Ghost Story (1981)

In a small New England town during the frigid winter season of 1979, four elderly friends—businessman Ricky Hawthorne, lawyer Sears James, Dr. John Jaffrey, and Mayor Edward Charles Wanderley—form the Chowder Society, an informal men’s club who get together each week to share tales of horror. Edward’s son David, living in New York City, falls from his apartment window after seeing a girl he’s been sleeping with suddenly turn into a living corpse. His other son, Don, comes home at Edward’s request. Some time after David’s funeral, Edward sees him walking through town during a snowstorm and follows him to a bridge, where he disappears. Calling out to his dead son, he suddenly sees a female apparition and he falls to his death from the bridge. Meanwhile, two escaped patients from a mental asylum, Gregory and Fenny Bate, have taken up residence in the old Eva Galli house, now in ruins.

Doubting his father committed suicide, Don approaches the remaining three friends and tells them a “ghost” story to gain membership into the Chowder Society. In a flashback, Don tells the story of how he, a college professor in Florida, began a torrid sexual affair with a mysterious secretary named Alma. The two of them immediately hit it off and before long they were engaged. Alma insisted she wanted to marry Don in his home town of Milburn, but he was reluctant, as he considered the town boring. Don soon begins to suspect that something was terribly wrong with Alma, a gut feeling that was vindicated one night when he touched her and realized she was as cold as a corpse. Don eventually broke things off with Alma, and Alma, furious, disappeared from his life. He falls into a depression, which ends up costing him both his reputation and his job. A month later, he called his brother in New York and learned to his horror that Alma had begun dating David not long after he broke off their engagement, and that now he’s going to marry her. Don desperately tries to warn his brother to keep away from Alma, declaring her dangerous. However, his brother scoffs at the warning and hangs up. Not long after, David is killed and Don suspected her of being involved in his death. The elderly friends react to Don’s story. Sears remains very skeptical. Don then shows the three elders an old photograph from the 1920s he’d found among his father’s possessions. In it there is a striking young woman who is a dead ringer for Alma. Jaffrey, realizing what has happened, pleads with his friends to tell the truth, but is rebuffed.

The next day, Jaffrey has a nightmare about Alma and dies of a heart attack. Finally, Sears and Ricky explain to Don that, in the spring of 1929, the four friends became smitten with a young flirtatious girl of mysterious origins named Eva Galli. Edward first took her to bed, but he was impotent with her. Outside her house, the other three friends serenade Eva in hopes of catching a glimpse of her when a shirtless Edward comes to the window instead, giving the impression that he’s slept with her. Edward leaves with his friends, and the four become very drunk, discussing Eva’s prowess in the bedroom. They return to her house, where all but Sears dances with her. When it is proposed that they leave, Sears suggestively insists on getting his dance, to which she pointedly responds that she intends to dance with all of them. She confronts Edward about what he had told his friends, then begins to tell them the truth when young Edward leaps to silence her, knocking her down, accidentally smashing her head into the stone fireplace. Horrified, the young men believe that the unresponsive Eva is dead. They consider calling the police, but realize it would only mean wrecking their lives. Instead, they load her body into her car, then push it into the nearby lake. As the car descends, Eva stirs inside, looking out at them from the back window, screaming and hammering at the glass as the car sinks beneath the surface, taking her with it.

Back in the present, Ricky and Sears reveal that the Chowder Society never talked about it again, not even with each other. Due to Eva’s reputation, the townsfolk were relieved when she’d gone missing and assumed that she’d simply skipped town. However, they admit that her death has haunted them all these years. Whereas Sears is dubious, both Ricky and Don believe that Alma and Eva are the same woman and that her ghost has returned to seek revenge.

Don suggests they go to Eva’s old house, now in ruins, to confront the past and her ghost once and for all. They go there, but Don falls on the rotting stairs and breaks his leg. Sears leaves in his car to seek help, leaving Don and Ricky behind. While driving through the snowstorm, Sears comes upon Eva’s apparition. He slams on the brakes, and swerves to the side of the road. He survives, but is attacked and killed by Fenny Bate, one of Eva’s accomplices.

Ricky believes something’s happened to Sears and leaves to get help. He’s picked up by Gregory Bate, who tells him of Eva’s plans for them both, but Ricky stabs him and escapes to get to the authorities, telling them to pull Eva’s car up from the lake to reveal her body inside. This is intercut with Don, who confronts the rotting specter of Alma/Eva. Ricky and the authorities drag out the ancient car and wrench open the rusted, corroded door. The rotting corpse of Eva lunges into view and falls harmlessly to the ground. Now that the truth about Eva is known, Don is spared from her vengeance, and the town is restored to peace.