28 December 2012 | Hey_Sweden
What's the most dreadful thing that ever happened to you?
A condensing of Peter Straubs' more complex, more intriguing novel, the film adaptation is no great shakes but it's certainly not bad at all either. It does have the appeal of a spooky yarn one might spin by a fireplace in the dead of winter. The simplified story deals with four elderly New England gentlemen who get together and tell horror stories, but who in fact share a tragedy from their long-ago past. Now a revenge-minded spirit is out to make their lives miserable - and strike out at the two sons of one of them, to boot. The film does speak of quality - Jack Cardiff did the cinematography, Albert Whitlock and his team supply some beautiful matte shots, Philippe Sarde composed the stirring music score, and Dick Smith creates the plentiful hideous apparition effects - but the powerful main attraction is the assemblage of talent in the four main roles - Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and John Houseman - who are a delight, although Fairbanks exits the story much too soon. Craig Wasson plays the twin sons, and is likable as usual and manages to hold his own opposite his legendary co-stars. Patricia Neal is utterly wasted as Astaires' wife, but making up for that is the showcase given to the beautiful South African actress Alice Krige, who's extremely alluring and enigmatic as the mystery woman to whom both sons become attracted. There's a real sexual charge in her scenes with Wasson. This is one element that may concern some viewers, when they think about Astaire, Douglas, Fairbanks, and Houseman acting in a film that has violence and nudity (male as well as female), but for other horror fans a sufficient amount of atmosphere is built up and there are definitely some memorable scenes. Things are sometimes told in a flashback style, as first Wasson tells of his association with the not-so-subtly creepy Krige, or Astaire and Houseman finally break down and tell Wasson their whole sordid story. Overall, it's just compelling enough to work, and it does have some mighty fine moments, especially an iconic one involving a lake and a sinking car. It manages to be pretty eerie on a fairly consistent basis if never very scary. It marked the final feature film appearance for Astaire, Fairbanks, and Douglas. Seven out of 10.