Ghost Images

Cinema of the Afterlife


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About the Book

The possibility of life after death is a significant theme in cinema, in which ghosts return to the world of the living to wrap up unfinished business, console their survivors, visit lovers or just enjoy a well-wreaked scaring. This work focuses on film depictions of survival after death, from meetings with the ghost of Elvis to AIDS–related ghosts: apparitions, hauntings, mediumship, representations of heaven, angels, near-death experiences, possession, poltergeists and all the other ways in which the living interact with the dead on screen. The work opens with a historical perspective, which outlines the development of pre-cinematic technology for “projecting” phantoms, and discusses the use of these skills in early ghost cinema. English-language sound films are then examined thematically with topics ranging from the expiation of sins to “hungry” ghosts. Six of the most significant films, Dead of Night, A Matter of Life and Death, The Innocents, The Haunting, The Shining, and Jacob’s Ladder, are given a detailed analysis. A conclusion, filmography, and bibliography follow.

About the Author(s)

Tom Ruffles is a long-time member of the Society for Psychical Research. He teaches communication skills and film studies. He lives in Cambridge.

Bibliographic Details

Tom Ruffles

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 279
Bibliographic Info: photos, notes, filmography, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2004
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2005-6
eISBN: 978-0-7864-8421-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      vii
Introduction      1

1. Visual Precursors to Cinematic Ghosts      11

2. Silent Ghosts      34

3. A Thematic Approach to Cinematic Ghosts      55
Anatomy of Film Ghosts      55
Representations of Ghosts      61
Interactions with Matter      67
Psychokinesis Versus Ghosts      70
Ghosts of Those Who Cannot Rest      70
The Expiation of Sins      75
Consolation for the Living      77
Ghosts Who Dispense Sage Advice      78
Ghosts Who Return Because of Unfinished Business      82
Ghosts of and for Children      87
Ghost Lovers      89
Ghost Lovers Who Return to Break the Bond      93
AIDS-Related Ghosts      94
“Hungry Ghosts”      95
Ghosts Who Use the Living to Play Out a Drama from Their Own Lives      96
Possession      97
Meetings with the Ghost of Elvis      101
The Ghost in the Machine      101
Continuation Without Awareness of Death      103
The Haunted House      104
Ghosts of the Living      110
Ghosts That Appear to Be Phony but Are Real      111
The Parapsychologist      112
Mediumship      117
Near-Death Experiences      124
The Figure of Death      131
Depictions of Heaven and Purgatory      133
Angels      136
Summary      141

4. Ghost Films: Selected Case Studies      142
Dead of Night (1945)      142
A Matter of Life and Death (1946)      151
The Innocents (1961)      159
The Haunting (1963)      168
The Shining (1980)      180
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)      191

5. Conclusion      199

Filmography      207
Chapter Notes      217
Bibliography      241
Index      257

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “intriguing”—C&RL News
  • “welcome addition…fills an important need in the general library of fantasy film…strongly recommended”—Scarlet