DIRECTOR: John Irvin
SCREENPLAY: Lawrence D. Cohen (from a novel by Peter Straub)
STARRING: Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., John Houseman, Alice Krige, Craig Wasson.
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
Reviewed by Guy Adams
I think I’m stealing metaphors from Steve Gallagher (of this parish) when I say that making a movie is like building an aeroplane, there are just so people involved and so many tiny things that can go wrong and bring it crashing down.
The construction crew on this particular plane bodes well at a glance. It’s based on a brilliant novel by Peter Straub, adapted by Lawrence D. Cohen (following his work adapting Stephen King’s Carrie for Brian de Palma). It stars Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and John Houseman as the aged quartet of friends plagued by a ghost from their past. It also features Alice Krige, as elusive, sexy and terrifying as ever. If Craig Wasson as male lead seems occasionally adrift he has more than enough support elsewhere to paper over the cracks.
So why does it never really click? Yes, a great deal of Straub’s story is missing but that’s not unusual when transferring a packed novel into a feature and there’s no real reason why what’s left shouldn’t still work. I suppose we must look to director John Irvin. For every moment of potential eeriness (a world of horror can frequently be glimpsed in the open face of Alice Krige) the sum total is held back by empty moments, scenes that play out entirely devoid of any dread. There’s little discernibly wrong with what’s onscreen (although an early death played out like a grotesque cover version of the climax of Rear Window is somewhat misjudged) there’s just very little that gets under our skin. The plane never takes off.
There is some good news though, the disc from Second Sight (using materials from Scream Factory’s Region A release) contains enough extra material to turn a slightly failed movie into a successful disc. There’s a commentary from Irvin, plus a half hour interview with Alice Krige; a forty minute piece with Peter Straub discussing the writing of the book and a half hour feature with producer Burt Weissbourd and Lawrence D Cohen. All of which add enough value to make the whole worthwhile.