ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Ghost Town (1988) Blu Ray (88 Films)
When Kate (Catherine Hickland) goes for a drive in her red Mercedes convertible across the desert she is forced to take an off-road detour when a fallen telegraph pole blocks her route. Big mistake: a mysterious sandstorm rears up suddenly ahead of her and she gets pulled into it. Meanwhile, Deputy Langley (Frank Luz) is taking part in some target practice with some petrol cans when he is contacted by Sheriff Bubba (Michael Alldredge) about her disappearance.
When Langley goes to investigate the area around her abandoned car he comes across a gravestone. After he brushes away the sand to read the inscription the corpse residing underneath comes to life, bursting out of the ground to tell him to defeat an unnamed evil. When the corpse collapses in a pile of bones, the terrified officer manages to grab a badge from his lapel. It is a Sheriff’s badge. When Langley walks further on he stumbles across a decaying ghost town from the times of the Old West. After some wandering around, he is startled by some more apparitions of corpses and the town’s inhabitants from days’ past. He soon discovers that these spirits are trapped here with an undead outlaw named Devlin (Jimmie F. Skaggs) who is also holding Kate hostage due to her resemblance to a singer named Rose whom he was in love with.
Watch a trailer:
I will shamelessly admit to enjoying a lot of Charles Band’s 80s Empire productions. While they tend to have their share of shortcomings they often try hard, and imaginatively, to transcend their minuscule budgets. Horror/western Ghost Town, while not one of the best, is a case in point.
The story is pretty weak and the internal logic is shaky at best. Why, for instance, do these trapped spirits initially present themselves to Langley via a series of jump scares, and then later interact with him fully and physically as if he’s been transported back to the past? Why does Devlin have a zombie-like decaying face when nobody else does? Later on, somebody reveals how Langley can kill the undead outlaws via a specific method (which I won’t reveal as it’s a spoiler). However, there is no logical explanation as to why the character revealing this information would know it in the first place, or why this method would work where others fail. I think it’s best following the old adage “just go with it” when watching this one. When considering these issues it’s worth noting that, firstly, original screenwriter David Schmoeller’s work was hastily rewritten by Duke Sandefur. Secondly, Empire Pictures was financially on its last legs at this time, meaning that the shooting budget was slashed and the film was rushed to release in a work print version rather than the intended final product. Both of these factors undoubtedly contributed to the choppy and illogical feel of this production. (It has also been rumoured that McCarthy was replaced as director by cinematographer Mac Ahlberg partway through shooting, although this is something that the former denies ever having occurred).
The film’s other shortcomings include the acting; it’s rather poor with the notable exception of Bruce Glover (he played Mr. Wint, one of a duo of gay hitmen in the Bond film Diamonds Are Forever) who is memorably creepy as a blind card dealer. The synth score also tends to feel inappropriate to the onscreen action; it was pieced together with snippets of soundtracks from earlier Band productions, another result of the film being rushed through post-production to release.
The weaknesses are especially annoying as director Richard McCarthy (credited as Richard Governor) has managed to imbue some style and atmosphere into the production. I loved the opening sequence with its repeated foreshadowing shots of a butterfly trapped in a spider’s web, its eight-legged captor coming in closer each time. The POV shot from a man crucified on a spinning windmill and the hazy dawn scenes involving the undead gunslingers standing off in the dusty old town are also pretty memorable. There’s a fair amount of gore, much of it of the slo-mo bloody squib variety during shootouts.
It’s a flawed picture, but of some interest to cult horror fans.
Runtime: 85 mins
Dir: Richard McCarthy
Script: Duke Sandefur, David Schmoeller
Starring: Frank Luz, Catherine Hickland, Jimmie F. Skaggs, Penelope Windust, Bruce Glover, Zitto Kazann, Blake Conway, Laura Schaefer, Michael Alldredge
As usual with 88 Films there are some artefacts and grain. The colours range from OK (if a little flat) to pleasingly vivid.
The stereo soundtrack isn’t bad but doesn’t really jump out. Some of the dialogue lacks clarity.
Extras are limited to a trailer, stills, a reversible sleeve and an enclosed leaflet with two essays:
The Curious Tale of Ghost Town
Using snippets of interviews with various Empire personnel, zombiehamster.com journalists Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain discuss Ghost Town’s troubled production. They openly admit the film’s faults while praising the contribution of director Richard McCarthy and cinematographer Mac Ahlberg. There’s also a quick run-through of Swedish-born director/cinematographer Ahlberg’s career.
Giving Up the Ghost
Australian director Richard McCarthy talks about his career and his experience filming Ghost Town. To cut a long story short, it left him pretty disillusioned. He dubs Charles Band as “despotic”.
It would have been good to have some more extras on the Blu Ray itself, but even so these two printed essays are unusually and refreshingly honest in an industry where the policy all too often seems to be “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
If you enjoy cheap 1980s niche horror/fantasy efforts (and, in particular, have fond memories of renting Empire Pictures movies from the video store) then Ghost Town is worth a look. Otherwise, it’s too flawed to wholeheartedly recommend.