“THE GHOSTKEEPERS” (Movie Review)
Last year, writer-director Anthony D.P. Mann released TERROR OF DRACULA, a painstakingly respectful enactment of Bram Stoker’s often-bowdlerized and bastardized 1897 novel. TERROR perfectly captured the restrained pacing and hazy photography of a BBC production from decades past, and the result felt like something that might have aired stateside on public television around Halloween—a powerful fount of nostalgia for some, this reviewer included. With follow-up THE GHOSTKEEPERS set for release this year, Mann’s challenge was to try and carve out a similar impression, only now with his own original material and in a modern setting.
GHOSTKEEPERS set-up has a teenage horror podcaster, his intrepid sound engineer, and a local psychic hosting a cast reunion for cult film ‘The House Where Evil Was Born’ at the original shooting location, Marlowe House. The impetus behind the get-together is to record a live podcast episode while faded celebrity Victor Brimstone (Mann) and his former on-and-off screen leading lady recount the gory details behind the ‘Evil’ shoot at the foreboding house, including their director’s eventual suicide. Later, night falls and things go bumping as the painful secret trapped within Marlowe House’s walls looks to conduct a revival of its own…
As the plot summary no doubt reveals, the genetics behind THE GHOSTKEEPERS are obvious—namely, sedate supernatural spookers of the past like THE HAUNTING or THE CHANGELING (in fact, THE CHANGELING’S ball-down-the-stairs gag is copped here wholesale). The inherent problem that topples many a movie that teeters along an eerie, less-is-more tightrope like those earlier classics is this: whatever crucial bubble of terror that the film works so hard to generate pops resoundingly once fleeting, suggestive scares develop into contrived backstories, spates of draggy verbiage kill the momentum, or a close-up of an actor sporting phony white pancake makeup is inserted. GHOSTKEEPERS commits all three of these sins at different points. Granted, these events are usually necessary at some point in order to move the story along to some degree of resolution, but the potential for scares is drained away. Several of the film’s earlier jumps are startling; a sheet yanked sharply from off of a chair, an indistinct silhouette thumping up against a window of pebbled glass. Once the plot progresses and the film’s financial limitations rear up with overlong scenes of dialogue munching away the running time, that aura of fright is well and truly lost, and it’s a shame.
The cast is decent enough and works well together, but there’s an opportunity that feels missed in the case of Victor Brimstone. It seems counter-intuitive that as both writer and director, Mann would give himself short shrift in terms of Brimstone screen time, and yet his appearance is fairly scant. It’s to the detriment of the film, as Brimstone’s theatrical affectations are very entertaining (loved the doorknob bit) and his posh English accent is airtight (as opposed to Barry Yuen as the Marlowe House caretaker, sounding like he’s channeling a grizzled gold prospector by way of the Louisiana bayous).
THE GHOSTKEEPERS is a serviceable paranormal excursion that manages to knock out some real chills before being defused by too much divulging and definition. Not quite up to the standard set by TERROR OF DRACULA, the mystery of Marlowe House still emerges as something worth taking the time to investigate.