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Film / Ghost Stories (2017)

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Be careful what you believe.

"Please, Professor Goodman. Tell me I'm wrong. I need you to tell me I'm wrong."

Ghost Stories is a 2017 supernatural Horror film written and directed by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, adapted from their successful stage play. Starring Andy Nyman as Professor Phillip Goodman, a present day professional skeptic who debunks stage psychics and mediums. Goodman was heavily influenced in his youth by another professional skeptic, Dr. Charles Cameron, who vanished without a trace sometime in the 70s. When Professor Goodman is contacted by Dr. Cameron (ill, elderly, and seemingly at death's door, but certainly not missing), he insults Goodman's body of work, calls his own work shameful, and asks Goodman to investigate 3 supernatural cases that have haunted him since his disappearance. The investigations themselves are disturbing and unsettling, and all the while there are subtle background clues that something else is going on.


A loving homage to the Amicus Productions anthology films of the 60s and 70s, Ghost Stories captures the British aesthetic of those films, while still retaining its modern sensibility. Features a rather nasty Twist Ending.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abandoned Hospital: Tony's story is set in one of these.
  • Abusive Dad: Goodman's father did not approve of his daughter's dating choices, and is seen yelling at her while his mother tries to calm him down.
  • Age Cut: Used at the end of the intro with a young, cheerful Goodman slowly fading into a much older, much sadder Goodman.
  • And You Were There: The people whom Goodman interviews are based on the people who work at the hospital where he is being kept, and most of their personalities are the same.
  • Animalistic Abomination: Whatever it is that Simon hits with his car, it certainly qualifies.
  • Arc Words:
    • "The brain sees what it wants to see."
    • "Be careful what you believe in."
  • Arc Numbers: The numbers 6, 79, 19, 11, 92, 20, 48, 1, and 32 recur repeatedly throughout the film, either as individual numbers or as part of this specific sequence.
    • In addition to being scribbled on the screen at the start of the movie, they also appear flashing across the screen at the start of the flashback to Goodman's childhood.
    • In the psychic show bust sequence, the number 11 can be seen in multiple empty chairs.
    • The short clip we see of "The Enigma of Charles Cameron" has the phrase, "WTR 92:20" in the bottom left corner, and the house he visits is number 6.
    • The "Fun Spot Amusement Centre" which Goodman parks in front of on his visit to Cameron has the numbers 92, 20, 1, 48 and 32 painted on its doors.
    • 79 is the number of Charles Cameron's caravan/trailer home.
    • The pub where Goodman finds Tony Matthews is called "The 10th Number" and the nine numbers are painted on the sign, around a picture of a tunnel. Goodman passes the first four of these numbers on a bulletin board in the hallway as he goes into the pub.
    • 19, 11, and 92 are on three of the doors which Tony passes as he makes his rounds.
    • They are on the hymn board in the church Goodman visits.
    • Simon's house is number 20.
    • The numbers can be seen on a piece of paper inside the shotgun shack which Mike Priddle retrieves his gun from.
    • These nine numbers are chalked in an abandoned sewage tunnel. As a prank, two bullies forced a young Phillip Goodman and later Desmond "Kojak" Callahan to go inside the tunnel and read them in sequence until they find the tenth and final number that doesn't exist. Goodman survived his ordeal, but Callahan collapsed in an asthma attack and died. Goodman has been haunted by his failure to do anything to prevent Callahan's death or tell the authorities afterwards.
  • Bedsheet Ghost: A particularly upsetting one in Mike Priddle's story.
  • Bungled Suicide: It's revealed at the end of the film that Professor Goodman attempted suicide by breathing in exhaust fumes, as he was unable to live with the guilt that his choices have left him with.
  • Campbell Country: This is a British film through and through. The costuming of the characters is modern, but leans into an aesthetic that reminds you of the setting, with a lot of wool sweaters and flat caps. Mike Priddle loads a shotgun stored in a weathered shed that stands in a muddy, windswept field. Tony Matthews talks to Goodman over a pint of beer, a glass of whiskey, and a hand-rolled cigarette. The end result is a movie that truly feels like no other country could have produced it, in the best possible way.
  • Cat Scare: Tony's happens with a pigeon.
  • Creator Cameo: Jeremy Dyson has an uncredited cameo as the DJ at Goodman's Bar Mitzvah.
  • Creepily Long Arms: A subtle example (especially when compared to other works with this trope) in Mike's baby son, who is heavily implied to be some kind of inhuman abomination.
  • Creepy Doll: Doubling as The Blank, there is a faceless, brown-haired doll wearing a yellow dress that recurs throughout the film. It's even in Goodman's hospital room.
  • Danger Takes a Backseat: The goat-creature that Simon hits eventually winds up in the seat behind him after first stalking him and jumping on top of his car.
  • Darkness Equals Death: Interestingly, this movie uses both this trope and Daylight Horror (see below), although it does use darkness more than it uses daylight in all three of the stories the film presents.
  • Daylight Horror: The suspense that comes during the day is more subtle than the kind that happens when it's dark, but it's there regardless.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Professor Goodman when Callahan is dragging him to his hospital bed.
  • Driven to Suicide: Mike Priddle at the end of his story - foreshadowing for Goodman's actual suicide attempt.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: Professor Goodman has been in a coma all along and the ghost stories are his brain's attempts to process his guilt over his choices in life.
  • Existential Horror: Lightly touched on throughout the movie, but brought into sharp focus with the twist at the end where it's made clear that the real horror of this story falls much closer to And I Must Scream than the supernatural premise the movie starts with.
  • Foreshadowing: Lots of clues alluding to the twist ending are peppered throughout the three cases.
    • The film begins with the sounds of water dripping and heavy breathing. These are the sounds of Callahan suffering an asthma attack.
    • After meeting with Cameron and sitting on a bench, a "Fine Fare" shopping bag blows into his leg, which seems to trouble him. It's the same bag which Callahan had been holding before he entered the sewage tunnel.
    • Tony calls Goodman "Kojak" after he barrages him with questions. This is the nickname given to Callahan.
    • One of the mannequins which Tony finds is wearing a hospital gown. The same gown which Phillip is wearing.
    • Goodman briefly sees someone wearing hospital scrubs in a room in Simon's upstairs. This is the real world Simon.
  • Ghost Story: As you might have guessed from the title, this movie has a reverent love for ghost stories and the tropes that go with them.
  • Ghostly Chill: In all three of the case investigations, there are points where the temperature drops due to ghost activity. In Mike Priddle's story, he can see his own breath.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Simon's experience has left him more than a little disturbed.
  • Guilt-Induced Nightmare: The entirety of the film takes place within Goodman's comatose dreams, and his profession of supernatural debunking stems from his guilt over failing to prevent the death of Callahan. After this failed, he tried to kill himself in his car, which left him in an endless purgatory.
  • Homage: Tony Matthews' story starts on a closeup of his watch, before slowly panning across to his hand (which is holding a cigarette) before zooming out to show him sitting, staring into space. Identical to the introductory shot of Pink in Pink Floyd: The Wall.
  • Inspired by…: Amicus Productions mainly, but there are a great many references to famous horror films for those who pay attention.
  • Jump Scare: A few - Starting with the film title!
  • Karma Houdini: Nico and Marcus, the two bullies who caused Callahan's death, aren't shown facing any consequences for what they did.
  • Kill the Lights: The ghost that stalks Tony is not a fan of the light.
  • Lack of Empathy: This is Goodman's problem throughout the story, as he is only interested in debunking or explaining the experiences of the people he talks to.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: There's something off about Simon's house and his parents' behaviour, enough to unsettle Professor Goodman.
  • Meaningful Background Event: Too many to count. Or notice on your first watch.
  • Mirror Scare: A non-horror example, but the young Goodman is caught spying on his sister get berated by his father after his dad opens a closet with a mirror in it.
  • Mood-Swinger: Interviewing Tony Matthews is an uncomfortable experience due to his frequent shifts into a hostile (if not actually menacing) demeanor.
  • My Greatest Failure:
    • Dr. Cameron considers his work in debunking the supernatural to be shameful, due to coming across three cases he couldn't explain away.
    • It's revealed towards the end that Professor Goodman feels incredibly guilty about not saving a mentally-handicapped boy who died of an asthma attack.
  • Nightmare Face: Quite a few.
  • No Pronunciation Guide: A Running Gag is of various people pronouncing Simon's surname as "Riff-Kind", and him correcting them as it being "Riff-Kinned.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • This movie takes full advantage of the power of the audience's imagination. During Tony Matthews' story, neither Tony nor the viewer see anything at all for the majority of the scene, but it's teeth-grindingly suspenseful and frightening.
    • The creature that attacks Simon has one Extreme Closeup, and in for the rest of Simon's story it's only seen in quick flashes and from far away.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Goodman's face when he sees the tunnel entrance.
    • Simon's face when he sees the back door of the car is open.
  • Personal Horror: Every major character wrestles with this in different ways, including and especially Phillip Goodman.
  • Pre-Insanity Reveal: Simon's flashback reveals that, while he was always soft-spoken and awkward, he wasn't paranoid.
  • Precision F-Strike: Both comedic and serious, as Simon unleashes a very loud "Fuck that!" in response to the goat-demon telling him to stay.
  • The Reveal: The dead and rotting Callahan grabs hold of Phillip's coat, and rips all his clothing away to reveal a hospital gown, confirming that Phillip is in a coma and the movie so far has been the fractured projections of his guilt-ridden, fearful brain.
  • Rewatch Bonus: So, so many.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Simon's bedroom doesn't suggest a healthy, well-balanced view of life.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Simon pulls one of these after the demon tells him to stay.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Tony named his daughter "Marnie", since he was always a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock. He also mentions that if he had had a son, he would have named him "Norman".
  • Spooky Photographs: On the way up to Simon's bedroom, one of his photographs catches Goodman's eye, since it is of him as well as his childhood bullies and, after removing some dust, Callahan.
  • Stopped Clock: Every single instance of time shown in this movie, beginning with the headline photograph of Big Ben which Charles Cameron sends to Professor Goodman, is 3:45. Most telling, in the one instance where we see a close-up of Tony Matthew's watch, not only is it 3:45 but the second hand ISN'T MOVING. In the end, it is revealed that 3:45 AM is the time that Phillip Goodman was admitted into Christchurch Hospital.
  • Tentative Light: As the lights go out around him, Tony's flashlight begins to flicker as well.
  • Undead Child: The girl in the yellow dress in Tony's story.
  • Walking Spoiler: Dr. Cameron. There's a reason why his character is not listed in the film credits.