Ghost Story (1981)

R | 109 mins | Horror, Mystery | 16 December 1981

Director:

John Irvin

Producer:

Burt Weissbourd

Cinematographer:

Jack Cardiff

Editor:

Tom Rolf

Production Designer:

Norman Newberry

Production Company:

Universal Pictures
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HISTORY

       The 17 Oct 1978 HR reported that Universal Pictures paid $225,000 for screen rights to Peter Straub’s 1979 novel Ghost Story. Production notes in AMPAS library files stated that screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen condensed and altered the book’s story for the film, including resurrecting a character who had died before the opening of the novel and combining that character with another one. He also changed the characters “Don” and “Dave Wanderley” from being “Edward Wanderley’s” nephews to his twin sons.
       According to items in HR on 13 Nov 1980 and 19 Nov 1980, actors Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart were approached to appear in the film, but neither participated in the production. An article in the 10 Nov 1981 HR reported that actor Melvyn Douglas, who appeared in the film as “John Jaffrey,” was seriously ill during filming, and the actor died on 4 Aug 1981 before the film was released.
       Items in DV and HR on 19 Jan 1981, and the 27 Feb 1981 HR announced the 19 Jan 1981 start of production in Woodstock, VT. Production notes in AMPAS library files reported that Woodstock was the location for the fictional town of Milburn. Additional filming locations included Saratoga Springs, NY, Albany, NY, New York City, Smyrna Beach, FL, Deland, FL, Orlando, FL, and Universal Studios in Universal City, CA. An article in the 19 Apr 1981 LAT stated the film’s production budget was $13.5 million.
       The 27 Mar 1981 HR announced that Universal Pictures had started the “Christmas bidding ... More Less

       The 17 Oct 1978 HR reported that Universal Pictures paid $225,000 for screen rights to Peter Straub’s 1979 novel Ghost Story. Production notes in AMPAS library files stated that screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen condensed and altered the book’s story for the film, including resurrecting a character who had died before the opening of the novel and combining that character with another one. He also changed the characters “Don” and “Dave Wanderley” from being “Edward Wanderley’s” nephews to his twin sons.
       According to items in HR on 13 Nov 1980 and 19 Nov 1980, actors Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart were approached to appear in the film, but neither participated in the production. An article in the 10 Nov 1981 HR reported that actor Melvyn Douglas, who appeared in the film as “John Jaffrey,” was seriously ill during filming, and the actor died on 4 Aug 1981 before the film was released.
       Items in DV and HR on 19 Jan 1981, and the 27 Feb 1981 HR announced the 19 Jan 1981 start of production in Woodstock, VT. Production notes in AMPAS library files reported that Woodstock was the location for the fictional town of Milburn. Additional filming locations included Saratoga Springs, NY, Albany, NY, New York City, Smyrna Beach, FL, Deland, FL, Orlando, FL, and Universal Studios in Universal City, CA. An article in the 19 Apr 1981 LAT stated the film’s production budget was $13.5 million.
       The 27 Mar 1981 HR announced that Universal Pictures had started the “Christmas bidding wars” and was aiming to release Ghost Story on 11 Dec 1981. The 13 Oct 1981 DV reported the film had successful “sneak” previews in Denver, CO, and Boston, MA, over the weekend of 9-11 Oct 1981. An item in the 18 Nov 1981 HR stated the film opened in “limited national engagements” on 16 Dec 1981.
       The 15 Jan 1982 HR noted the film grossed $14,477,552 in its first twenty-six days of release, and was continuing to perform well. However, the 23 Feb 1982 Village Voice list of the “Last Releases of 1981,” stated Ghost Story was a “flop,” with an estimated box office return of $11 million.
       On 21 Mar 1986 and 18 Sep 1986, DV reported on the fifty count indictment of three teamsters for their actions during the filming of Universal Pictures’ Ghost Story. After a lengthy secret investigation by a special Federal Grand Jury, the charges against Teamsters Local 294 business agent J. Michael Robilotto, and union stewards Louis D. Spagnola and Anthony V. Civitello included alleged extortion, racketeering threats, kickbacks, threats of work stoppages and slowdowns, as well as other labor problems. As noted in a 9 Oct 1986 DV article, the men were tried under the Federal Racketeer-Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute which allowed the three men to be tried jointly on the charges. On 8 Oct 1986, the three defendants were found guilty on all charges. The 9 Dec 1986 DV reported that the men were sentenced to more than 140 years in a Federal prison, and their fines, forfeitures, and restitution totaled more than $350,000. However, sentences on various charges were concurrent, so Robilotto and Spagnola were actually sentenced to serve six years in prison, and Civitello was sentenced to four years. The 7 Oct 1987 Var stated that the men’s convictions were upheld by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

      End credits include the following statement: “Special Thanks to the People of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Woodstock, VT., Deland, FLA. for their cooperation in the making of this film.”
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
19 Jan 1981.
---
Daily Variety
13 Oct 1981.
---
Daily Variety
21 Mar 1986.
---
Daily Variety
18 Sep 1986.
---
Daily Variety
9 Oct 1986.
---
Daily Variety
9 Dec 1986.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Oct 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Nov 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Nov 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jan 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Feb 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Mar 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Nov 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Nov 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Dec 1981
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jan 1982.
---
Los Angeles Times
19 Apr 1981.
---
Los Angeles Times
16 Dec 1981
p. 1.
New York Times
16 Dec 1981
p. 27.
Variety
16 Dec 1981
p. 3.
Variety
7 Oct 1987.
---
Village Voice
23 Feb 1982.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Burt Weissbourd Production
A John Irvin Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
DGA trainee
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
2d asst cam
Key grip
Gaffer
Lighting consultant
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Visual consultant
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst film ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost supv
Cost supv
Cost supv
Cost supv
Cost supv
MUSIC
Mus coord
Mus orch and cond by
Addl orch by
Mus rec by
SOUND
Sd mixer
Sd re-rec
Sd re-rec
Sd re-rec
Supv sd ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Dial replacement ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec visual eff
Matte photog
Matte photog
Title des
Title opt
Opt eff
MAKEUP
Makeup illusions by
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Prod secy
Prod asst/Logistics coord
Asst to Burt Weissbourd
Asst to John Irvin
Loc auditor
Asst loc auditor
Extras casting
London casting
Scr supv
Transportation capt
Transportation capt
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Ghost Story by Peter Straub (New York, 1979).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Sweetheart Of Sigma Chi," words by Byron D. Stokes, music by F. Dudleigh Vernor, performed by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, courtesy of MCA Records, Inc.
DETAILS
Release Date:
16 December 1981
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 16 December 1981
Production Date:
began 19 January 1981 in Woodstock, VT
Copyright Claimant:
Universal City Studios, Inc.
Copyright Date:
25 January 1982
Copyright Number:
PA126376
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses
Panaflex® camera and lenses by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
109
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26504
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In the New England town of Milburn, Ricky Hawthorne, John Jaffrey, Edward Wanderley and Sears James are lifelong friends who formed “The Chowder Society” in their youth to regale each other with scary stories. The secret society still meets regularly, but the four elderly members start experiencing bad dreams. In New York City, Edward’s son, David, questions his fiancée, who lies face down on the bed, and demands to know who she is. When David turns her over, he is shocked by her skeletal face, backs away and falls through a window to his death. David’s brother, Donny, travels to Milburn for the funeral, and is greeted by his disapproving father. Edward insists David’s death was an accident, but Donny claims it was murder, and also admits he had sex with David’s fiancée. After the funeral, Edward asks his son to stay for a few days, and Donny agrees. That night, Ricky has a troubling dream and his wife insists that the Chowder Society’s stories are responsible for his nightmares. Meanwhile, Edward dreams of his son’s marriage, and when the bride turns toward the Chowder Society members, Edward cries out in his sleep and Donny wakes him. The next morning, Edward thinks he sees David on a nearby bridge and runs after him, but no one is there. A skeletal woman appears next to Edward, and he screams and falls over the edge into the icy river. Ricky, Sears, and John gather, and John insists Edward did not jump. Ricky feels something bad is about to happen and wants to help Donny, but Sears is resistant. ... +


In the New England town of Milburn, Ricky Hawthorne, John Jaffrey, Edward Wanderley and Sears James are lifelong friends who formed “The Chowder Society” in their youth to regale each other with scary stories. The secret society still meets regularly, but the four elderly members start experiencing bad dreams. In New York City, Edward’s son, David, questions his fiancée, who lies face down on the bed, and demands to know who she is. When David turns her over, he is shocked by her skeletal face, backs away and falls through a window to his death. David’s brother, Donny, travels to Milburn for the funeral, and is greeted by his disapproving father. Edward insists David’s death was an accident, but Donny claims it was murder, and also admits he had sex with David’s fiancée. After the funeral, Edward asks his son to stay for a few days, and Donny agrees. That night, Ricky has a troubling dream and his wife insists that the Chowder Society’s stories are responsible for his nightmares. Meanwhile, Edward dreams of his son’s marriage, and when the bride turns toward the Chowder Society members, Edward cries out in his sleep and Donny wakes him. The next morning, Edward thinks he sees David on a nearby bridge and runs after him, but no one is there. A skeletal woman appears next to Edward, and he screams and falls over the edge into the icy river. Ricky, Sears, and John gather, and John insists Edward did not jump. Ricky feels something bad is about to happen and wants to help Donny, but Sears is resistant. Meanwhile, at his father’s home, Donny finds an old photograph of a woman with the members of the Chowder Society. Later, Ricky enters a rundown, abandoned home. He hears a woman’s laugh and goes to the second floor, where he is surprised to encounter trespassers. The man and boy insist they work for the woman who once lived there, and threaten Ricky, who rushes out. At the police station, Ricky searches mug shots, finds the man’s photograph, and learns Gregory Bate and the boy, Fenny Bate, escaped the state mental hospital and are extremely unstable. An officer investigates, but finds no one at the house. Later, at an inquest, Edward’s death is ruled a suicide. Afterward, Ricky admits to Donny that they are in danger, but refuses to answer Donny’s question about the woman in the photograph. Later, Gregory and Fenny Bate break into the Wanderley residence and scare Donny. Elsewhere, as the Chowder Society meets, Ricky admits that Donny found a picture of the woman and wants to tell Donny the truth, but Sears insists on keeping their secret. They discuss their nightmares and Ricky is certain others will die. Donny interrupts the meeting and agrees, claiming two people have already been killed. He shares his personal ghost story as the price of admittance to the Chowder Society. Donny landed a teaching position in Florida and was doing well until he met the dean’s secretary, Alma Mobley. Donny ignored his work for weeks while falling in love. Alma shared little of her past, but was interested in Donny’s upbringing in Milburn and he promised to take her there. In the bathtub one night, Alma slipped under the water for a long moment, then emerged, screaming. Another night, Donny worried that something was wrong when he woke to find her staring strangely at him and murmuring about water. On a vacation at the ocean, Donny suggested eloping, but she insisted on getting married in Milburn. Alma asked about his family, and Donny admitted he does not get along with his father, who favors his more successful brother, David. That night, Donny found her standing naked on the porch, and she talked of showing him things he had never seen before, while promising to watch the life run out of him. Donny was disturbed by her strange behavior and broke their engagement, infuriating Alma. She disappeared, and the dean fired Donny. Later, Donny learned that Alma became engaged to his brother, David, in New York City. Donny warned that Alma was strangely and not real, but David ignored his brother. After David’s death, Alma vanished. Donny informs the Chowder Society that Alma is the woman in the old photograph. Sears insists it is a coincidence but the others disagree. When John becomes upset, his wife, Milly, orders the men to leave. That night, John dreams of a sheet-covered corpse. He insists the woman is dead, but Alma reaches up and strangles him. As John fights Alma in the dream, he strangles Milly, who manages to free herself. The next morning, Milly brings him tea and mentions the incident, but he claims not to remember anything. A woman waits downstairs to see the doctor, despite learning John is retired, but when Milly enters the office, no one is there. John has heart pain, and rushes to the office for his pills, but they are missing. As he frantically searches his cabinet, Alma appears and John dies of a heart attack. Later, Ricky and Sears agree to tell Donny their secret. Fifty years ago, the Chowder Society members were infatuated with newcomer Eva Galli, who rented a house for the summer. Eva and the four men spent a lot of time together and, although there was romantic rivalry, Edward claimed her affection. However, when they made love, Edward was impotent. Eva was understanding, but he was embarrassed. Later, as the four men got drunk, the others questioned him and Edward claimed it was wonderful. Drunk, the group drove to Eva’s home and asked her to dance. Edward wanted his inebriated friends to leave, but Sears aggressively insisted on a dance. Realizing Edward had talked about their lovemaking, Eva angrily started to reveal the truth. Edward jumped up to stop her, accidentally knocking Eva’s head into the fireplace. She collapsed and John declared she was dead. The others wanted to call the police, but Sears insisted that reporting the accident would ruin their lives, too. They agreed to hide the body and keep it secret. They drove Eva’s car into the pond, but as the vehicle sank, Eva regained consciousness. Edward ran into the water, but could not reach her. The men made a pact never to discuss it again. The town assumed Eva had moved on, and the men continued with their lives. However, they now agree that Eva has returned to haunt them, with the assistance of Gregory and Fenny. Ricky pockets a knife, then joins Sears and Donny at the abandoned house. As they climb the staircase, Donny falls through a rotten step and breaks his leg. The men secure his leg in a splint before Sears leaves to get help. However, as Sears drives toward town, he sees Alma in the road and swerves to avoid her. He crashes into a snowbank and Fenny jumps from the back seat to attack him. When Sears does not return, Ricky goes for help and is picked up by Gregory, who tells Ricky that Eva is still alive in the pond. Ricky pulls the knife from his pocket, stabs Gregory, and they crash. Afterward, Ricky demands that police raise Eva’s car from the pond. In the house, Eva, wearing a wedding dress, reaches her skeletal hands toward Donny, promising to kill him. However, at the pond, Ricky opens the car door, and Eva’s rotted corpse steps out, drops into the snow, and decomposes. The ghost disappears, leaving Donny alone in the once haunted house. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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