Released by: Code Red DVD
Released on: April, 2012.
Director: Jim Makichuck
Cast: Riva Spier, Murray Ord, Sheri McFadden, Georgie Collins
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Directed by Jim Makichuck, who co-wrote with Doug MacLeod, 1981’s Ghostkeeper got a VHS release years back from New World Video but shortly after fell into obscurity. A cult following for the atmospheric Canadian horror film has persisted over the years, however, and Code Red have seen fit to release this underrated and underappreciated little spookfest on DVD where it will hopefully find the audience that it deserves.
The film is set out in the middle of nowhere in Alberta the movie follows Jenny (Riva Spier), her boyfriend Marty (Murray Ord) and their friend Chrissy (Sheri McFadden) as they head out into the winder wonderlands for some snowmobiling. A freak snowstorm creeps up on them before they can make it back home, however, and with nowhere else to go the three make their way to an old abandoned hotel called the Deer Lodge that they are lucky enough to come across. That is, they think it’s an abandoned hotel – the old woman they encounter there (Georgie Collins) would obviously like them to think otherwise, but she begrudgingly allows them to spend the night. Given that all of this happens on New Year’s Eve, the three friends celebrate a little bit before calling it a night. Before Chrissy retires for the night she decides to have a bath, at which point she’s attacked by Danny (Billy Grove), the son of the old woman. Danny drags her to the hotel basement where he murders her by slitting her throat before passing her over to someone or something hidden away in the dark confines of the basement.
While Danny wakes up and finds that his snowmobile has been sabotaged overnight, Jenny goes looking for Chrissy and stumbles upon some newspaper articles that allude to the hotel’s mysterious past. Danny, chainsaw in hand, chases the poor girl out of there before she can figure out what exactly is going on, but he falls on some ice and is killed. At this point, Danny flips out and heads out into the woods to get away from all of this, leaving Jenny alone with the strange old woman…
Shot with a modest budget, Ghostkeeper makes up for what it lacks in effects and flash with a creeping atmosphere and some amazing location photography. Well shot by John Holbrook, the film looks great (especially in widescreen as it is on this DVD – the VHS tape was fullframe and looked off at times) making excellent use of shadow and light, composition and framing to make the already eerie old hotel the perfectly creepy place to stage a film like this one. Performances are decent enough across the board with Georgie Collins stealing the show as the nameless old woman who runs the place. Her work here is convincing and as her life starts to mingle with the other characters, Jenny in particular, she delivers a few fairly intense moments.
The film’s biggest headscratcher, however, is the opening text which tells us that “In the Indian Legends of North America, there exists a creature called Windigo... a ghost who lives on human flesh.” This sets up what you expect will be a movie about the mythical creature of legend which has been spoken about for centuries, a cannibalistic monster of sorts that prowls the wilds of Canada looking for people to eat. We don’t get that with Ghostkeeper – or do we?
The story takes a more metaphysical route, pulling from the spiritual origins of the myth rather than the more popular werewolf or bigfoot style monster stories that have sprung out of it, but it never quite fulfills us by letting us in on whether that man in the basement was in fact a Windigo or whether the Windigo is simply a spirit in the area up to no good or if it even exists at all and this isn’t just a figment of Jenny’s increasingly deteriorating mental condition. Whether this is intentional on the part of the filmmakers or simply a big old hole in the script, well, you can decide that on your own.
Adding to the film’s interest level is a great score by composer Paul Zaza, which makes that already very bleak and desolate location seem even more frightening and which helps to make the film seem a more intense than it really is. For all the good there is to talk about here, there’s no denying that this is a very slow movie padded with long, lingering shots of characters wandering dark hallways. This one moves at a snail’s pace and doesn’t always deliver what you might want out of a picture like this. There’s something fairly hypnotic about all of it, however, a strange and somewhat entrancing element to the visuals and the pace that will pull you in even when not much is actually happening on screen.
Code Red presents Ghostkeeper in a 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer taken from 35mm elements that look to have been in fairly good shape despite the fact that some print damage is present throughout and that some color fading shows up here and there. Overall though, the picture quality looks alright and it’s definitely a very big step up from the VHS tape and subsequent rips from that tape release that have made the rounds with fans of obscure horror films over the years. Scratches and nicks show up throughout and it seems obvious that more restoration and cleanup work could have been done than what’s been done here, but everything is perfectly watchable and given the obscurity of the release and the scarcity of available elements, it’s not likely we’re going to do much better.
The Dolby Digital Mono sound mix, in English, has a bit of background hiss here and there but generally offers clear dialogue with properly balanced levels. The score sounds good and whatever audible defects that do pop up in the track are minor.
Director and co-writer Jim Makichuck is joined by actors Riva Spier and Murray Ord and moderator Jeff McKay for a commentary track that starts off a little slow but quickly picks up the pace. Not so surprisingly, Makichuck has the most to say, going into some good detail about the locations, about the script and where some of the ideas came from as well as the technical side of things. Spier and Ord get their fare share of anecdotes in, however, talking about their characters and their experiences on the film. Makichuck talks about how various outside forces affected the production, about the cult that has developed around the film over the years and more. It’s a good discussion, and long time fans of the film will certainly appreciate this as the history lesson that it is.
Additionally there are interviews included with cinematographer John Holbrook and Georgie Collins. Holbrook’s segment is audio only, so it plays over top of some clips from the movie and some still images and it covers how he prepared for the film, dealing with the low budget, and how he tried to use the darkness of the location to his advantage. Collins is interviewed by co-star Ord, Collins talks about how she’s always liked playing old ladies, what it was like working on this picture, how she was found for the part (she notes no one played as many old ladies as she did!) and more. She discusses how she feels about the film, the differences between film work and stage work and notes that she enjoyed every minute of working on the film. Trailers for a few other Code Red DVD releases are included and the trailer for Family Honor plays before the main menu loads. Chapter selection is also included.
The Final Word:
This is one that fans have been waiting a long time for. The transfer isn’t going to win any awards but it’s definitely a big upgrade from the VHS release, while ht e extras do a good job of filling in the back story on this oddball Canadian horror classic. Ghostkeeper isn’t a movie for all tastes, it’s slow and plodding, but those with an affinity for slow burn atmospheric horror films will definitely want to check this one out – and now they finally can.