Professor David Ash is invited to Edbrook to calm the fears of the elderly nanny of the Mariell family. Nanny Tess is seeing things, and Ash's book debunking such phenomenon makes him a good choice to set her mind at ease and convince her she is just tired and stressed. But soon after arriving David too begins to doubt his senses.
This adaptation of an uncharacteristically subdued novel (originally an unfilmed BBC pilot script) from paperback nasty man James Herbert explores the classic ghost story as a sceptic probes apparent supernatural phenomena in an old dark house and becomes a believer.
David Ash (Quinn), who debunks spooks at Camberley University, has spent his life claiming ghosts dont exist, motivated by guilt over the death of his sister in a childhood accident. He is invited to Edbrook Hall by a dotty nanny (Anna Massey) alleging she is being pestered by poltergeists, but is greeted by the alluring Christina (Beckinsale) and her slightly creepy brothers (Andrews, Simon Lowe), who poo-pooh the whole thing. Though he assumes the nocturnal raps and mysterious firebursts are practical jokes, Ash starts glimpsing his dead sister lurking ominously as scarier spirits close in.
Herberts rather old-fashioned novel benefits from the filmmakers decision to set the story in the 1920s rather than the present day, and there are nicely-drawn performances all round, from the harried Quinn through to fondly familiar bit players like John Gielgud and Liz Smith. Sadly, though, as plot points are lifted from Dont Look Now and The Haunting, the whole thing devolves into a rerun of one of the oldest ghost stories around.
The ending, which depends on large-scale spectral activity, is an effective reversal but somehow goes beyond belief, forcing you to ask questions that bring down the fragile structure of the plot along with the much-burned Edbrook House. Still, old-hand Gilbert makes you jump at least three times between the conventional bits.
Very plain horror thriller