Ghost Movies – Good and Bad with Mary Lewis Reeve
Best Ghost Movies:
1. Ghost: Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze are the passionate lovers whose romance is undone when the latter is murdered during a bungled hit arranged by a rival. The clever concept by screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (director of My Life) extends outward into comedy (Swayze’s character communicates through a sassy medium played by Whoopi Goldberg, who won an Oscar for this role), horror (the afterlife is populated by hell-bound demons and the like), and romantic complications (a handsome suitor, played by Tony Goldwyn, comes on to Moore while Swayze’s spirit is still hanging around). Directed by Jerry Zucker, previously best known for codirecting Airplane! and similar broad comedies, Ghost is a careful balancing act of strong commercial elements, but at heart it is a timeless Hollywood tearjerker that easily gets under one’s skin.
2. Poltergeist: What a combo! Tobe Hooper, the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, teamed up with family-oriented producer Steven Spielberg to make Poltergeist. The film is about a haunted suburban tract home in a development very much like the Arizona one in which Spielberg was raised. (Because it came out the same summer as Spielberg’s E.T., it was tempting to see both movies as representing Spielberg’s ambivalent feelings about childhood in suburbia. One was a fantasy, the other a nightmare.) Spielberg also cowrote the screenplay, which taps into primal, childlike fears of monsters under the bed, monsters in the closet, sinister clown faces, and all manner of things that go bump in the night. At first, some of the odd happenings in the house are kind of funny and amusing, but they grow gradually creepier until the film climaxes in a terrifying special-effects extravaganza when 5-year-old Carole Anne (Heather O’Rourke) is kidnapped by the spooks and held hostage in another dimension. Though not nearly as frightening as Hooper’s magnum opus, or the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, which came along two years later, Poltergeist is one of the smartest and most entertaining horror pictures of its time. Watch it with the lights on…seriously.
3. Thirteen Ghosts : Cool sets, gory make-up, and frantic energy are given high priority in this glossy remake of William Castle’s 1960 haunted-house chiller. The original boasted its “Illusion-O” ghost-viewing gimmick, so this remake’s producers–as they did with 1999′s The House on Haunted Hill–up the ante on Castle’s showmanship by spilling ample amounts of blood, guts, and ghoulish glory. The plot’s essentially the same: An impoverished family inherits a luxurious haunted mansion, only this time it’s an elaborate, maze-like mechanism of glass, gears, and Latin incantations–”designed by the devil and powered by the dead”–with a cellar full of tormented, undead souls. As the family (including Tony Shalhoub and American Pie‘s Shannon Elizabeth) enlists the aid of a psychic (Scream alumnus Matthew Lillard) and a ghostbusting paranormal (Embeth Davidtz), this updated 13 Ghosts grows loud and ludicrous, trading shocks for yuks and nuance for nonsense. It’s fun, to a point, after which it’s just exhausting.
4. Ghostbusters: Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis wrote the script, but Bill Murray gets all the best lines and moments in this 1984 comedy directed by Ivan Reitman (Meatballs). The three comics, plus Ernie Hudson, play the New York City-based team that provides supernatural pest control, and Sigourney Weaver is the love interest possessed by an ancient demon. Reitman and company are full of original ideas about hobgoblins–who knew they could “slime” people with green plasma goo?–but hovering above the plot is Murray’s patented ironic view of all the action. Still a lot of fun, and an obvious model for sci-fi comedies such as Men in Black.
Worst Ghost Pictures:
1. Goosebumps–Headless Ghost: The first episode is entitled “The Headless Ghost”. Duane and Stephanie are frequent visitors to Hill House; an old mansion that is rumored to be haunted. During one of their visits, they stumble across the ghost of a young boy who lost his head. Now, he’s come for one of theirs!
2. Ghost World: Thora Birch (American Beauty) and Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation) “sneak into your heart and stay there” (Rolling Stone) in this “eerie, masterful movie” (Movieline) from the acclaimed director of Crumb. Co-starring Brad Renfro (Deuces Wild), Illeana Douglas (Stir of Echos) and Steve Buscemi (Fargo) in “the best role of his career” (Movieline), Ghost World is a “smartly strange comedy [that] stands out like the Taj Mahal” (Time)! While their classmates head for college, Enid (Birch) and Rebecca (Johansson) focus their energies on tormenting those around them – from a goofy convenience store clerk (Renfro) to an eccentric art teacher (Douglas). But when they zero in on an oddball loner (Buscemi) looking for Miss Right, their seemingly innocent meddling threatens to shatter one of their hearts not to mention their lifelong friendship.
3. Ghost Ship: In a remote region of the Bering Sea, a boat salvage crew discovers the eerie remains of a grand passenger liner thought lost for more than 40 years. Once on board, the crew must confront the ship’s horrific past and face the ultimate fight for their lives.
4. The Haunting: Suffering from the extreme bad luck of being released at the same time as the low-budget The Blair Witch Project, this adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House attempts to update Shirley Jackson’s psychologically terrifying ghost story to the era of big-budget, computerized special effects. Does it work? Well, let’s just say that showing isn’t exactly the same as telling. A prime example of bloated studio filmmaking, The Haunting telegraphs all its frights so blatantly that it forsakes any of Jackson’s subtle horrors for the remedial scares of a clunky carnival ride. The story remains basically the same, with four people called to an old mansion for experiments in the supernatural, but instead of getting inside the heads of its main characters (as the 1963 adaptation by Robert Wise did so well), Jan DeBont’s film deserts character development for the huge, glorious set design provided by Eugenio Zanetti (Restoration). Thus, instead of a well-drawn story you get… a well-drawn house, one that four very talented and underutilized actors–Lili Taylor, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Liam Neeson, and Owen Wilson–wander around in endlessly (as Zeta-Jones puts it, the house is “sort of Charles Foster Kane meets the Munsters”). Taylor, as the hypersensitive Nell, is the unknowing lynchpin in the battle between good and bad ghosts and gets saddled with most of the expository dialogue of the mansion’s gothic backstory. Zeta-Jones (showing some spark) and Neeson (showing none) are sadly reduced to providing reactionary shots of the film’s disastrous climax, which mixes hapless new-age affirmations with computer-generated effects of ghosts and exploding windows, walls, doors, etc. For this haunted-house story, take a quick tour of the breathtaking rooms, but definitely don’t stay the night.