After last week’s Vampire list, we thought it might be fun to do another one featuring another classic horror monster – and they don’t come much classicer (Is that a word? Ed.) than a good old fashioned ghost. They’re so classic that they’re even mentioned the Bible!
Last time we ruled out the obvious choice, Dracula, so we decided to rule out an obvious ghost this time too. But who to choose? At first, we weren’t sure if there is a ghost as synonymous with ghostliness as Drac is with vampliness (One more made-up word and you’re sacked, Ed.) but then our own Paul C was discussing this with his wife, and she first called him an idiot and second said “It’s obvious innit?”
“No. That would be a huge spoiler.”
“Of course! Patrick Swayze! He has a whole filmed called Ghost!”
“No. Your classic ghost story is A Christmas Carol so…”
“Oh, yeah!” Paul interrupted. “The Ghost Of Christmas Future! Scary!”
“When I can finish my sentence…” Mrs C cut back in, “No! The ghost you’re looking for is a returned spirit of the deceased with unfinished business…”
“?” said Paul.
“And he goes around all dressed in white, clanking chains and going ‘Woooo-ooooo’. Get it now?”
So this week we presented our team with the question:
Who is your favourite ghost who isn’t Jacob Marley?
We decided not to restrict it to just screen ghosts this time as there are are plenty of classic ghosts in music and literature too, not to mention one or two in… dare we say it… real life (shudder).
As with last time, as well as the usual crew and guests from last week, we opened it up to further guest posters on our social media. Here’s what they came up with…
The Grey Lady of New York Public Library (Ghostbusters)
Dear old Eleanor Twitty. Our first brush with a spectral entity in Ghostbusters, and what an old dear she seems. At first. Back in the day I was a school library monitor with little respect for the cavernous Victorian library we rummaged about in, doors locked, chucking water bombs and cycling the library teacher’s bike furious round the room. Twitty was the archetypal vision of archaic bookishness; old maid bun, round glasses and a shush finger. But woe betide anyone disturbing the book force, disrespecting the printed word. Into her stacks blundered a junior librarian and Dr Twitty fought back – card catalogues akimbo, books became weapons and 1980s hairdos were blasted into submission.
Venkman, Spengler and Stantz wander into the dusty basement, thinking they’d be meeting a neat little old lady. Yeah, one who metamorphosed into a howling she-demon with ectoplasm at her ready disposal. And a line in collapsing bookcases on those disturbing her shelves. Watching her, deep in a dusty cinema seat, the sins of library abuse past flashed before my eyes, including several badly placed waterbombs and sandwich crusts left inside The Silmarillion by mistake. Dr Twitty was coming to get us. I still hear those teenage screams today, echoing round the lofty ceilings of a faded grammar school. Beware the librarians, their time will come.
The White Lady of Bewsey Old Hall (A real ghost. Zoinks!)
Introducing a special case: Lady Isabella Le Boteler – The White Lady of Bewsey Old Hall, Warrington.
When/if you think about ghosts in the literal sense, those thoughts are usually taken under the assumption that said spirit died an untimely death, possibly while still young. Incredibly for the times -16th century – Lady Isabella lived to become a septuagenarian.
Strong and brave, she endured siblings and, reportedly, ten children of her own. Isabella weathered the brutal murder of her husband. She tolerated kidnap and subsequent marriage to the idiot William Pulle. She victoriously escaped Pulle with help from the undoubtedly dashing Sir Thomas Stanley.
Isabella’s ghost stalks the remains of a maze located in the grounds of her marital home. Given all she’s been through, I think she should be praised for having unfinished business.
Timothy Claypole (Rentaghost)
When it comes to ghosts and any discussion about which is the best ghost if your answer isn’t Claypole from Rentaghost, the most incredible television show about ghosts in the history of the world, then I hope you get haunted by the spirit of the show’s Pantomine Horse. I mean come on who would want to be haunted by Pipes from Ghostwatch, that one isn’t much fun, you sure as hell don’t want a ghost climbing out of your TV midway through this week’s Corrie, where some reason nobody has noticed that Miss Popov has conned her way into the Platt’s household. And you sure as hell don’t want Slimer oozing his green slime all over your house.
You want a Ghost that is fun, not too scary and doesn’t require daily deep cleans, that can only leave the sartorial exquisiteness of Mr Claypole. Who wouldn’t want a court Jester as your household ghost, he’s always up for a laugh and some shenanigans, and there would never be a dull moment, imagine using his ghostly powers to wreak havoc on your nightmare neighbours. Hell, even your kid’s English homework would be helped with his firsthand knowledge of Shakespearan times. If this alone isn’t enough, you tell me what other ghost has a cool catchphrase like “GADZOOKS”, none, not one single one. Claypole is the most remarkable ghost ever; it’s a hill I will gladly die on, especially if it means I get to spend eternity haunting the rest of you with him.
Lily (I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House)
Howard David Ingham
At the opening of Oz Perkins’ phenomenal I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House Lily (Ruth Wilson) tells us that a house where someone has died cannot be bought or sold. “It can only be borrowed,” she says, “from the ghosts left behind.” Lily herself speaks to us from a past decade. Although we see her alive for much of the film, a nurse employed to offer live-in palliative care to dying horror author Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss) in a house haunted by long-dead Polly (Lucy Boynton) we quickly understand that by the time that we hear her voice, she is a thing of the past. Her death is not in doubt; the mystery of the film lies in how and when she dies. Perkins doesn’t disappoint in that—in many horror films you can predict when the scares will drop through simply looking at your watch, but here the one arguable central fright comes at an entirely unexpected moment.
A haunting is a sign of unfinished business, and the three women around whom I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House centres itself—dead, dying and doomed—all have unfinished business. But Lily, a ghost before the film even begins, even before her dreadful end, is the most unfinished of all of them, and the most haunting thing about this eminently haunting film is how the pain of Lily’s intense loneliness and thwarted life can never be resolved.
Camouflage (Camouflage by Stan Ridgway)
Camouflage, as his squadmates in Vietnam called him, was an awfully strange marine, as the unnamed narrator of this 1986 ballad soon found out. While pinned down by VC fire, unable to see a way out, the eponymous hulking soldier, out of nowhere, saves the day with his seemingly superhuman feats of strength and endurance. As with the best ghost stories, the driving force of any good spook is Unfinished Business and all Camouflage wanted was one last chance to help someone in trouble. St. Michael, the patron saint of soldiers, must have been listening to either the pleas of our put-upon hero or the dying wish of Camouflage because, after a night of fighting their way through the jungle together, the pair finally made it to freedom. Or one of them did.
Stan Ridgway’s Camouflage might be a novelty hit single from the mid-80s, but the final revelation about the fate of the big, strange and mysterious marine with friendly eyes at the denouement of the song still raises goosebumps on my arm every single time. And isn’t that what a good ghost story is supposed to do?
Semper Fi, indeed, Melon Farmers!!
John Kinsella (Field of Dreams)
As Angela said before, ghosts are best when sorting out unfinished business. What makes Field Of Dream’s ghost so different though is that the business that hasn’t been finished is not just that of the dead, but also of the living. Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) doesn’t know why he builds the baseball diamond, and he doesn’t who it is that he’s promised will come if he builds said field. But that nagging voice tugs away at him all the same. He might be going crazy but something deep in his subconscious knows that he himself has unfinished business. And that business? Nothing more than to enjoy some quality time with his deceased baseball-loving father whom he had rejected as a teenager.
My dad is still very much with us, but the ghost of John Kinsella still resonates with me for a similar reason. When I was a kid I was not interested in sport; I couldn’t stand it. I always came last at running on my school sports day and I was always put in goals during football practice. However, my dad was an amateur footballer as a young man and he was fast, I’m told. Very fast. I’m sure he would have loved to play soccer with his son. But we very rarely played together. In the early 90s, my dad was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and pretty quickly he began to lose the use of his legs. Today he needs a wheelchair to get around outside and sticks to slowly negotiate the house.
And as much as I still hate football, I would also give anything to kick a ball about with him for half an hour.
So when Ray and John play ball together, I am always reminded of my own unfinished business. We do, however, share a love of Single Malt Whisky and have made up for our sporting differences by sharing a LOT of that pastime together!
King Hamlet (Hamlet by William Shakespeare)
Hamlet is one of the most widely and most well-known of all Shakespeare’s plays – it’s probably my favourite written piece of all time. There have been several film adaptations of the play. From the 1948 version (starring and directed by Olivier) to the modern adaptation (directed by Michael Almereyda) via the lavish full-length production (directed by Kenneth Branagh) in 1996. All of these have some performances worthy of note and while the quality of the adaptations vary, the scene depicting the exchange between Prince Hamlet and his father, the former king, all play a pivotal role in the film.
I have picked the portrayal of the ghost in Zeffirelli’s 1990 adaptation as my favourite due to the outstanding acting of Paul Scofield. His time on screen is limited but the impact he makes is monumental. His voice is his tool and he uses it to full effect. A mixture of sorrow, contempt and gentle plea fill his performance. Mel Gibson and Zeffirelli are due much credit for this scene as they allow space for Scofield’s revelation to pervade the cold air – Gibson’s reaction almost wordless, yet powerful and painful. Although he is playing a ghost, his command of the scene almost fills it with a physical presence. His use of pauses and his gesticulations draw the viewer in even closer, as if he is talking directly to us. A colossal performance in a part that can easily become overwrought or even slightly comedic in the wrong hands.
Bel-Marduk (Sepulchre by James Herbert)
You ever stepped into a place and just felt ‘wrong’? Nothing you can immediately put your finger on but a bone-deep feeling that you stand in a place that is host to more than you can see. In my favourite James Herbert book Sepulchre that is exactly what happens to bodyguard-for-hire Halloran when he takes a contract to protect a psychic named Kline.
For the job, Halloran has to stay in a huge old house called Neath. There is a presence in the house, in the walls, under the ground and in the lake, which he sees Kline walking on in a very Jesus way. As the lurking dread builds, it starts to become clear that this house is haunted by something linked to Kline, an evil beyond comprehension, a manifestation of something ancient that by rights shouldn’t exist in our here and now.
Bel-Marduk might not be your traditional ghost but it is a most insidious and haunting presence that stays with the reader long after the lurid tale is done. I’d urge you to experience this ‘conflict of evils’.
Easily one of the most recognizable ghosts in recent history, Ringu is a modern take on the yūrei, a ghost of Japanese folklore. The story has been through several iterations since the 90’s, each with different origins and plot twists to fit the time and culture of the retelling (some of which, sadly, are rather offensive and transphobic.) Regardless of that, the ghost – Sadako, Park Eun-Suh, Samara – whatever name she goes by – looks the same. The billowing white gown, pale skin, and long black hair obscuring her face, it doesn’t change. It is a perfect design that transcends cultural differences. A simple and elegant design that is recognizably human, but just off center enough to be unsettling. She has dominated horror ever since her debut. Multinational franchises, pop culture references, parodies, imitations, video game characters. She even threw out the first pitch at a ball game in 2016!
Boos and ghouls, put your ectoplasm together, get out your best sheets and rattle those chains because I am about to break down for you why Beetlejuice is the ghost with the most. Firstly … he is literally the ghost with the most, babe. Self-promotion aside, Beetlejuice has a level of character and flair that most deadbeats just can’t summon. He is a ghostly drama queen and I am here for it. Did Casper attend Juilliard? I think not. Was Slimer spending his death at Harvard business school working on the foundations of a successful bio-exorcism business? Didn’t think so.
Speaking of bio-exorcism, the B-man has a useful skill that — as evidenced by Adam and Barbara’s efforts — not everyone can pull off successfully. It’s not just for the dead to use either. I don’t know a single living human who has interacted with society and hasn’t at some point wished someone would go away — enter bio-exorcist extraordinaire, Beetlejuice. Uh-oh. That’s the third time… Does anyone know how to get a carousel out of a living room?
The Beast (Poltergeist)
‘To her, it is simply another child..to us, it is the Beast’.
While Poltergeist is full of scares which include a swimming pool full of corpses and a nightmarish illusion of someone ripping off their own face the main antagonist of the film is the spirits of the movie. Initially mischievous in nature as the film goes it is revealed that all the trapped souls are being controlled by a malevolent entity called ‘The Beast’.
While in the next film this unknown horror takes on the human form of the southern preacher Kane in the first movie we do actually get a glimpse the Beast in three scenes – the first is implied (and is shown in detail in the written adaptation of the movie) in the physical manifestation of the trapped poltergeists as they glide down the staircase in the impressive light-show, while disturbing these scenes are passive even though in the script (and book) The Beast is shown as a dark menacing controlling figure which in context explains why Diane states ‘that thing is in there with my baby –
The first time we do see the Beast on screen is in the apparition that appears to the family during the scene within Carol-Annes bedroom where Diane has already entered the other side to rescue her. While Tangina is dictating and directing the navigation of retrieving Carol-Anne Steve is confronted by a vast demonic face that appears out of the closet/portal to the other side. If this isn’t horrific enough the second time we see the supernatural creature is while Diane is trying to rescue the kids for the second time and is stopped at the top of the house’s stairs by a vast massive, white, and bird-like yet skeletal apparition nicknamed the Door Guardian. Covered in wispy thin stringy fibres and white hair it resembles the rotting creature with an animalistic roar (which is actually the lion’s roar from the MGM Logo).
While on-screen the creature is a horrific apparition, in reality, the effect was used was simple but hugely effective – a plastic model covered in tissue paper and textiles which was filmed in a water tank, an effect which is also used to great effect in the first Indiana Jones movie.
The Hitcher (As seen on a quiet country road near you…)
Every tired, lonely or sleepy driver knows the Hitcher.
They appear out of the edge of the weather – looking like any other person you’d find on the side of the road. Thumb out, looking for a lift.
You slow down, not quite sure of them, but willing to have someone next to you – just to lighten the mood. Maybe they remind you of when you used to hitchhike.
They enter… and fall silent.
Time passes, and as the road markings flash by, you grow increasingly nervous until finally…
They ask to leave. And with one final sentence, they step out into the weather and vanish.
For a second, you’re not quite sure you heard them correctly – did they just tell you of something they couldn’t know? Were they the lady that committed suicide on this very road earlier that year? Was that even the Grim Reaper himself telling you to grab some sleep before you nodded off at the wheel?
You’ll never be sure – but you’ve just given a ride to… The Hitcher.
Who is your favourite ghost? Did we miss any out? Let us know in the comments below or over at our Twitter feed (@WorldGeeklyNews).
Huge thanks, as always to our good friends who joined us for this piece:
- Matt Adcock is author of the near future nightmare Complete Darkness (as featured in Den of Geek’s Best Books of 2019, and soon to be reviewed here). He is currently working on an audiobook version. Follow Matt on Twitter (@Cleric20).
- Lydia Wist is an illustrator and writer whose artwork can be viewed at Cargo Collective. Follow Lydia on Twitter (@LydiaWist).
- Stuart Ball is deputy headteacher at Booker Hill Primary School in High Wycombe. He listens to a LOT of music (especially Iron Maiden). Back in August he joined our 80s Movie Challenge with a look at the school-holiday coming-of-age adventure, Stand By Me.
- Jim Mcleod runs the extremely popular horror promotion and review website Ginger Nuts of Horror. Follow @GNutsOfHorror on Twitter.
- Howard David Ingham is the Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide To Folk Horror. A follow up on Cult Cinema is due out soon. Follow Howard on Twitter (@HowTheWoodMoves) and visit their website Room 207 Press for more information. Howard will be joining our 80s Movie Challenge in a few weeks to look at The Thing.
- CJ Dee joined us in July for a look at Beetlejuice and will be back next week to look at The Evil Dead. She runs and writes for pop-culture website Gotham City Times. Follow CJ Dee on Twitter (@Kinestra).