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'The Canterville Ghost' Review: Still Holds up

31 Days of Halloween

‘The Canterville Ghost’ Review: Still Holds up

A perfectly fun film for the family to enjoy this Halloween season. 

Welcome to today’s installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be talking to creators working in horror and share and recommend various pieces of underappreciated scary media-books, comics, movies, and television-to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.

As a kid I used to watch The Canterville Ghost tv movie on repeat. It was recorded off the television and one of the few VHS tapes we owned at the time. I watched it so many times that the tape destroyed itself from the numerous viewings. Recently I found myself wondering if I would still find it spooky? Would I still find it funny? Would I still admire Alyssa Milano’s fashion? The answer is yes to all the questions. It’s been thirty-three years since the 80’s adaptation made its television debut, but it’s still a perfectly fun film for the family to enjoy this Halloween season. 

Based on the story by Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost is about an American family that moves to England. Ted Wass plays Harry Canterville, a man who travels to the Canterville castle to claim his birthright. He also brings his new wife Lucy, played by Andrea Marcovicci, and daughter Jennifer, played by Alyssa Milano. However, as it happens in ghost stories, they are not welcome guests. The castle is haunted by Sir Simon de Canterville, played by John Gielgud, who is pretty open with his feelings regarding the newcomers. 

'The Canterville Ghost' Review: Still Holds up

Sir Simon has many talents. He can change his appearance at will to frighten any guests. He can perform magic acts, transforming tea into tarantulas, and he can make whole beds leave the castle and land in moats. Despite the humor, the film also deals with a very tragic backstory for Sir Simon.  He died a gruesome death when he was accused of murdering his wife. Upon her death, she cursed him to a life of endless unhappiness. Even though Sir Simon hates newcomers and is an angry ghost, he befriends Jennifer. He and Jennifer forge a tender friendship where he understands her. Sir Simon listens to Jennifer and looks out for her in a kindly grandfatherly manner. This creates love between the two characters and she becomes set on freeing his soul. 

The film was filmed in England and there are plenty of beautiful scenery surrounding the castle grounds. While not too many shots of the countryside are used, Paul Bogart’s film seems to rely on the spectacle of the supernatural. There is a particularly eerie scene where Jennifer and Sir Simon visit the Garden of the Dead. The garden is created in mist and shadows and the Angel of Death appears through slats of lights and speaks in howling winds. This effect was pretty creepy as a kid and it’s still pretty cool now. 

'The Canterville Ghost' Review: Still Holds up

There are some very spooky scenes and themes. One of the themes that comes up is sacrifice. This is shown in the relationship between Harry Canterville and his family, but most creepily when Jennifer faces potentially fatal danger as she risks her own life to save Sir Simon’s soul. The story also deals with Sir Simon’s grief of losing his wife. There is a heartbreaking scene where a parapsychologist summons up the deceased Lady Eleanor. That scene was particularly haunting as a child, but the sadness of it is what makes it memorable. 

While special effects have come a long way, the story and characters pull this film into the 21st century. It is still fun and heart-warming. The Canterville Ghost is a story of friendships and loss that people of all ages can enjoy.

The Canterville Ghost (1986)
Is it good?
Fun family film about a vengeful, but not so scary ghost. Perfect for the Halloween season.
Funny and light-hearted while still conveying serious messages
Strong performances, especially by Lila Kaye who plays the housekeeper
Not scary, but delivers some truly eerie moments.
A plot point about finances is introduced and then quickly resolved without any real solution
The effects are clearly products of their time

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