Ghost Stories (4 stars)

Ghost Stories

GFF 2018: Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman's hit stage play becomes a hair-raising anthology film

'We have to be so very careful about what we believe in,' warns Professor Goodman as he ponders the veracity of three twisted tales. Played by co-writer/director Andy Nyman, the academic and presenter of obscure TV show 'Psychic Cheats' has been approached by his hero Charles Cameron, a former debunker of the supernatural who remerges after a lengthy disappearance to challenge Goodman's rigid scepticism.

Childhood friends Nyman and Jeremy Dyson (The League of Gentlemen) reimagine their hit stage production in the grand tradition of portmanteau movies – from classics Dead of Night, Black Sabbath and Tales of Terror to modern anthologies V/H/S and Trick 'r Treat. Whereas the play took the form of a lecture from Goodman to the audience, the film becomes a quest, divided into three chapters, each dealing with a different unexplained case, which Cameron has challenged Goodman to delve into.

The generic title announces its intention to honour rather than rewrite traditions and, accordingly, each segment stems from a recognisably spooky scenario: a haunting in an ex-asylum is witnessed by a night-watchman (Paul Whitehouse); a mysterious beast terrorises a schoolboy (a superb Alex Lawther), after his car breaks down in the woods; and a wealthy businessman (Martin Freeman) tangles with a poltergeist in his home, prompted by the impending birth of his first child. Meanwhile, bit by bit Goodman's own backstory snakes its way into the foreground.

It's beautifully shot by Ole Bratt Birkeland (Utopia) who brings out the peculiar creepiness of each location. Whilst there are plenty of frights there are, perhaps, too few surprises, the film cleaving closely to the familiar as it takes us on a whistle-stop tour of horror tropes.

Like the work of William Castle (one of the filmmakers' heroes), there's an overarching air of playfulness, from the casting of comedic stalwarts to the flashes of wry humour that provide fleeting respite from the tension, if only to allow the next shock to have its full, juddering impact. Thoroughly British and made with abundant nous and affection, Nyman and Dyson have a ball dreaming up ways to scare the shit out of you.

Screening on Thu 1 Mar as part of the FrightFest strand of the Glasgow Film Festival 2018. General release from Fri 6 Apr.

Ghost Stories

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • 1h 38min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman
  • Cast: Martin Freeman, Alex Lawther, Nicholas Burns

Anthology movie in which three twisted tales are presented as three unexplained hauntings which sceptical Professor Goodman (Nyman) has to investigate. Beautifully shot and with plenty of frights, but maybe not enough surprises, it’s playful and wryly funny enough for the shocks to have full impact.