Chilling Classics Cthursday: THE GHOST (1963)

Chilling Classics Cthursday: THE GHOST (1963)

From its basic-ass title to its basic-ass plot, the 1963 Italian gothic horror film The Ghost (aka Lo spettro) ain't much we ain't seen many times before. But that's okay! After all, something about the journey being the destination and that's just super, you know? It's doubly super since this journey features Barbara Steele. Like would you care if a movie's plot was "ten years after a prank gone wrong leaves one of their friends dead, eight youths head to the woods for a weekend of partying before all but one are stalked and killed by a mask-wearing, knife-wielding maniac" if it starred Barbara Steele? No, you would not care. In fact, you would probably be psyched! Especially if she were playing the maniac. Or one of the youths. Or even the very woods themselves. 

And so it is with The Ghost. It's a tale as old as What Beckoning Ghost?, a song as old as EC Comics. (But) Barbara and the Steele.

And honestly, I was rather glad the story of The Ghost was so by-the-numbers, because I saw the name "Carol Bennet" in the opening credits, misread it as "Carol Burnett," and so long marveling, wondering, and questioning why and how Carol Burnett was in an Italian gothic horror film from 1963 that I am sure I burnt out a few synapses in my brain. I would not been able to handle anything that made me think. I'm not even going to attempt another Mulholland Dr rewatch for 4-6 weeks.

Picture it...Scotland, 1910. Dr Hichcock (Elio Jotta) is wheelchair-bound but slowly regaining mobility thanks to the treatment he's come up with, which is a nice injection of two poisons followed by a swig of the antidote. If you ask me it sounds like perfectly good science, kind of like something a certain former President would have suggested as a cure for COVID.

Anyway, these treatments are administered by his friend and doctor, Charles Livingstone (Peter Baldwin), who is secretly--or maybe not-so-secretly--having an affair with Hichcock's wife Margaret (Steele). Margaret acts like a doting spouse, but she secretly--or maybe not-so-secretly--hates her husband. She convinces her lover to kill him, promising they'll inherit all the monies and be together forever. Besides, Hichcock isn't all that happy to be alive, and he hosts regular séances (with his trusty governess Catherine acting as a medium) so he can get a sneak peak at the other side. Would it really be so bad to just...not give him the antidote after a poison injection?

They go through with the plan, but there's no happily ever after for Charles and Margaret. The assumed riches never materialize, but Hichcock's ghost does. Or maybe he's not dead? Surely he's dead!

As the random blood drips appear and ghostly voices call out, the lovers begin to distrust each other. Their decline from bliss reflected in the undo of Margaret's updo.

As I said, The Ghost doesn't really tread float over any new ground, but it does boast a fairly violent and bloody climax, a lot of delicious double-crossing, and more skulls than I could count (again, me brain hurt). While the dubbing isn't great, Steele sure is. By turns scared, sexy, evil, mad and more, (Chaka Khan voice) (or Whitney Houston voice, if it pleases you) she's every woman, they are all in her. Hichcock's house is home not only to the occasional spooky vibe, but also to more crap and clutter than like 50 TGI Fridays combined. It's so full of gewgaws and stuff and linens and things, it makes Hill House look positively minimalist. 

A few scenes are a bit painstakingly slow and it's maybe 25 minutes of story rolling around in a generous 95 minutes, especially considering we know where this is all going. Like, you can't fool us by calling yourself The Ghost, movie, we've seen Dominique and Diabolique and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotteique. We know there's no ghost! But again, who cares. WHO CARES I SAY.

For those of you who read "Dr Hichcock" and got to wondering, yes, The Ghost is indeed related to the 1962 Italian horror film The Horrible Dr Hichcock in all ways and in no ways. While the movies really have nothing to do with one another, each film was directed by Riccardo Freda, stars Barbara Steele as women married to a Dr Hichcock, Harriet Medin as a housekeeper/governess, and characters named Margaret and Margaretha. 

So all that and they also both have "not featuring Carol Burnett" in common. And yet The Ghost isn't considered a sequel? Why, that's the most surprising thing about it!