It was his father who put Professor Goodman (Andy Nyman) off belief in the supernatural, that included anything from organised religion to mediumship, and he made it his life's work to expose the charlatans who preyed on the believers to exploit them either for financial gain or some curious sense of power over them. His great hero was Charles Cameron, an investigator who performed his own exposes when Goodman was young and tuning into his television programme, and now he has a show of his own, he feels he can do Cameron's legacy justice, especially when the man suffered a disappearance some years ago, becoming a mystery himself...
Ghost Stories was a must-see play in Britain for a good while, so as the two brains behind it, Nyman and Jeremy Dyson, had a foot in television and film, the obvious thing to do was bring it to the big screen. If it was more a cult success there than the megahit it had been on the stage, that may have been more down to the changes necessary from transition from one arena to another, and the film certainly found an appreciative audience after a fashion, though with seemingly every horror movie released in the twenty-first century, there was a legion of online naysayers telling you it was the worst thing they had ever seen. If you were sympathetic, however, there was much to like here.
Nyman and Dyson's grounding was in what had come to be termed hauntology, referencing those entertainments and supposedly factual works around the supernatural that Britain brought out during the particular period from the late nineteen-sixties to the mid-eighties. Doctor Who was the most prominent example, though that did not always deal with the relevant material, so you had to look to as varied examples as The Pan Book of Horror series of paperbacks to Children of the Stones to The Wicker Man to Sapphire and Steel to just about any BBC children's drama of the era to feature the paranormal - not to mention ghost reports on Nationwide or Arthur C. Clarke's TV efforts.
Yet it was apparent, though the emblem of scariness here wore a very seventies parka hood, the authors were intent not to make a series of "remember that bit where?" references into something passing for a story, and had more ambitious interests at heart, within the slender means available to them. There was a suspicion they were having their cake and eating it too when their arch-skeptic protagonist was faced with three cases he could not solve, then became part of a mystery in himself until the big reveal as to what was really going on, which was a shade too close to wrapping things up in a way every English teacher in the land warned their pupils never to use, no matter how often it was resorted to in popular culture. But until that point, which nevertheless contained its own chilling sting, this romped along enjoyably.
Each of the main plots took the form of a past case of Cameron that he was never able to solve, though since he was relying solely on eyewitness testimony you imagine it would be simple enough to dismiss the accounts as examples of mistaken beliefs, suggestion in stressful situations and misidentification. Fortunately, the directors had hired three excellent performers to keep us intrigued, Paul Whitehouse as a security guard in an abandoned women's asylum building (bringing a real venom quite apart from his better known comedy endeavours), Alex Lawther as a nervy student with a penchant for economy with the truth, and finally Martin Freeman as a posh landowner who was plagued by a poltergeist as his wife gave birth to their son. Harking back to Amicus, but further back to Dead of Night, the all-time portmanteau horror classic, Ghost Stories perhaps relied too far on jump scares that swiftly dulled in effect, but if you were on their wavelength Nyman and Dyson provided much to indulge in. Music by Haim Frank Ilfman.