuff with ex-DR.WHO Clive Eccleston as Nicole's dead hubby. FULL CIRCLE doesn't seem to be available anywhere, sadly. GHOST GOES WEST and KURONEKO we can probably do something about!