Arriving at the end of arguably the most fertile decade of horror filmmaking, John Irvin's Ghost Story (1981) proves that even the lesser-known genre entries could be quite chilling. In fact, elements that might have detracted from this film's scare factor -- a score that's too bombastic, and a starring role for the 82-year-old Fred Astaire -- do nothing of the sort. Irvin's smart, tension-sustaining visual setups and James Alexander's haunting sound design, each prepare the viewer, but not completely, for the surprisingly sophisticated gore effects from makeup artist Dick Smith. Even if it weren't for all this, the presence of the singular Alice Krige would be unsettling enough. Playing the beautiful specter, Krige makes marvelous use of that lifeless stare, wicked half smile, and disembodied voice -- characteristics that later made her the ideal choice to play the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact. Even though convincing enough special effects did not yet exist, Krige leaves a viewer feeling that her face might split open into ghoulish horror at any moment. The film's effectiveness is especially surprising given that it contains two lengthy flashbacks -- which fly in the face of the genre's usual need for immediacy -- and features a cast of primarily senior citizens (John Houseman and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. accompany Astaire). The dedication of these professionals makes Ghost Story more than just a good ghost story, but something classy and memorable as well.
by Derek Armstrong review