9. The Otherworldly Girls of Ghost Stories

It would seem decidedly un-gallant to say of a woman that she has a perfect face for the supernatural or macabre. (“The way you look, you ought to be in horror movies…”) And yet there are a number of highly striking actresses to whom this description applies. One could say it, and purely in tribute, of Barbara Steele, or of Grace Zabriskie, or even of Michelle Pfeiffer; and most certainly it is true of Alice Krige.
South African-born Krige has done a good deal to suggest that her glacial, fine-boned, well-bred looks are not quite of this earth through her performances as, inter alia, a cat-beast in Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers, as an alien queen in one of the many Star Trek spin-offs, and in the movie of the videogame Silent Hill. Naturally, it is of great significance around this parish that she played Mary Shelley in Ivan Passer’s film about the events at Villa Diodati in 1816, Haunted Summer. But I’d say Krige’s finest hour remains her dual performance as Eva Galli/Alma Mobley in John Irvin’s film of “Peter Straub’s terrifying bestselling novel” Ghost Story.
I’ve never read the Straub novel but having lately become aware of how much intriguing plot/theme material is in it – material that the movie naturally didn’t have time to dwell on – I’m convinced I must crack it open one day. But from childhood I still remember the movie fondly, and Krige’s performance especially.
The movie plot focuses on a quartet of New England codgers who call themselves ‘The Chowder Club’ and convene regularly in a wainscoted sitting room to drink brandy and tell each other blood-chilling tales. But these old boys (Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) share an awful secret from their salad days, when they were complicit in the terrible death of a young woman – Eva Galli – on whom they were all sweet but who was, it turned out, vastly out of their league in terms of her formidable qualities. The audience approves, therefore, as Eva quite rightly returns from a watery grave to plague the old men who did her in.
It is a trope of the horror/fantasy genre that a woman can appear in superficially pleasing form yet be not what she seems, or else exactly what one might fear – a wraith or a devil, veiling a threat or playing some wicked game, having risen from the tomb or crossed into this world from some Other. The reader may have gathered by now that this is a trope I have been happy to pass along (like a virus?) through The Possessions of Doctor Forrest.
In Ghost Story, sure enough, one by one the Chowder Club start to drop, as flies to a wanton girl. Fairbanks’ son Craig Wasson is supposed to fight off the threat, but he is rather compromised, having already been seduced by a manifestation of Eva (that is, ‘Alma’) before he was aware of her unholy provenance. The allure is obvious, of course: there can be something terribly appealing about someone who’s a bit different, a bit special – and then something terribly unappealing too. You could get a nasty nip… And both as 1920s’ Eva and 1980s’ Eva, Krige is so wispily lovely that one comes to dread her sudden and drastic reversions to the form of a rotted corpse nearly as much as her victims do.
I daresay you can find the entirety of Ghost Story to watch online if you look hard enough… The trailer below is of the top-drawer kind that they don’t make anymore, and is possibly slightly better than the actual film…


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