Ten friendly ghost movies
To celebrate the release of 'Ghost Town' in which Ricky Gervais plays a New York dentist who can see dead people, Time Out counts down ten great friendly ghost movies.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)In this, the finest ever adaptation of Dickens’s seasonal tale, Statler and Waldorf – as the ghostly brothers Marley – are freed from their box-seats in Hades to inform Scrooge, amid bouts of belittling sarcasm, of his forthcoming damnation. After the price of his orphan-battering misanthropy is fully explained in song, Ebenezer gets to revisit all the excruciating, cheek-reddeningly awkward moments of his pissy adolescence in heart-ripping Imax Super Real 4D. But just when his lip can get no more tremulous, the terrified old git at last gets some light relief from his hideous rarebit mind-polyp with a visit from The Ghost of Christmas Present. A mountainous, avuncular hippy made from seaweed and rolling tobacco, Christmas Present descends from his fruitcake and marzipan throne to prove surprisingly light on his feet, whisking Scrooge high above the city to show him the joys of the festive season and sprinkle good cheer over the populace. Scrooge is tearful with blessed relief. Which is just as well: next up, it’s a dying, crippled child.
Ghost Dad (1990)Subscribing to that crude '90s fad of creating a film by placing a seemingly arbitrary adjective in front of a random noun then signing the blank cheque (see also, ‘Maniac Cop’, ‘Invisible Mom’, ‘Racist Tapir’ et al), ‘Ghost Dad’ was – quite hilariously – the film that Bill Cosby chose to bounce back with after the comic Jonestown that was ‘Leonard Part VI’. Putting the ‘crap’ into Capraesque, Cosby plays a penniless patriarch who is unceremoniously killed when he fails to adhere to the age-old dictum: never take a Yellow Cab if it’s being driven by a satanist. The story then focuses on the fact that his family are doomed to a life of one-car pauperism because he forgot to take out life insurance, so, naturally, he returns for the wackiest beyond-the-grave medical insurance swindle in the history of cinema. Features a soundtrack by The Blue Nile.
Beetle Juice (1988)No, not the titular stripy-suited ass-grabber, the spooks we had in mind were recently deceased log cabin-liberals Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis, who are sentenced to posthumously preside over the sale of their house to curiously sedate Wall Street wolf Jeffrey Jones and his grossly pretentious wife. In tow is their daughter, a comic-book goth who has taken one look at what her genes have in store for her and quite reasonably harbours thoughts of the grave. This is where Alec and Geena get a second chance at life by befriending the lass and unleashing ‘he-who-must-not-be-named’ on her ghastly parents. Often considered the purveyor of all things dark and gothic, director Tim Burton spins an overtly moralistic fable in which childless liberals are sentenced to an early grave while asset-stripping bastards are given the keys to the kingdom for squeezing out an ankle-biter. Twisted? It might as well be an advertisement on behalf of the Republican Party…
Macbeth (1971)Easily a match for Polanski’s other unfortunate tragedies such as ‘Pirates’ and the hilarious ‘Bitter Moon’, ‘Macbeth’ is the story a ghost who just can’t help meddling in the corporeal world – with disastrous consequences for one jumped-up Caledonian arriviste! The Professionals’ Martin Shaw brings a hirsute glamour to the role of Banquo, exuding unbuttoned ‘70s testosterone from beneath gory locks and crashing Macbeth’s ‘banquet’ of what appears to be stuffed-crust pizza. As the victim of a Macbeth-sanctioned hit, the spectral CI5 operative shows admirable restraint as he eschews slinging the royal miscreant into a garage door and administering a knuckle butty and sticks to spurting stage blood from his severed throat and conjuring up a bad-trip bird of prey. More than a little perturbed, Macbeth begins his descent into saucer-eyed madness, the natural order is restored and Banquo’s son, Keith Chegwin, is assured a happy and untroubled future.
The Canterville Ghost (1944)Charles Laughton shows his comic élan as the ghost of Sir Simon de Canterville, a majestically moustachioed blowhard who happens to be as lily-livered as a veal calf. Haunting the castle where his father, a believer in ‘traditional’ parenting, had him walled up alive as punishment for cowardice, Sir Simon has waited 300 years for a descendant to commit an act of bravery and lift the curse that keeps him earthbound. So far his line has been a parade of craven, knock-kneed shirkers, but when American GI and distant relative Cuffy Williams is billeted in the tumbledown fortress it seems this cousin from over the pond might break the spell at last. Laughton’s spectre is a distillation of countless hamming thespians, and easily steals the show from Robert Young as the unworldly Cuffy but this is 1944: Sir Simon, like England, is a tired, if charming, amateur whose last remaining task is to bid goodnight and adieu to Cuffy’s team of professional, can-do Yanks.
High Plains Drifter (1973)Okay, so he might not be friendly exactly, his heart might not even be in the right place, but in returning to the cowardly township that stood idly by while he was whipped to death by a trio of desperadoes, Clint Eastwood’s otherworldy stranger does at least give the flagging one-horse town of Lago a much needed shot in the arm in this supernatural Western. Literally painting the town red and renaming it ‘Hell’ might not look so good in the brochures, but it succeeds in giving the locals a town to be proud of; and any respite from their shameful and long-festering apathy is something for which they should be sorely grateful…
The Sixth Sense (1999)More civil than actually chummy, Bruce Willis’s thick-skulled spectre retains a professional distance from new charge Haley Joel Osment in M Night Shyamalan’s beginner’s-luck chiller. The creepy little moppet is proving a bit of a handful for his beleaguered mother and Bruce is the gloomy psychologist brought in to set him straight, but he soon discovers there’s more going on with junior than first meets the eye. The tables soon turn and it becomes all too apparent that it will be Osment who will guide Willis to the shores of enlightenment rather than the other way round when the film pulls a crafty 180 that absolutely everybody claims to have seen coming a mile off. Oh, did you? Did you really?
Ghost (1990)More of an over-friendly ghost movie this one, as a post-‘Road House’ Swayze gets whacked out by a tramp then decides to haunt, protect, then grope gravel-larynxed NY potter, Demi Moore. Reviews at the time pigeonholed ‘Ghost’ as a cut-and-dried epistemological weepy, but – like so many of the other films on this list – it’s actually a film about bringing unctuous Wall Street fraudsters to justice by working out a way of sending soppy/cryptic messages through the cosmic ether, usually with the help of lots of soft-focus green screen or, of course, Whoopi Goldberg channelling Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Eyebrows may be raised at the idea that being dead is little different from, say, being locked in a suitcase.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)Putting ‘free-floating full-torso’ apparitions to one side for a moment, we offer the titular head of the titular Fred as one of the movies’ most steadfast – albeit fairly passive – buddies from beyond the grave. Dispatched by a Mexican gang-boss to obtain the head of the lothario who dishonoured his daughter, Warren Oates soon finds that his quarry has already kicked the bucket and so sets about desecrating his grave and severin' his noggin. So begins a one-sided dialogue during which the increasingly neurotic Oates uses the spirit of Garcia as a sounding board, psychiatrist and confessor for his life of aimless debauchery and many, many sins…
Field of Dreams (1989)A brown-nosing Kevin Costner plays Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer, fading hand model and black-hearted real estate tycoon who models himself on a '50s street tough and used to be waterboy for the Chicago Black Sox. He complains he’s hearing voices, but just as his wife – played by Amy Madigan – primes the 12-gauge, it turns out that if he doesn’t build a baseball diamond on top of his not inconsiderable marrow patch, Ray Liotta – the ghost of a disgraced ‘ball player from 1919 – will kill him in his sleep, and by that I mean relentlessly badger him with mawkishly sentimental down-home epithets about the power of community – whichever gets the job done quicker. James Earl Jones also turns up as the ghost of Idi Amin.
Author: Adam Lee Davies, Paul Fairclough, David Jenkins
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