Port Man Don’t
Ghost Stories (2017): 5 out of 10: A portmanteau in the style of The House That Dripped Blood or 1972’s Asylum stars Andy Nyman as a debunker of psychic phenomenon given three cases that cannot be explained by science alone.
The appeal of the old British horror anthologies goes beyond the occasional jump scares. They are truly a walk down a nostalgic lane. One watches them see Ingrid Pitt show her not inconsiderable cleavage while Dr. Who behind her struggles to talk with false vampire teeth. Or one enjoys Joan Collins killing Santa Claus with a fire poker in a seventies nightmare of a living room with blood and brains splattered on the white shag carpet. One enjoyed the occasional jump scare or two, but these were kids’ films in reality. Forbidden fruit for a generation of preteen boys.
One challenge of a modern horror anthology is whether you go camp at all or do you try to keep a straight face throughout the entire production. Ghost Stories, despite some serious comedic opportunities, seems determined to play it straight.
As a portmanteau Ghost Stories fails spectacularly. The initial premise is much better than it needs to be and much better than the three “stories” that are supposed to be featured. A movie about a self-absorbed man who goes around exposing psychic charlatans is a great launching point for a real movie, not a horror anthology. The House That Dripped Blood was about an estate agent that had trouble renting the place because of all the recently dead lessees. (Though, as I noted in my review of that film, at no time does the house itself actually drip blood.) It was a boring excuse to tell four stories about the house (and one story about Ingrid Pitt but I digress). It was not a movie upon itself.
The three stories featured are good but pointless, irritating and pointless and the one with Martin Freeman. There are some scares and shocks. Some good acting from Freeman and the first story’s Paul Whitehouse, some overacting from the second story’s Alex Lawther and a sense that the movie is not playing by its own rules. Our psychic investigator never really debunks or investigates during the stories. Few things occur that should cause him to question his own beliefs. He has little reason to go from Scully to Mulder.
The movie alas is not playing fair with the audience and eventually morphs into a very unpleasant The Butterfly Effect meets It before cashing in its chips to a groan-worthy St. Elsewhere style ending.
I had high hopes all the way through the first story in this anthology. It seemed dark, refreshing and going somewhere. Alas, it did not.