Marianne Faithfull in Ghost Story (1974)
Ghost Story (aka Madhouse Mansion) is an interesting low-budget independent horror film made in 1974 by the British director Stephen Weeks. The film tells the story of a small group of privileged young men in the 1930s that gather together for a weekend in the country at a sprawling British estate. As soon as they arrive, personality clashes, petty arguments and the gloomy environment start to wear on everyone’s nerves. To make matters worse, the estate’s owner (Murray Melvin) neglects to mention that the place might be haunted. When evening comes one of the men (Larry Dann) begins having strange dreams and visions involving a creepy doll and the ghost of a beautiful young woman (Marianne Faithfull). As the story progresses the tenuous ties that bind the men together begin to unravel and the strange visions become more and more vivid until they threaten to drive one of the men mad.
The film suffers from its low-budget, Stephen Weeks’ somewhat lackluster direction and a distracting score by composer Ron Geesin who some viewers might know from his work with Pink Floyd and Roger Waters. Weeks is capable of creating an unsettling mood, but he seems to have trouble sustaining it for any substantial period of time.
Besides its numerous problems, I still think Ghost Story is an entertaining supernatural thriller with a fascinating premise. It contains some truly eerie moments and dabbles in all sorts of interesting topics including incest, madness and the arcane arts but unfortunately it never fully explores any of them.
Top: Larry Dann and Murray Melvin
Bottom: Vivian Mackerall and Leigh Lawson
My favorite thing about Ghost Story was Marianne Faithfull’s wonderful performance as a ghostly apparition. I adore Marianne Faithfull and she’s perfectly cast here as the tortured, yet lovely and effervescent Sophy. Marianne does a wonderful job of injecting the film with some much needed vitality and charm. The rest of the cast is good but they often seem uncommitted to the material. The talented actress and Hammer regular Barbara Shelley also has a small role as the matron of a madhouse but she’s never given enough screen time.
Marianne Faithfull had just overcome a rough patch in her personal life when she made Ghost Story. After her relationship with Mick Jagger ended she lost custody of her son and became addicted to heroin. Thankfully she managed to pull herself together with the help of some friends and started acting again in television. Before making Ghost Story Marianne had appeared in numerous stage productions and had memorable roles in films like Made in U.S.A. (Jean-Luc Godard; 1960), I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘is Name (Michael Winner; 1967) and The Girl on a Motorcycle (Jack Cardiff; 1968).
Director Stephen Weeks had only made a few films before making Ghost Story in 1974, including the entertaining Amicus production I, Monster (1971), which starred Christopher Lee and was based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic horror novel Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. The independently made Ghost Story has a much more adult script, but it lacks the raw energy found in I, Monster. Both of the director’s horror films are well worth seeking out if you enjoy British thrillers with a gothic sensibility and period setting.
Unfortunately Ghost Story is only available on video at the moment and the print seems damaged and distorted. I, Monster is available on DVD from Image Entertainment, but the quality isn’t much better. Both films would really benefit from being restored and I’m sure I would enjoy them more if I was able to see them under better circumstances. Hopefully that will happen in the future.
– The Official Website of Marianne Faithfull