Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online for over fifteen years.
What's the big deal?
Ghost is a romantic fantasy film released in 1990 and marked the solo directorial debut of Jerry Zucker. Written by Bruce Joel Rubin, the film sees a recently widowed young woman unaware of the danger she is in while the ghost of her lover tries to contact her via a phoney psychic. The film stars Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Goldwyn and Rick Aviles. The film became synonymous with the song 'Unchained Melody' by the Righteous Brothers and the film's popularity caused the song to re-enter the charts across the world. Despite a fairly mixed reaction from critics, the film enjoyed huge success at the box office. It became the highest grossing film of the year, earning more than $505 million worldwide as well as securing Goldberg's sole Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress. The film inspired a musical theatrical version in 2011 as well as numerous parodies of its famous 'pottery wheel' scene.
What's it about?
Banker Sam Wheat moves into an apartment in New York with his girlfriend Molly, both of whom plan to renovate the place and begin the rest of their lives together. Working alongside his colleague and friend Carl, Sam discovers huge sums of money being moved into a number of accounts. Suspecting a serious fraud, Sam decides to investigate the matter himself but declines Carl's offer of assistance. Later that day, Sam and Molly are attacked by a mugger who fatally shoots Sam in the struggle, killing him. Watching Molly cradle Sam in her arms, Sam discovers that he is now a ghost - unable to interact with anyone and invisible to everyone.
Struggling to come to terms with what has happened, Sam continues to hang around his apartment with Molly who is distraught at her lover's sudden death. As Carl slowly becomes more prolific in Molly's life by helping her overcome her grief, Sam is astonished to find the mugger turn up at their apartment and he decides that his murder might not have been as random as it appeared. Learning from other ghosts how to channel his energy to interact with the mortal world, Sam discovers a phoney medium who can actually hear him and persuades her to help him keep Molly safe.
Oda Mae Brown
Bruce Joel Rubin
Release Date (UK)
5th October, 1990
Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Best Supporting Actress (Goldberg), Best Original Screenplay
Academy Award Nominations
Best Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score
What's to like?
Ghost became one of the defining romantic pictures of the early nineties along with the likes of Pretty Woman. It's an intoxicating blend of old fashioned romance, thriller, chiller, weepie and comedy and it hits all the right buttons. The film makes wonderful use of the chemistry between Swayze and Moore (who has rarely been better in a film than she was here) who inhabit their roles completely, which makes the violent nature of their passing all the more real. The thriller elements might not be cutting edge while the mystery behind Sam's murder isn't all that deep. But it's easy for an audience to identify with a lone woman unaware of the danger she is in so the film generates some significant tension. Thank Heaven for Goldberg as the brilliant Oda Mae Brown - the reluctant 'psychic' who is hilariously dragged into the story against her will who delivers plenty of laughs by herself in one of the best performances of her career.
The reason the film comes to my mind during the run-up to Halloween, however, isn't for any of the above reasons. As soppy and fluffy as the film's core might be, the film also contains some genuine chills and is a surprisingly effective spook flick. Without doubt, the eerie shadows that drag souls to Hell are some of the most disturbing spirits I've ever seen in a film with some disturbing, otherworldly screams and wails replacing grotesque visuals or cliched demonic prosthetics. The film's use of sound is actually used to generate much of the film's scares from quick jump-cuts to the unnatural appearance of the great Schiavelli as the subway ghost mentoring Sam on how to physically interact with things. Horror veterans and gore hounds might turn their nose up at this film but it doesn't detract from the film's supernatural atmosphere and surprising amount of scary fun.
- Goldwyn had to convince Zucker and Rubin that he could be nice and evil at the same time in the role of Carl. In fact, he was so successful that Goldwyn revealed years later that a waitress refused to serve him until she learnt that he was an actor. She then apologised, saying that she knew she hated him but couldn't figure out why. Goldwyn claimed that such reactions continued until he 'redeemed' himself after voicing Tarzan in the 1999 animated Disney film.
- Vincent Schiavelli and Demi Moore shared the same birthday on November 11th. Coincidentally, Schiavelli and Swayze both died at the age of 57 and both from cancer.
- The Oscar that Goldberg scooped for her performance in the film disappeared in 2002 after she returned it to the Academy for repairs. It was allegedly found three days later in the trash at an airport in Ontario, California. Goldberg later said that Oscar would never leave her house ever again.
- Zucker claimed that the idea of the pottery wheel scene came to him as he was working on The Naked Gun in 1988. His brother, David Zucker, would later parody the scene in The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell Of Fear in 1991.
What's not to like?
Ghost obviously isn't a proper horror film in any real sense - there's little blood, no visually frightening monsters besides the shadowy spirits that claim the evildoers and the film is more of a chiller than a outright screamfest. But the good news is that horror fans are unlikely to watch the film, partly because of the film's reputation for being an old-fashioned tear-jerker but also because it has been imitated so often. The pottery wheel scene is instantly recognisable, even today some 30 years later, and has been parodied so often that it's almost impossible to watch today with a straight face. The other thing that weakens the film somewhat is the thriller element. The mystery behind the murder of poor Sam is about as deep as an episode of Scooby Doo while the clumsy attempts of Carl to seduce the emotionally vulnerable Molly leave an awkward taste in the mouth and not just because we know it's doomed to failure. And of course, the film's ending is just as obvious although it isn't afraid to throw a emotional gut punch for the climax.
Time has not been especially kind to the film's special effects - while the shadow creatures sound and feel disturbing, the visual look of them feels cheap which is a little disappointing but not hugely surprising, given the film's age. It might be easy to overlook these days because the film has remained in the public eye for all this time but for viewers new to the film or anyone wishing to revisit it, Ghost retains much of the power it had to begin with. It is unashamedly cheesy and not afraid to appeal more to female viewers than men but regardless, it remains a fantastic date movie. Just make sure you both have plenty of tissues throughout.
Should I watch it?
There are many reasons why Ghost remains a solid watch all these years later. It is old-fashioned but thanks to remarkable chemistry between Moore and Swayze, a star-making turn from Goldberg and a story that will melt all but the coldest of hearts, the film is still well worth a watch for couples or anyone who has recently lost someone close to them. It may be overlooked these days thanks to that scene but the film is much more than just the Righteous Brothers' classic song.
Great For: couples, date nights, the recently bereaved
Not So Great For: hardcore horror fans, emotionally sensitive viewers, very young children
What else should I watch?
I find it interesting that although both Swayze and Moore are seasoned leads in romance movies and were both terrific in this film, neither of them reunited for another project. After all, both Richard Gere and Julia Roberts reunited on screen after the success of Pretty Woman in the slightly less successful Runaway Bride. OK, maybe that's not a great example but Ghost reignited interest in romantic movies and was part of a wave of films that directly appealed to female viewers, films like Dirty Dancing, When Harry Met Sally... and The Bodyguard. Perhaps the most successful film critically around this time was the instant classic Sleepless In Seattle which lit the screen up with wonderful performances from Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
For anyone looking for a more traditional horror film, there are as many options as there are styles of scary movies from traditional slasher flicks like 1978's Halloween, gruesome body horror films like The Thing, psychological tortures like Ring and zombie parody films like Shaun Of The Dead. Personally, I'm not a massive horror fan but I can appreciate films that offer something a little different and refuses to follow very well-worn paths. Take the ultra low-budget Bubba Ho-Tep which sees a mummy do battle in an old people's home with Bruce Campbell playing an elderly Elvis Presley. Very odd and very different but certainly one to peak your interest...
© 2020 Benjamin Cox
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on October 11, 2020:
Oh my word, I love this film. I don't know how many times I've seen it.