It started long ago, the idea that ghosts would appear wearing a white sheet. The exact time and reason for this image is a bit of mystery. In Shakespearean times, such as in the play Hamlet, his father's ghost appeared in an antique suit of armor. As stage special effects advanced and the ghosts began to float the suit became too clunky. They needed the residual image for the ghost to be easy flowing and easily recognizable to the audience.
It is believed that the white sheet represents the traditional burial shroud. People believed that the dead would rise shortly after burial, so they needed free flowing clothes. A similar practice remains today as people are buried with dressy clothes on. The sheet could also correlate to mummification as the use of gauze is wrapped around the bodies of the deceased.
In film, special effects have progressed further into the ghosts that are slow moving with quick, jerky, twitches, that are quite frightening. When you look at the cover art for the film An American Ghost Story it seems a bit cliché to have the ghost wearing a white sheet. However, when you watch the film, you will see that it is played very well and takes you back to the classic ideas of haunting in horror films.
Although it does not reach the same caliber, this mirrors the classic use of scary music and suspense build up as used classic films, such as the original, The Haunting. The premise to the film seems unoriginal as it is about a man, Paul Anderson (Stephen Twardokus), who is desperate to write a story about a haunted house and decides to move into the house. He wants to uncover the secrets of the house such as the family murdered there and seemingly unstable previous tenant. The ghost/s in the film are slowing introduced as you see the owner of the haunted property starring down the hall and the camera does not show us what is making him uneasy. He warns Paul that some stories are better untold or some secrets should stay buried.
As the story moves forward we learn more about the ghost story. As the cover shows, the ghosts eventually show themselves in the sheets. It is presented in a way that is subtlety frightening at first, then more aggressively as the ghost gets stronger. The film brings back the classic ghostly image in way that competes with modern specters and even answers the question of what is under the sheet. This old fashioned, spooky, film is definitely an underrated film that is worth watching.
Where to find locally: Video 1 and streaming on Netflix