Authors like Peter Straub can take an essentially familiar spook story and make it work as a novel because of the solitary hold on the reader and ample time to embroider the details. But it’s a real challenge to put the novel on screen where hundreds can share the flaws.
Helped by solid casting, writer and director make a valiant effort but come up with isolated and excellent moments separated by artful but ordinary stretches.
Even without reading Straub’s novel, it’s easy to guess early on that Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr and John Houseman share a dark secret that has prompted the appearance of Alice Krige in both bodily (sometimes very bodily) and ethereal forms. And whatever that secret is, they’re going to pay for it.
Unfortunately, it then spins backward to an extremely long re-enactment of the events of long ago. By the time it gets back to the present to deal with the haunting menace, the mood is all wrong and the story riddled with questions that aren’t answered.