Sunday, October 15, 2006

Movies: Have ghost, will travel.

I've spent a fair amount of time wading through the low-budget flicks found on shovelware collections and I've come to believe the there is an inverse relationship between the quality of a film and the number of different titles it has. Perhaps, like human criminals who hide their misdeeds under multiple aliases, these cinema crimes must travel under assumed names. Or, maybe, the filmmakers, facing budget and talent restrictions at every other step of the creative process, indulge themselves in one of the few elements of film production that's free, making up titles, and they compensate for other their work's other weaknesses by over-endowing their creation with names.

Whatever the motivation for name proliferation, the theory holds true of today's flick: Ghost Gunfighter, Last Chance, and High Tomb.

Filmed on cable access grade video tech, this 1980s flick begins in the desert near the California/Mexican boarder. There a knife-wielding corpse dressed in cowboy duds digs itself out of a shallow grave and attacks to backpackers. After overpowering them, the ghost cowboy drags them to a blacksmiths shop where he butchers them with the aforementioned knife.

And then cut to the frat house for the nation's oldest college students. Three men – named Jock, Nerd, and Musician – and there women – Blonde, Black, and Brunette – all decide to take a break from what must be their 17th year of undergrad study and take a road trip down to Mexico. Along the way, a helpful gas station attendant directs to a dirt road short cut that will shave hours off their time. Off course, they get lost, their car craps out, and they find themselves in a ghost populated solely by one creepy old caretaker. After much witty banter and ominous, but not particularly relevant events that would be foreshadowing in some other movie that actually followed foreshadowing up with the things foreshadowed, the men and women stay the night in the town's hotel. There Brunette finds an old-timey sepia toned photograph of a woman who looks just like her. What could it mean?

That night, the creepy caretaker has a run in with the ghost gunfighter who brains the old caretaker with the caretaker's own cane. But, before his death being whacked about the head until dead, the caretaker pleads with the gunfighter, promising that he didn't tell the students anything. The plot sort of thickens.

The next morning our students find the old man dead, but he is no longer the recently murdered caretaker. Instead, the state of his body suggests he's been dead for decades. Furthermore, they find the caretaker was looking at a photo of him and the old-timey analog of Brunette when he was whacked. Suitably freaked out, the students decide that they are going to take off. They make it to their car only to find it has been destroyed. The message "Death To All" is scrawled on the passenger side door. The students attempt to walk back along the dirt road only to find several minutes later that they are, impossibly, back at their care. They don't have long to ponder this bizarre twist as it is at this time the ghost shivs Blonde. Apparently, the ghost need only appear to his victim, so he jabs her right in front of everybody and even hangs around a bit to admire his handiwork. This particular effect, having Blonde's POV shot of all her friends looking down at her panicked, while her attacker just stands there with his knife, invisible to the others, is a nice touch and I would love to see it used in some better-made flick.

No we're in the movie proper. The ghost starts picking off the students one by one, while they desperately look for something to defeat him. Ultimately, in a nice mid-film twist, we find out that the ghost town isn't an abandoned town from the frontier days. It is actually an old film set and the ghost is the angry spirit of an actor who went on a shooting rampage back in the 1930s. This is a clever little trick and works well, though it isn't enough to save the movie.

In fact, despite the general crappiness of the overall film, numerous individual elements work better than they should. The whole thing strikes one as the work of uneven talents, occasionally possessed of the occasional great idea, but either unwilling or unable to execute to better effect. Though I can't find anything else the director did, the actors (surprisingly) have stayed extremely busy. Jock has appeared in several horror sequels, from Stepfather II and Texas Chainsaw Massacre III to two different Puppet Master flicks. The producer and actor Musician, another veteran of the Puppet Master series, was also in the MST3K favored flick Soultaker (the poster for which can be seen on the wall of his dorm room around minute 3 of this flick). Brunette, a third refugee from the Puppet Master series, was actually in a film with Dennis Hopper and Tom Sizemore (the dog Ticker where Brunette somehow played the commander of a SWAT team).

All and all, while not a complete dud, I would rustle up your horror kicks elsewhere. Using my trusty "Unsigned Primary State Highways of Virginia" movie rating system (patent pending) I rate Ghost Gunfighter, under all its names, a Route 785.


cattleworks said...

First, HIGH TOMB is a TERRIBLE pun!
Second, this isn't the first time you've used the term shovelware and i have no real idea what you're referring to, although some vague notions are filling my head, but unconfidently. Is this an actual term, or even an actual slang term, or is this something you've personally coined? Either way, please: Lucy, 'splain!

On another note... I forget where this came up between us, but being the impressionable lug I am, I bought myself the Showcase edition of JONAH HEX comics.
I've been reading through the stories very slowly, so curiously, I haven't even gotten to the Michael Fleisher stories which I've heard so much about.
It's pretty entertaining, but most of all I'm impressed with Tony DeZuniga's artwork! He's great!
After I read some more, I'll have to do a post on my comics blog... someday.

CRwM said...

Glad you're enjoying the Hex comics. I think a character like Hex, with that nasty face of his and his grungy, filthy settings, must have been a treat for the artist. Where else in the DC universe would somebody get to draw that much grime and squalor? Even Gotham, until recently, was the world cleanest, tidiest failed city.

Shovelware is a term I swiped from computer programming lingo. It refers to any product that sells itself on quantity rather than quality, usually a CD containing a crap-load of old, but still used programs. The term seemed like a perfect description for those "at a cost of $0.75 a movie, you can't afford not to by this set" style movie boxes.