The Forgotten 1980s Horror Epic From Stephen King’s Best Collaborator

By Brian Myers | Updated

Peter Straub began a collaboration with Stephen King when the two penned the bestselling novels The Talisman (1984) and Black House (2001). Straub was already a well-established gothic horror author prior to the two writing legends putting their heads together, his 1979 novel Ghost Story quickly becoming a staple for fans of the genre. One of the eeriest film adaptations of a modern horror novel premiered in theaters two years later when Universal Pictures took Straub’s novel and produced a movie.

The Underrated Ghost Story

Ghost Story is the tale of four elderly men in the small New England village of Milburn who decide to form a club where members meet periodically to tell each other supernatural tales. Ricky Hawthorne (Fred Astaire), Sears James (John Houseman), Edward Charles Wanderley (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), and John Jaffrey (Melvyn Douglas) begin their “Chowder Society” in the dead of winter and are quickly met with a tragedy among one of their members. Edwards’ son David falls to his death from his high-rise apartment in New York City after he wakes up next to a putrefied corpse.

All The Marks Of A Stephen King Story

Distraught, Edwards takes a walk one winter evening and sees who he believes is his son. He follows the figure onto a bridge where the ghost of a woman startles him and causes him to fall to his death below. Ghost Story begins to take shape as the movie introduces Edwards’ other son, Don (Craig Wasson), who arrives in Millburn to be with his family. The past that the four members of the Chowder Society tried to hide is beginning to erupt at the surface, ultimately targeting them one by one as the movie continues.

Don approaches his father’s friends and insists on telling them a ghost story of his own. He opens up about a relationship he found himself in months ago with a woman named Alma, whom he broke it off with after noticing odd things about her. The movie, just like the book, talks about how Alma’s flesh was cold “like a corpse” and really gave Don the chills.

Buried Secrets Haunt The Present

Fast Forward to the present, and Don is told by his brother David that he met Alma and is now engaged to her. After Don arrived at his hometime, he went through some of his father’s belongings and discovered an old photo of a woman who appears to be Alma. This revelation prompts the surviving members of the Chowder Society to divulge the secret that the old men had been keeping under wraps for decades, as they are faced with a real-life ghost story throughout the remainder of the movie.

Fred Astaire In A Horror Movie

Ghost Story is the tale of vengeance from beyond the grave, a movie that flows more like a folk tale than a script. The acting from the veterans Astaire and Fairbanks, Jr. is a great swan song performance from both entertainers, and Alice Krige was brilliantly chilling and sexy in her dual roles as Alma and Eva. It’s far from a blockbuster film but is an example of great storytelling and the perfect horror film for a cold night.

How To Watch Ghost Story


Straub’s adapted screenplay by Lawrence Cohen and John Irvin’s direction helped to bring the novel to life in a film version of one heckuva good ghost story. The movie did have some drag and could have easily been condensed into a shorter production. But overall, Ghost Story deserves 3 out of 5 stars. For audiences at the time whose horror diet consisted of Halloween and Friday the 13th slashers, this entry served as a solid, sophisticated alternative to terror.

Ghost Story is not streaming for free, but you can rent the movie On Demand with AppleTV, Prime, and Vudu.