Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Movie: A Ghost Story

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. To celebrate the upcoming Scary Day of Halloween, there’s no better way than seeing a scary movie. This week’s Spotlight Movie is “Ghost Story” (1981). This one is not for the kids and please do not see it alone:

Seems all the ghosts have been run out of Dodge these days what with all the zombie movies and tv shows. It’s enough to make a person want to die and haunt a house just to bring the spectres back. Course there were the “Poltergeist” and “Ghostbusters” remakes. But those don’t count. They are remakes.

No. What we need is a real live ghost movie to make us shiver in our booties. But don’t worry. Uncle Bardie is up to the job. He has found a ghost story and it’s a good’un. It’s adapted from a novel by Stephen King’s bud, Peter Straub. And, of course, it’s appropriately named “Ghost Story” (1979).

Did you do something long ago that you deeply regret? Was it a terrible terrible something? Well, four old men in small town of Milburn, New York (Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) have a secret of Something from their young-men days they deeply regret. A dark Something.

To assuage their guilt, they meet once a week and swap stories. They call themselves the Chowder Society. Then one of the men die. And the three left alive start having dreams. Bad dreams. Really bad dreams. In fact, they are nightmares.

Hamlet: If walls could talk

When clouds appear, wise men put on their cloaks;
When great leaves fall, the winter is at hand;
When the sun sets, who doth not look for night?
(Richard III, 2.3)

Now here’s where things get greasy. The ghost don’t talk. He is the strong silent type. His little finger motions Hamlet to follow him. Just like Daddy did when he was alive.

“Don’t go, Hamlet,” Horatio pleads, afraid that Hamlet will try to fly or something foolish. But Hamlet is stubborn. He’s got to find out what the big guy is up to.

Next thing the Hamster knows he is up on the roof alone and cornered. Ghostee is out for revenge. And not just any revenge. He wants big time revenge. Big Daddy Hamlet isn’t about to take his croaking lying down. No, sirree. Hamlet’s old man is not going to give Hamlet a Get-out-of-jail-free card.

Seems his Cain of a brother, Claudius, poisoned him. Didn’t even give him time to say his goodbyes one last time to the woman of his dreams, Gertrude. On top of that, he’s roaming around purgatory, trying to cleanse himself of all the blood and guts he spilled. He had a lot to confess. Daddy Hamlet was the original Terminator. He was out to terminate Norway because Norway wanted to terminate him. Now he’s roaming around purgatory. All ‘cause Claudius didn’t give him a deathbed confession.

Hamlet had never been close to his dad. Now here is the Great Santini asking Junior to do in Uncle Claudius for croaking him. Claudius is going to pay, and he is going to pay Big Time. And Hamlet is the Chosen One. Big Daddy is insisting he do the deed. And leave his mother to the fates. They will take care of her.

Well, the ghost has gone and done it. He really has gone and done it. Sure, Hamlet knew there was something rotten in Denmark. There’d always been something rotten in Denmark. The good news was that Denmark wasn’t Sweden. The bad news was that Denmark was Denmark.

Hamlet isn’t sure revenge is a good idea. What is the big deal about croaking the king? Why does it need some revenge. Why can’t everybody just get along.

Everybody did their kings in. Even the Romans. Just look at the Neros. All that fiddling around and nobody had a taste for revenge when they were assassinated. If there was anybody who croaked a ruler and got away with it, it was the Romans.

These days there’s no more croaking the king or the queen. It just isn’t done. You have to wait for Mommy to die, and she never dies. Just look at Prince Charles and Edward VII. Queen Victoria hung around till she couldn’t hung around no more.

Hamlet Has His Doubts.

We’ve all got a bit of Hamlet in us. Hamlet reveals doubts we all have. Did I make the right decision? What if I do this thing? What if I don’t marry her? Do we have enough money to buy this house? Should we try that new treatment? Is this the right school for Junior? What if he don’t ask me out?  Should I spend all that money for this school? On and on these questions go. If they’d just go away, we’d be happy. Right?

So here’s Hamlet. He’s seen the damn Ghost. The Ghost says that he’s his daddy. He sure looks like Daddy. With all that armor and all. But what if he isn’t Daddy? What if he’s the devil? Old Scratch? Lucifer? Satan? Didn’t Satan tempt Jesus? Not just once but three times? What if Hamlet’s hallucinatin’? Wouldn’t be the first time some kid has got a bad batch of mushrooms, now would it? What if it was Polonius, and not Claudius, that did Daddy in? Daddy didn’t like Polonius.

What if Hamlet refused to follow the Ghost’s command for revenge? It’s a ghost of an idea, but it’s an idea. Even though the ghost says he’s Daddy, even though the ghost sounds like Daddy, even though the ghost smells like Daddy with his Early Viking cologne, Hamlet can’t be sure. What ghost in its right mind would walk around, asking somebody to kill someone? That went against the Thou-shalt-not-kill Commandment. That would get the ghost in even deeper in purgatory.

Besides this ghost says he’s Hamlet’s daddy and he’s in purgatory, not hell, for his sins. How can that be? Everybody knows purgatory doesn’t exist. Martin Luther says so. John Calvin says so. John Knox says so. It’s not in the scriptures, they all preach. Purgatory is a pigment of the Pope’s imagination. Any good Protestant knows it’s a Catholic thing. And if Hamlet is anything, he is a good Protestant. So he has his doubts.

This is a Revenge Tragedy, and don’t you forget it.

Hamlet is a dead man from Act One on. From the time he sees the Ghost of a Daddy, demanding revenge. For the avenger must die. It is written. It is the tradition of all the revenge tragedies before and Hamlet knows this. He is well-schooled in dramaturgy.

If only Hamlet ignores Big Daddy and elopes with Ophelia to sunny Italy, maybe love can save Hamlet’s hide and he will get to ride the happily-ever-after Disney ride.

‘Course love didn’t save Romeo. It’s hard to escape your fate. But you can try. It’s a lot for Hamlet to think about. And one thing is for sure. Hamlet is good at thinking. It may be the only thing he is good at.

Lazarus returns from the dead.

So now it’s dawn and Hamlet returns from his Agony on the Roof to find Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo snoring. He wakes them up.

“Listen, dudes,” he says. “Nothing happened last night.”

“Nothing?”

“Nada,” Hamlet lets them know. “On top of that, I need you guys to pretend I am mad. Can you do that?”

“But, Lord,” Horatio says.

“No buts.”

“You’re the sanest man I know,” Horatio throws at him.

“Not anymore. Now, swear.”

Barnardo, Marcellus and Horatio swear. Hamlet leaves the stage.

“Why won’t the Hamster tell us what happened?” Horatio asks the air.

“He doesn’t trust us,” Marcellus points out.

“Don’t that beat all,” Barnardo says.

They are feeling like that fifteen-year-old kid who isn’t chosen for the baseball game.

“Hamlet” and One More Thing

Foul deeds will rise, though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes. Hamlet 1. 2.

Act 1. Scene 1 (Continued). Let us not call Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo cowards. All three were brave veterans of Daddy Hamlet’s wars against Norway. They had seen some bad ass stuff that would scare most mortal men. War is like that.

If you had seen the Thing they saw that night, you would have been terrified. The Thing was no run-of-the-mill ghost. It was a different matter. It was supernatural. It might even have been the Devil. The Big D himself. There’d been stories of Lucifer showing up like a wedding crasher, coming around as a familiar just to raise a ruckus.

Needless to say, the three were scared. Shaking-in-their-boots scared and glad the Thing was gone and hoping it wouldn’t come back though they pretty well guessed it would. At least, not on a night like this. Let It pick a night when the moon and the stars were out and the sky wasn’t covered in darkness.

Horatio couldn’t believe his eyes. He couldn’t believe his ears. In all his twenty-two years on Planet Earth, Horatio had never ever seen anything like Thing.

He was the first to speak. “Did you see what I saw? Did you hear what I heard?”

Marcellus wondered, “It sure looked like Hamlet’s dad.” Hamlet is the dead king’s only son and heir to the throne once the new king, his uncle Claudius, is dead.

“Or at least it wore the old king’s armor,” Horatio said.

“Maybe he stole the armor,” Barnabas said.

“Not a chance,” Horatio said. “Ain’t no way that the old king would let go of that armor. I remember that armor from my squiring days with the king. Not all the hounds in all the hells of the nine circles of hell could get that armor away from him.”

Marcellus rubbed his hands to keep warm. “I really can’t blame the Thing for wearing the armor. Otherwise he’d be out there in his altogethers freezing his ass off.”

“I’m not sure what this means,” Horatio said, his teeth chattering from the ice cold coming off the sea, “but it sure feels like it’s a bad, bad thing. Could it be that it wasn’t a Thing but an omen?”

“Omen?” Marcellus and Barnabas asked.

Horatio continued, “Yes, an omen of terrible, terrible things ’bout to be. Just like the omens Shakespeare put in his play, ‘Julius Caesar’ ‘fore J. C. got the dagger.”

“We got a war a-coming” Marcellus said. “There’s ships getting built. Cannon readied. Soldiers training.”

Horatio agreed. “Norway has been cruising for a bruisin’ since the king’s death. He’s testing the new king’s resolve.”

Since the young Fortinbras is the head dude in Norway, the characters often refer to him as Norway. Folks did that in the olden days.

“He’s really smelling up the situation,” Barnardo said. Fortinbras means “strong underarms” so it was very appropriate for Marcellus to say this. In those days, a bath wasn’t needed to be a strong leader. His feet probably stank too. Fortinbras’ smell wasn’t nothing. Folks in Scotland could smell Macbeth miles away.

“His daddy got clobbered,” Horatio went on. “Now he’s coming back for more. He’s gonna get it too. We’re going to whop up on him good this time.”

“Just like Norway,” Marcellus said. “Those Norwegians are so Norwegian.”

They had relaxed, thinking it was safe to hang out. The Thing made a reappearance. Not willing to settle for one shakedown, Thing came back for the Big Boo.

This time Horatio wasn’t sitting still. He yelled out at the Big Boo-sky, “What you want?”

Boo was not talking. Maybe It couldn’t and maybe It could. It wasn’t.

“C’mon guy. Has the cat got your tongue?” Horatio shouted out.

Horatio was thinking. Here we go again. Just like college when nobody would talk to me. This Thing shutting me out. Not a word. All cause I am not aristocracy. Only Ham would speak to me.

The rooster did his cock-a-doodle-doo. Then The Thing was gone. The apparition had left the room. It slipped out into the fog and the sea. The night too slipped out to sea and the sun was pretty near up in the east.

Barnabas was the first to speak. “Did you guys notice how wet the Ghost was? It could have easily passed for Swamp Thing with a helmet and armor.”

“One thing is for sure,” Marcellus said. “We have a war coming. I saw it in the Thing’s eyes.”

Horatio pointed toward the sun, arising over the horizon and painting the sky red. “Look. The red glow of morning. Our watch is now over. Let’s go to young Hamlet. Perhaps the Thing will speak to him.”

Marcellus and Barnardo shook their heads in agreement. And off to find Hamlet, Prince of the City, they went. They were glad to be rid of the Thing.

But the shiver from The Thing, the moan lingered in the three men’s bones. So much so that, on dark, cold nights, their bodies would remind them. The shutter would course through their veins like a river.

So where does this leave us? This Opening Scene is a summary of the whole play. From the first words of “Who’s there” until the final “it’s up to Hamlet”. Hamlet, and only Hamlet.