Stephen Weeks’ Ghost Story (1974)

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.

Recommended Link:
The Official Website of Marianne Faithfull

6 thoughts on “Stephen Weeks’ Ghost Story (1974)

  1. I pretty much agree with all your thoughts here. I would love to see a good print of it someday though, as my VHS suffers from the same quality issues yours does…
    I just love Marianne. She is so incredibly talented and lovely. I wish she could have made more films in this period, but I am glad to have the ones she did.

  2. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen this film. The video was of poor quality. I would love to see a good version of this on dvd. I really enjoyed this film, especially because of Marianne Faithful. The woman definitely went through some rough times in her life. She really shined here. What a beauty who owned this film. I do wish she would have made more films back then.

  3. Great to see this one get a mention. As you say, Weeks can’t sustain the moments of unease he does sometimes achieve, but it’s well worth repeat viewings for several disquieting scenes and for Faithfull. I was lucky enough to see this lady deliver a reading from one of her books in a HMV store some years ago, and it was very moving to hear her describe various parts of her life with The Stones. It would be nice if Weeks’ film sees light of day on DVD, so I can retire my dvdr which I guess was taken from a tape of a BBC broadcast.

  4. I appear to be the only one here who hasn’t seen this but I’d like to. Despite the general agreement that the direction is lackluster and the film doesn’t hold up well I am very forgiving with ghost stories in general as I love them so much. Besides, it would be a treat to see Marianne Faithfull in this, as she is immensely likable. Maybe it will pop up on tv at some point.

  5. Since the film seems to have a decent fanbase it’s a shame that it’s not available on DVD. It seems like a lot of British horror films are overlooked by DVD companies and I hope that changes in the future.

    I hope you get the chance to see it sometime Jonathan! As a ghost story, it’s rather interesting.

  6. Ghost Story is a really atmospheric film. I reminds me very much like something written by M.R. James…I first saw it around Christmas 1978 and thought it was great. I have seen it several times since. The actors are great and the end is memorable. Hopefully it will be releases on DVD.

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