Directed by: Jerry Zucker. Starring: Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg. Runtime: 2h 7 min. Released: July 13, 1990.
30 years later, Ghost still has some charm. Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) is a successful banker living with artist Molly Jensen (Demi Moore). On the walk home from the theatre one night, they’re mugged and Sam gets killed in the tussle.
They walk down what looks to be the sketchiest, emptiest street in all of New York City, and the way it plays out, it could double as a Batman origins story. Instead, Sam’s a spirit caught in limbo since he has to warn Molly from danger as the mugger, Willie (Rick Aviles), is after her.
There are other villains here, too, but to discuss them would be a spoiler even after 30 years. I’m always that jerk who goes, “No, no, no, spoilers!” when someone talks about a film I haven’t seen, so I won’t spoil it. I’ll just say the character’s cliché in motivation. The film reveals the mastermind behind the murder at the one-hour mark, which is smart because the character’s involvement in Sam’s death is predictable 20 minutes in.
The film’s overtly cheesy in parts, especially when Sam the ghost punches at people and it obviously won’t do anything. The writing is also clever in how he’s able to interact with the living, notably when he scares a cat so an intruder flees.
Some of the visuals don’t look amazing nowadays, like when Sam tries to pass through objects, but the visuals are passable for a film made in 1990. There’s one creepy visual that’s a standout and those are the shadow figures that come to take away the spirits that are going to Hell. It’s cheesy in a way but the moans – which are baby cries slowed down and played backwards – are nightmare fuel. If I were a kid and I saw this movie, those cries would stick with me for awhile.
I wasn’t expecting a movie like Ghost to legitimately be creepy in parts, given that it’s that one pottery movie, but it has some creepy moments and delivers on most of its thrills. Some of the scares come from Maurice Jarre’s score, as well.
Bruce Joel Rubin’s screenplay is schmaltzy and predictable, but it’s solid. It’s a competent murder mystery, even though Sam just stumbles into solving his own murder very quickly. I like the way Rubin deals with other ghosts, though.
Sam learns how to use his power from a Subway Ghost (Vincent Schiavelli) so he can interact with the real world. The first appearance of the Subway Ghost is one of the creepiest moments of the film when Schiavelli charges at the screen. It’s an intriguing scene, though I would like to know more about this Subway Ghost. For instance, does he eat fresh? (I’ll show myself out.) Sam does start to have more fun when he learns to control his power, though, as there’s humour and horror in his haunting of Carl (Tony Goldwyn) and others.
As for the romance, Swayze and Moore are solid. Their chemistry is strong and the pottery scene to The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” is still sexy and iconic. The romance is felt throughout, even if it’s underwhelming when they’re both alive – besides that pottery scene.
Swayze is great in this role and Demi Moore is good. Demi’s a great crier and portrays the grief well, but I don’t think she has a lot to do. She has some great dramatic moments but gets the most to do at the beginning and at the end.
Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg are the best parts about this film. In her Oscar-winning performance, Goldberg plays Oda Mae Brown, a psychic who communicates with the dead. It’s all a parlor trick, but when Sam walks in, she can hear him and that’s how they warn Molly.
In these scenes, the romance is still felt because Sam’s love is in the room with Molly. These scenes are where Moore shines. They convince Molly in intriguing ways to make her believe it’s really Sam in the room, and the scene where the penny goes up the door is one of the film’s coolest moments. Within the romance, the whole “ditto” bit is built smartly throughout and makes for tear-jerking moments.
Sam and Oda Mae have an amazing dynamic, as well. She talks to the air and he follows her, it’s hilarious and their scenes work well. Whenever Whoopi’s on-screen, the film’s magical and brilliant. The film’s underwhelming without her and frankly boring at times. She’s brought back in the third act, though, and it’s all fine again. The film balances romance, creepiness and thrills well, even if it does tend to get melodramatic. I think Ghost works despite all this because of its 1990’s charm. It also works because of Whoopi Goldberg, and she’s the reason this won me over.