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 and producer 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 arrives 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 them mad.
The film suffers from its low-budget, Stephen Weeks’ somewhat lackluster direction and a distracting score by composer Ron Geesin who viewers might recognize from his work with Pink Floyd and Roger Waters. Weeks is very capable of creating an unsettling mood but has trouble sustaining it for any substantial period of time. In turn the haunting and eerie moments found in Ghost Story quickly fizzle out instead of gaining momentum.
Besides the problems I had with the direction, I still think Ghost Story is a highly entertaining supernatural thriller with a fascinating premise. It contains some memorable scenes and dabbles in all sorts of interesting topics that piqued my morbid interests including incest, madness and the arcane arts but unfortunately the script never fully commits to any of them in depth.
Top: Larry Dann and Murray Melvin
Bottom: Vivian Mackerall and Leigh Lawson
My favorite thing about Ghost Story was rock goddess Marianne Faithfull’s wonderful performance as a ghostly apparition. I adore Faithfull and she’s perfectly cast here as the tortured, yet lovely and effervescent Sophy. Faithfull does a wonderful job of injecting the film with some much-needed vitality, mystique, 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 unfortunately, she’s not given much screen time.
Faithfull had just overcome a rough patch in her personal life when she made Ghost Story. After her relationship with the Rolling Stone’s frontman Mick Jagger ended she lost custody of her young 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 she 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 was based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic horror novel Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and starred Christopher Lee. The independently made Ghost Story has a much more adult script but it lacks the raw energy found in I, Monster. Despite my complaints, both of the director’s horror films are well worth seeking out if you enjoy British thrillers with a gothic sensibility and period setting.
Ghost Story is only available on video at the moment and the prints I’ve come across are damaged and distorted. I, Monster is available on DVD from Image Entertainment but the quality isn’t much better. Both films would greatly 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