I had high expectations when going in to see Ghost Stories. I had heard about the play which had garnered exceptional reviews and was apparently scaring audiences silly since 2010. I was aware of Andy Nyman as an actor as I was a big fan of his work in Dead Set (written by Charlie Brooker and Directed by Yann Demange before either of them were ever really a thing) but also as a magician and mentalist due to his frequent collaborations with Derren Brown. I was also an enormous fan of Jeremy Dyson due entirely to the twisted genius on display from his sketch comedy team The League of Gentlemen. It is safe to say that the stage was set for something really special and i’m very happy to say that is what I go, at least for the most part!
Firstly, Ghost Stories really is an exercise in “old school” horror tropes. It is an anthology in much the same way as Tales From The Crypt or any of the Creepshow franchise with a through-thread that is as entertainingly feasible as it is flimsy. For his TV show “Psychic Cheats” professional skeptic of the supernatural Professor Philip Goodman (Andy Nyman) publicly debunks stories of the psychic and the supernatural. He receives a mysterious audio cassette summoning him to the home of aged psychologist Charles Cameron, who also made a career out of disproving paranormal claims, and asks him to take three case files that he was never able to figure out. Will Philip be able to debunk these stories or will the journey take him somewhere altogether more twisted and terrifying?
The problem that seems to plague most horror anthologies is the issue of consistency. It is a very rare thing to find one that manages to make each segment as good as the last. Most of the more high profile anthologies such as Twilight Zone: The Movie, or more recently V/H/S and The ABCs of Death have each segment written and directed by entirely different auteurs and therefore your enjoyment of each section is usually dependent on your feelings towards the filmmakers themselves. Ghost Stories has the benefit of the same directors throughout as Nyman and Dyson very smoothly transition through the caseload and it has a consistency to it that is refreshing. It also helps that the cases themselves are fantastic anyway and all of them are great showcases of the talent of the central performers.
Case 1 is my personal favourite, with Paul Whitehouse on top form as Tony Matthews, a former night watchmen who recounts a terrifying night spent as a security guard in a former mental asylum. The story is incredibly creepy and feel very much like a haunted house or ghost train you would enjoy at a fairground. You know what is coming but it still gets you anyway! The reason it is my favourite though is the subtle brilliance of Whitehouse. This isn’t “The Fast Show” or “Harry Enfield and Friends” Paul Whitehouse, this is haunted, damaged, life beaten alcoholic Paul Whitehouse and it is superb!
Case 2 involves teenager Simon Rifkind, played by Alex Lawther fresh off the back of “The End of the F***ing World and THAT Black Mirror episode. It is a dueling segment as not only are we told the story of his disturbing night stranded in the woods after hitting a strange creature whilst driving his parent’s car without a license, but we are also subjected to the very creepy environment in which he still currently lives. It is an uncomfortable watch and it is very cleverly constructed.
Case 3 is the story of Mike Priddle, played with smarmy charm by the exceptional Martin Freeman. Mike explains to Philip about his experiences encountering paranormal phenomena in his home whilst his pregnant wife was in hospital. This is where the film veered off in a direction that I truly wasn’t expecting and to tell you any more would be to do the film a massive disservice. Needless to say it was shocking and a hell of a lot of fun!
In the end Ghost Stories is a well-crafted love story to the horror days of yore which is as witty as it is nerve-wracking. It has all the tropes you come to expect but it has much more up its sleeve too. For those of you who are tiring of the way that modern horror is going and wish to go back to an altogether more classic experience then this is definitely one to check out. The main thing I took from the experience however was that I want Paul Whitehouse to be in much more darker material. He may be considered a bit of a homegrown king of comedy here in the UK but this really proves that he has more than enough chops to show us his twisted side. Here’s hoping for a Ghost Stories 2 down the line!
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