Ghost Story Blu-ray Review

A classic tale of ghostly vengeance starring Fred Astaire and John Houseman

Ghost Story is a classic tale of the macabre made by the old guard of Hollywood in 1981. Starring Fred Astaire and John Houseman, this is a superbly crafted haunting that hearkens back to an earlier era in Hollywood with its atmospheric storytelling.

Loosely based on Peter Straub’s best-selling 1979 novel, director John Irvin paints a richly entertaining fright-fest around an apparition out for revenge. Set in New England, four elderly men share a deadly secret from their youth that comes back to haunt them. Years before she was made the Borg Queen, Alice Krige has an important role as the mysterious woman that enters their lives and then vanishes.

Four lifelong friends make up the Chowder society, a regular gathering so each of them can tell their own spooky tales and scare each other. Played by some of Hollywood’s most distinguished actors – Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Melvyn Douglas and John Houseman – the elderly gentlemen confront a paranormal apparition that threatens all their lives. One of the men has a son played by Craig Wasson who gets inextricably involved when his brother is mysteriously killed. Alice Krige plays the son’s lover, a mysterious woman that disappears quickly from his life as she fell in love with him. A dark secret from their past comes back to haunt them.

This is an old fashioned tale of ghosts and the paranormal. Ghost Story, with its rich atmosphere and layered screenplay, feels like a much older movie. I say that as a compliment. Houseman and Astaire add immense gravitas to the film with their presence. John Houseman was always perfect in these kind of elder statesman roles.

Ghost Story is an elegantly crafted movie made by a talented cast and crew…


The small New England town in winter is a foreboding setting perfect for this tale of ghostly terror. Ghost Story is an elegantly crafted movie made by a talented cast and crew, including legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff and composer Philippe Sarde. John Irvin puts this all together in delightfully scary style.

Ghost Story is simply a well-made horror movie made by an older generation of Hollywood talent that proves their experience and talent. If there is a problem, some may find the extended flashbacks take too long to make their points. This is a complex narrative that shifts between the present and past of multiple characters, making it a lengthy movie for such a basic concept.

Movie ★★★★☆

Awesome lighting @ 4:18

Legendary Hollywood cinematographer Jack Cardiff lensed Ghost Story with his usual skill and mastery. The 1981 Technicolor film has that crisp vintage appearance which is perfectly shot with intended soft-focus and romantic lighting at times.

Scream Factory licensed the movie from Universal and this transfer represents a fine one struck from solid film elements. The softest moments are reserved for the occasional optical effect, shot in that classical Hollywood style. This is a quality film transfer that replicates Ghost Story’s intended appearance in complete fashion. The print is in solid condition with few signs of noticeable wear. A hint of negative debris is evident if you have keen eyes.

Noisy black levels in a few early scenes are the only complaint lodged against this strong, film-like transfer. Its mild grain structure is preserved by an AVC video encode that averages 30 Mbps on a BD-50. Clarity is rather impressive, especially in the better interior scenes. The color palette favors browns and darker tones, its darker contrast obscuring minor shadow detail. Ghost Story was filmed in a way to hide its optical effects, so its ultimate resolution isn’t quite as revealing as other vintage film transfers.

Ghost Story was not a low-budget horror film tossed off by an inexperienced crew. Featuring serious Hollywood talent, it looks great on Blu-ray. Scream Factory has licensed a nice high-definition transfer and given it an outstanding presentation.

Video ★★★★☆

Noted composer Philippe Sarde’s wonderfully moody, haunting musical score sounds fantastic in its original mono audio. Heard in a 2.0 DTS-HD MA lossless soundtrack, Ghost Story was a Universal production made by experienced studio hands. That leads to a shockingly energetic soundtrack in nearly perfect fidelity.

This is an understated, elegant score with pleasing range and receives a nicely mastered tonality on Blu-ray. Dialogue remains intelligible throughout the movie.

Optional English SDH subtitles display in a white font.

Audio ★★★★☆

Scream Factory loads this BD up with a wide array of in-depth special features, including a new commentary by director John Irvin. Scream includes their standard reversible cover art featuring alternate art work on the inside. It’s a nice bonus for genre movies that often had cool movie posters. There is some fascinating information found in the new interviews exclusive to this disc.

Ghost Story Genesis With Author Peter Straub (39:42 in HD) – The author reads passages from his 1979 novel that became the basis for the movie, exploring his process writing the novel. This is a unique interview because Straub reveals far more about his creative process than we normally get. He does tend to ramble a bit but it’s very cool to hear the author read passages from his own novel and then explain its characters and themes.

Audio Commentary by John Irvin – The elderly British director gives a fairly lucid, engaging solo commentary on one of his first studio films. He’s unafraid of sharing personal tidbits on the cast or how the studio handled things. Apparently Universal didn’t want European composer Sarde scoring the film.

Ghost Story Development (29:09 in HD) – Screenwriter Lawrence Cohen (he also wrote Carrie’s screenplay) and producer Burt Weissbourd contribute in interviews detailing the production process in making the movie. Cohen makes the interesting point that Straub’s novel wasn’t fully translated to the screen, it would have required a much longer mini-series treatment for that to happen. Some fans of the novel were upset how different the film turned out to be from the novel’s story.

Alice Krige: Being Alma and Eva (28:52 in HD) – The veteran actress is interviewed about her character in the film and the ghost’s role. The new interview is a fond look back with her experiences filming it with the older stars.

Albert Whitlock Visual Effects With Bill Taylor (28:51 in HD) – Albert Whitlock was the legendary matte painter for Universal that worked on all of Hitchcock’s Universal Studios output. Bill Taylor was his assistant as the matte photographer on Ghost Story. Now made obsolete by the progress of technology, matte paintings were a critical part of filmmaking and VFX for decades in Hollywood.

Theatrical Trailer (02:26 in SD)

TV Spot (00:31 in SD)

Radio Spots (01:00)

Photo Gallery (08:43 in HD) – A series of ads, still shots from set, production photographs and other related images which run by themselves in sequence. This is a lot of images to dig through in pristine quality.

Extras ★★★★☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.