We were the recipients of a thunder and lightening storm the other night. Naturally I turned off all the lights in order to obtain the maximum effect. Don’t you love it when you can’t see a thing until the lightening illuminates the room, and you half expect to see JOHN CARADINE with SENTINEL–eyes staring at you but you don’t? Well, I wasn’t about to let this fortuitous spooky backdrop go to waste, I needed to watch a ghost movie and quickly. I had no time to go rummaging through my collection of films because I knew very well that would lead to much side stepping, second guessing and ultimately alien abduction level lost time. So I hit the youtubes in search of uncharted paths. I went on a YouTube ghost hunt…
First stop, HASTA EL VIENTO TIENE MIEDO (1968) aka EVEN THE WIND IS AFRAID. Now that’s a title, ain’t it? The contents of this movie are so scary the breezes’ kneezes are bucklin’! This Mexican import was written and directed by the great CARLOS ENRIQUE TABOADA who is guilty of gifting many a gem including 1984’s POISON FOR THE FAIRIES, which we spotlighted on these pages earlier. This one concerns a haunted boarding school and so we’re pals right out of the gate, as it never hurts to remind me of THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED or THE FACTS OF LIFE.
A student named Claudia is having creepy dreams about a tower on the school grounds and a young lady hanging on a robe therein. When she and her friends investigate the tower, which is strictly forbidden, they are caught by their oppressive headmistress and punished. The girls are told their upcoming vacation is canceled and they are to spend the winter holiday at the school. This is bad news for the girls and good news for any ghost who appreciates a captive audience. It turns out the headmistress knows more than she’s telling and that the ghost is more interested in revenge than simply spooking bystanders. If you like inappropriate dance numbers, catfights, suicide, possession, random owl sightings and plenty of wind, look no further. This is a perfect rainy night movie with plenty of old fashioned, SCOOBY DOO chills and at least one unusual twist. The ghostly appearances are rather well orchestrated too so you might just get a jolt if you’re lucky as well.
HAUNTED: THE FERRYMAN (1974)
JOHN IRVIN who appropriately enough, went on to helm 1981’s GHOST STORY directed this British TV production, which is based on a story by KINGSLEY AMIS (THE GREEN MAN). It’s about a novelist (JEREMY BRETT) who has written a book involving the ghost of a killer/rapist ferryman who haunts an inn. He and his wife jump in a car to avoid a press party, get caught in a rain storm and take shelter in an inn that is way too much like the one in the guy’s book for comfort. The name is nearly the same; the employees are nearly the same and the whole joint looks just like the one he made up in his head. This leads him to rightfully fear that the goings on in his yarn may likely take place too, which means an upcoming appearance of a killer/rapist phantom ferryman. There’s a great build up of dread here and it’s hard not to be curious about what exactly is going on and how. The ending kind of leaves you in a lurch though it’s forgivable on account of when the title ghoul does show up he’s scarier than you’d expect and kind of resembles the scarecrow from FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES. At less than an hour long this is an eerie thought-provoking side dish perfect to gulp down between lengthier movies.
DEATH DREAMS (1991)
How I ended up here, I don’t know I just did. I thought I was signing up for a hokey laugh fest and found myself totally engrossed instead. This was swell. Well, at least until they get to the courtroom stuff. I hate courtroom stuff unless it’s GENE HACKMAN vs. MARY ELIZABETH MASTRANTONIO. This TV movie finds MARG ( AFTER MIDNIGHT!) HELGENBERGER living the dream with new husband CHRISTOPHER REEVE and a daughter from her previous marriage to a guy who kicked the bucket. The fun doesn’t last though because her daughter drowns in a lake and then comes back as a ghost and is all about pointing her finger at her possessive control freak step daddy! OK, I know we all love REEVE because how can you not? But I gotta say I always found about 9 to 10 percent of him super duper creepy. Maybe it’s the piercing eyes, maybe it’s the missing upper lip, maybe it’s the fact that he looks like a robot or an illustration in a Sears catalog, I’m not sure. The wonderful thing is REEVES snags exactly that 10 percent I always saw and drags it to the forefront for his performance here. He’s really super (!) good in this.
DEATH DREAMS is based on a book by WILLIAM KATZ and directed by MARTIN DONOVAN who also directed APARTMENT ZERO and wrote DEATH BECOMES HER. DONOVAN‘s got a fantastic eye and there are several clever visual flourishes that stand out. He seems really good with actors too as both leads come off extremely well and he allows FIONNULA FLANAGAN of THE OTHERS free reign to pull off a highly memorable nearly over the top turn as a psychic doctor. She’s a real hoot and would fit right in on AMERICAN HORROR STORY. Again, the courtroom stuff towards the end is a bit of a snore but this is definitely a fun and worthwhile ghost tale. Just when you think it won’t go as far as it might it does and the final scene provides a impressive well earned comeuppance for creep-master REEVE.
So there you have a night of hopefully off the beaten path ghostly YouTube viewing. I enjoyed all three of these flicks. I’m sure none of them will exactly terrify you but who cares? I live in the city, if I want to be terrified I can just walk two blocks in the wrong direction. Ghost movies are more about opening the doors in your head and seeing who or what pops in and allowing yourself the possibility that there may be more to the world than the concrete boundaries we’re fed. It may be comforting for some to imagine life after death but for me it’s simply comforting to imagine that my revenge has no expiration date! Gee, I hope we have another thunderstorm soon.