30th Anniversary Screening To Be Held At WHC
By Jon Estey
Special To The Standard
Woodstock is accustomed to celebrity guests and film star sightings.
James Cagney was a well-known equestrian who frequented the Green Mountain Horse Association. He could also be seen at local auctions on occasion, and was known as a collector of antique furniture. Monty Wolley, of The Man Who Came To Dinner fame, and best friend of Cole Porter, summered here and could be seen daily strolling into the local drug store for a chocolate ice cream soda. Even Bing Crosby spent several weeks in town during the filming of Dr. Cook’s Garden in the early 1970s. And, of course, in the 1980s, Michael J. Fox might have been spotted having breakfast at the Mountain Creamery.
Few events, however, rivaled the filming in Woodstock of the movie adaptation of Peter Straub’s 1979 best-selling horror novel Ghost Story. The book itself is heralded by Stephen King, in his nonfiction review of the horror medium, Danse Macabre, as one of the finest horror novels of the late 20th century and provides a lengthy review within its “Horror Fiction” section.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of the film, which premiered in December 1981. To commemorate that event, the Woodstock History Center will present two showings of Ghost Story on Saturday, Oct. 29, as the centerpiece of the second annual Spooky Woodstock festival, held at the Dana House on Elm Street.
Before the film crew arrived in Woodstock, a call went out for extras and an ad ran in the Vermont Standard asking those interested to apply at Woodstock East. Staff from Universal Studios was swamped with applicants as more than 1,200 people applied for the 300 folks needed for stand-ins, photo doubles, and other extras. At the Woodstock Inn, 45 rooms were reserved for movie personnel and personalities, and the Masonic Hall was reserved and would be used as a cafeteria for the film crew and other workers.
Some requests were turned down by Woodstock citizenry. One in particular was a request to film a scene in the River Street Cemetery. That idea was nixed by the Woodstock Burying Grounds Association.
Overall, the filming benefited the community. News reports at the time estimated that the filming, which began in January 1981 for two weeks and then returned in the spring to wrap up scenes, brought in approximately $2 million to the local economy.
Shortly after shooting began on the movie, a cavalcade of some of the most famous film stars of the silver screen began appearing on the streets of Woodstock. Icons such as Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Melvyn Douglas, John Houseman, and Patricia Neal suddenly were creating a constant buzz of sightings and gossip.
In the film, Astaire, Fairbanks, Douglas, and Houseman portray the aging members of what they affectionately call ‘The Chowder Society,’ a group of lifelong friends who enjoys getting together and sharing spooky stories. The friends, however, hold a deadly secret. That 50 year-old secret returns to literally haunt them, and their golden years turn to horror, mayhem, and violent death before the mystery is finally revealed. This was the final movie appearance for Astaire, Douglas, and Fairbanks before their deaths.
Film critic Roger Ebert said in his positive review of the film in 1981, “If you like ghost stories, you will appreciate that they cannot be told with all sorts of ridiculous skeletons leaping out of closets, as in Abbott and Costello. They must be told largely in terms of fearful and nostalgic memory, since (by definition) a ghost is a ghost because of something that once happened that shouldn’t have happened. Ghost Story understands that, and restrains its performers so that the horror of the ghost is hardly more transparent than they are.”
A more contemporary review online at ‘Screen Junkies’ named Ghost Story one of the Top 5 Best Ghost Movies of the last 30 years. The film went on to gross more than $23 million when it was first released, ranking it the number 3 horror film of the year in box office receipts.
Jack Anderson, director of the Woodstock Historical Society, commented, “It will be a fun movie for the local community to view as a group. Everyone will love to try and identify the locations of different scenes in the movie. And there are many shot here in the Woodstock area, including a terrifying scene on the Iron Bridge on Elm Street, and the final scene, filmed at the Lakota Club.
Ghost Story will be shown on Saturday, Oct. 29, during the Spooky Woodstock festival at the Woodstock History Center in two showings at 5:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Seating is limited to 50 per showing. It is recommended that tickets be purchased in advance, either by calling the Woodstock History Center at 802-457-1822 or going online at www.woodstockhistorical.org.
The film is just one of several events planned at the second annual Spooky Woodstock festival. A Dana House tour will include costumed educators discussing the legends of the Woodstock vampire; death masks and the strange medical case of Phineas Gage; unusual burial customs in the 19th Century; customs of a Victorian mourning parlor; the Civil War and its influence on modern embalming and burial techniques; and the historical legend and lore around Oswald, a real human skeleton that at one time resided at WUHS.
Movie ‘Ghost Story’ Still Haunts Woodstock After All These Years
30th Anniversary Screening To Be Held At WHC