The Canterville Ghost (1986)

Oscar Wilde's "The Canterville Ghost" is a hilarious novella about an American family who moves into Canterbury Manor, which has long been haunted by the ghost of Sir Simon, a man who killed his wife there. "It was purely a family matter," the ghost explains. When young Virginia tells him it is wicked to kill anyone, the ghost says "oh, how I hate the cheap severity of abstract ethics!"

When Columbia made a made-for-TV version of the story in 1986 (starring Alyssa Milano), they made a very interesting choice: they left out most of the humor in favor of presenting it as a straight-up ghost story that would serve as a regular Halloween special for several years to come. (note: There's some debate as to whether this is the version Disney used to air, or if that was a more rare 1985 version.)

Even without the slapstick from Wilde's original, the special has a lot going for it. Certainly all of the elements of a good haunted house story are here - there's a spooky old castle in some part of the English countryside where the skies always seem gray the fog is always rolling in. There are servants who tend to vanish into the thin air, and a blood stain on the ground that never seems to go away. It's a terrific setup for a haunted house story, even if it WAS meant as a parody of them originally. Disney's version isn't without its humor, but it dispenses with the parody altogether and plays it straight.

It's very interesting to see Columbia trying to be scary instead of going for funny, even when being funny would have probably served the story better AND been more faithful to the original. In Wilde's story, the blood stain keeps re-appearing because the ghost is borrowing paint from Virginia to replace it. "It is a very difficult thing to get real blood nowadays," he explains.

As in the story, the family's daughter, (Virginia in the story, renamed Jenny here), tries to make friends with the ghosts. She isn't really warming to her new stepmother, and asks the ghost to help scare her away. The ghost does his level best, and halfway through the movie, the family realizes that the ghost is real, not just the result of the servants trying to scare them away. As in the story, they make up their mind to try their best to live with the ghost until Jenny uses her tears to help Sir Simon find the solace of death.
Sir Simon in orb form. Hot damn, an "orb" that isn't just dust!

I suppose that I should really judge the special on its own merits, though, not try to compare it to the original. As such, it has a lot going for it, but gets a bit dull sometimes and, at nearly two hours, goes on far too long.

But if you loved it and/or were scared of it as a kid, it's not one of those things that you'll rewatch only to be amazed by how easily amused/scared you were back then. Then again, I didn't see it as a kid, but I don't think I would have been able to sit through it, honestly. I would have been scared out of my wits by the scary parts, wouldn't have gotten most of the jokes, and wouldn't have made it through the parts that seem to drag on and on.

I highly recommend reading the hilarious original (it's a quick read) before watching it, just to get some use out of those comparing and contrasting skills you perfected back in English 101. It's on youtube now, of course.


Anonymous said...

just a note; your page link says 1956

imdb lists 11 versions of canterville ghost, theres a particular one ive been looking for for years, based on your pics i think this is it, i had no clue alyssa milano was in it..
which is weird cause my partially photographic memory usually catches those things..

WickedAwesome said...

Yeah, I remember The Disney Channel aired one version on their Halloween line up in the late 80s early 90s with Mr. Boogedy, The Worst Witch and, Witches Night out. It was the 1985 version with Brian Austin Green as the little brother. After years of trying to find it, I finally found this version on accident at my local library...........

And another Halloween special that I noticed hasn't made it to the list yet is The Midnight hour. With the guy from Reading Rainbow

C-Man said...


Disney Halloween Fanatic said...

This article from the Orlando Sentinel in 1988 actually gives information about the version of "The Canterville Ghost" that aired on Disney... and it wasn't the Alyssa Milano one:

Disney Halloween Fanatic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...