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Film review: Ghost Stories

if your tastes run to classic horror, you're in for a treat says Linda Marric

 

    Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s adaptation of their critically acclaimed stage show Ghost Stories is a chilling three-part portmanteau production which pays homage to the Sixties and Seventies horror film heyday of studios such as Hammer and Amicus. Think Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965) or The House That Dripped Blood (1971).

    Written as well as directed by Dyson (The League of Gentlemen) and Nyman (Derren Brown Magic Shows) and starring Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse and the seemingly unstoppable Alex Lawther (Black Mirror, Goodbye Christopher Robin), Ghost Stories is the first cinematic collaboration between the duo, who have been firm friends since meeting at a Jewish summer camp at the age of 15, bonding over their mutual love of horror in all its forms.

    Andy Nyman is Professor Phillip Goodman, an arch-skeptic whose frequent appearances on national TV to debunk all manner of frauds and charlatans have made him into a household name.

    Born to a deeply observant Jewish family and scarred by the treatment he and his sister received at the hands of their overbearing father, Philip grew up to be fiercely pragmatic in his dealings with religion and the supernatural. However, at the behest of one of his heroes, a famous debunker believed to be long dead, Goodman agrees to re-open three files that the old man had been working on, which could prove that there’s more to these supernatural stories than meets the eye.

    Whitehouse puts in a robust turn as pragmatic night watchman Tony, whose unexplained encounter with evil has left him scarred for life and unable to talk freely about the horrors he witnessed one fateful night. Alex Lawther is magnificent as intense teenager Simon, whose illicit late-night drive in his father’s car, without a driving license, leads him straight into the arms of an unknown evil presence. While Martin Freeman’s spine-chilling performance as a former city broker who is haunted by the poltergeist of a dead baby is as brilliantly well observed as it is disturbing.

    Despite playing with traditional horror tropes, Ghost Stories offers up more of a pastiche than a straight horror narrative, and manages to raise frequent smiles all the while scaring audiences out of their wits. Nyman and Dyson have devised a fantastically well executed screenplay which touches on a variety of themes from antisemitism to childhood bullying, and while the film is decidedly male-centric, it does however present an alternative to the usual macho stereotype by offering up these men as mostly flawed, and at times tormented by their own fears. 

    Overall, Ghost Stories delivers on its promise of pure unadulterated terror and is only ever let down by failing to look as cinematic as its makers might have hoped. With its expertly crafted gothic aesthetic and its beautifully executed scares, the film provides exactly what fans of the duo might have expected and more. 

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