The portmanteau horror film was something of a mainstay back in the days of Hammer horror in the 1960s and 70s where several shorter tales were combined to make one feature-length movie, generally linked by some kind of thematic device, be it a simple presenter/storyteller or something more inventive.
Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories is very much a modern interpretation of such a movie, based on the stage play of the same name.
The over arching story here follows Nyman’s paranormal investigator and debunker Philip Goldman as he investigates three apparently unconnected events, each recounted with a nice use of flashback by a different character.
First is Paul Whitehouse’s night watchman and a fairly traditional ghost story, second is Alex Lawther’s troubled teen’s tale of ‘something’ in the forest (including some nice Evil Dead tributes) and finally a more abstract tale featuring poltergeists from Martin Freeman’s apparently high-flying businessman.
Of the three probably the most effective for me was the comparatively simple but creepy story of the haunted abandoned hospital told by Whitehouse’s character.
That said the performances of all four main actors (for the most part the only people we see on-screen, harking back to the stage origins) are great, combining a seriousness with the sense of off beat humour one might expect given this was co-written and co-directed by Dyson, the silent partner in The League Of Gentlemen.
In that it continues in the fine British tradition of horror that comes with a humorous edge designed to make the horror all the more impactful when it happens, something Nyman also hits perfectly.
While all three individual stories are well done it is the overarching sequences with Nyman’s Goodman that, eventually, become the most satisfying, though to say much more would be to spoil things (and I may already have said too much), but suffice to say if you feel like it’s missing something and you might switch off, it’s worth seeing things through.
Ghost Stories then is at once a light and enjoyable romp of a horror, very much in homage to the British films of the 60s and 70s with a nice extra, more modern, edge and while maybe not entirely satisfying as a whole is certainly worth a look for fans of the classic style or those with an interest in more modern cinematic horror.