The great director Martin Scorsese once discussed his best-loved horror movies and ranked the classic British portmanteau picture Dead of Night as a personal favourite; describing it as “playful” and a movie that “gets under your skin” with stories that converge into a “crescendo of madness”. It’s a credit to the inventiveness of Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman that the same description could easily be applied to Ghost Stories and an indicator of the heavy influence of classics like Dead of Night and Amicus Productions.
Adapting their wildly successful stage play, Dyson and Nyman have brought their story to the screen: an interweaving pattern of narratives linked by a central story. It’s a portmanteau movie that harks back to afternoons watching Tales From the Crypt and Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, it’s also clearly a personal labour of love for both men who pen a love-letter to the stories that struck a chord during their formative years and influenced their respective careers that incorporate magic, acting, horror and comedy.
The central piece of connective tissue is Nyman’s sceptic scientist Phillip Goodman investigating three reported incidents of ghost sightings that have been deemed genuine by a predecessor and told in flashback by the men who claim to have witnessed something unexplained. In the first, Paul Whitehouse’s night watchmen is holed-up in a derelict warehouse as things start to go bump; in the second, Alex Lawther’s wallflower teen recounts a run-in with a presence on a secluded country road; and finally Martin Freeman’s moneyed lord-of-all-he-surveys tells of ghostly goings-on in the baby’s room of his cavernous new mansion. In every case, Goodman thinks he has a plausible explanation, detecting a common theme of guilt, but as the stories converge, Goodman’s own feelings of guilt begin to rear their head.
Both Nyman and Dyson are a dab hand at combining bilious, gruesome horror with appalling comedy, and get a chance to show their skill here. Re-watching what is arguably Dyson’s most famous body of work The League of Gentlemen TV show, one is struck by the show’s ability to follow high-octane mirth and violent laughter with low-key tragedy and something much more unsettling. It’s a juggling act that Ghost Stories excels at, deftly supplying formidable scares along with an unnerving sense of disquiet that means you’re still worrying and mulling over some detail long after you’ve calmed down from an initial fright. It’s like the movie has manage to package and present both the riotous and violent energy of Evil Dead with the bleak paranoia of something like Misery. It’s simultaneously a good-time, party horror movie and a depressing exploration of lingering self-reproach.
Don’t write this off as a mere homage or ironic throwback, Ghost Stories is a fun, smart and insightful horror that wears its influences with pride while delivering substantial and long-lasting menace.
Dir: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman
Scr: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman
Starring: Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Alex Lawther, Paul Whitehouse
Prd: Claire Jones, Robin Gutch
DOP: Ole Bratt Birkeland
Music: Haim Frank Ilfman
Runtime: 98 minutes