In the nineteen-twenties, botanist and recent university graduate Talbot (Larry Dann) had been invited out to the English countryside to meet a couple of old friends from those halls of learning, and on the train there he encountered Duller (Vivian Mackerall) who doesn't appear best pleased to see him, and even denies having spoken to him before. Not to worry, Talbot is upbeat but is not sure why he and this other man have been invited out here, and when they both finally meet up with their host McFayden (Murray Melvin) he is less than illuminating. Yet the old mansion house they end up in holds secrets of its own...
Although this was not filmed in the English countryside at all, it was actually shot in India where the director Stephen Weeks had secured the chance to use a country house from the British colonial times and flew his cast and crew out there to press it into service as his "Madhouse Mansion", as the alternative, more sensationalist title had it. As it turned out, Ghost Story, not to be confused with the not very good adaptation of the Peter Straub bestseller in 1981, was something of a disaster for Weeks, not only thanks to the shoot itself being fraught with problems (including upset tummies for everyone involved), but because it was barely distributed.
It did, however, show up on late night television apparently in the broadcaster's hope it would make a decent substitute for a Hammer or Amicus effort that the audience might have preferred to see. Weeks seemed to have a reverse Midas touch when it came to his big screen efforts, as though against the odds he would get four films finished, they had a tendency to flop or not live up to the high expectations he had for them; ending his career with a couple of versions of the Gawain and the Green Knight legend, neither of which satisfied very many people even when they were viewed on rare occasions. But Ghost Story is the one which gathered a small following.
Part of that might have been because it was a chance to see Withnail acting. Who? In Bruce Robinson's eighties comedy Withnail & I, which attained a cult classic status unrealised by anything Weeks did, the title character was based on Vivian Mackerall who took a subsbtantial role here as the cold and imperious Duller, the man here to shoot pheasants and is not interested in any supernatural nonsense. If you're hoping plenty of the Richard E. Grant personality showed through in Mackerall's performance, however, you may well be let down as while he played the upper class cad with some satisfaction, he didn't have any funny lines, nor did he display much of the wasted talent Robinson said he did.
What he did do was fit into the between the wars atmosphere quite nicely, as there may have been an obvious lack of budget once all those aeroplane tickets had been bought, but Weeks achieved a neat Sunday night TV chiller mood to the film which went some way to papering over the cracks of a slightly confused script. Some terrible event happened in the mansion's history, and Talbot is the one who has visions of it, but other than that the specifics were rather hard to fathom. We did see Marianne Faithfull in those flashbacks, and horror stalwart Barbara Shelley showed up as both landlady and head nurse at the asylum the house used to be (Why? It's not explained), as did Britsh sitcom favourite Penelope Keith, but when the only special effect was a doll being manipulated by offscreen hands to make it look as if it was moving - and strangling - it did seem less weird and more silly. The location was well used, so that was something, and the cast captured a less televisual quality than it might otherwise have done, but this was a curio really. Music by Ron Geesin.