Monday, July 4, 2016

Ghost Town (1988)

How can one make a horror western about a gunslinger coming back from the dead boring? Richard Governor found the answer to that question and the answer if “Ghost Town.” The direction of the film is workmanlike, robbing the premise of its magic. Everything happens to get the film from point A to point B, or more specifically to get the film to video shelves as quickly as possible to earn a buck (this is produced by Charles Band, after all). This is one of those cases where the cover art is purposely deceptive, painting a picture of a film far more entertaining than it actually is.

Governor wastes no time in getting to the paranormal activity. Kate (Catherine Hickland) is abducted by the undead gunslinger Devlin (Jimmie F. Skaggs), with the town sheriff, Langley (Franc Luz), tasked with rescuing her. The empty desert is uprooted with the apparition of the western town that previously resided there. The town is equipped with a saloon, a jail, a whorehouse, a bank, and a blacksmith shop, all of which come equipped with squeaky floorboards for horror soundtrack potential. They all run together, with the saloon set doubling as the other buildings, I presume.

The film then follows a narrow path: Langley chases Devlin through the sleepy town, always narrowly saving Kate. He goes into empty buildings only for ghosts to magically appear and disappear to mess with his mind. He discovers the entire town is stuck in purgatory, as is the audience. Some of the townsfolk, such as the blacksmith, are kind folks who aid him in his quest. Langley even sleeps with the blacksmith’s ditzy daughter, just because. There’s also the town watchman who’s blind. That’s the joke.

Langley tries to piece together the puzzle, eventually figuring out that killing Devlin for good will release the town from purgatory. At least I think this was the case. I’ll be honest; I grew so tired of this film that I struggled to pay attention. It followed such a bland formula that I began to lose focus. So much so that I’m not sure if the bullets that killed the undead were laced with anything special or that the screenwriters, Duke Sandefur & David Schmoeller, were too lazy to come up with anything. I came to the conclusion that regular gunshot wounds killed the ghosts, which is just laughable.

The film does finally start to pick up during the finale. Devlin does more than just stalk the desert and taunt Langley. He begins killing off those who are aiding Langley in his mission. The blacksmith is stabbed in the stomach with his cattle prod, another townsman is tied to a windmill and spun around violently, and others are buried alive. Devlin even hints at raping Kate, which at least ups the stakes. By then, it’s too little too late. Any suspense being built up during the finale is quickly squashed by the hero’s victory.

“Ghost Town” feels like a haunted house attraction under construction. The mechanics are all there, but the effort isn’t. Skeletons and cobwebs are strewn about, but no scares accompany them. There’s an incredible lack of atmosphere in a film built around it. The film is a blank slate, only peppered slightly during the finale. A story about an undead gunslinger shouldn’t be this boring.

MVT: The makeup & special effects. If there was one thing to keep my interest throughout this dreadful bore, it was the surprisingly solid makeup & FX. The ghosts look ghastly and there’s a few good instances where we see their corpses disintegrate. They certainly didn’t skimp on the effects, just on the story.

Make or Break: The third instance in which Langley encounters a ghost only for it to disappear again. Or the third instance in which Langley almost saves Kate, but she slips through his fingers. Or the third instance in which…oh, you get the picture.

Score: 3.5/10

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