Tuesday, July 28, 2015

GHOST TOWN (1988) Blu-ray Review

Ghost Town (1988) d. Richard Governor (USA)

On the outskirts of Riverton County, AZ, handsome quick-draw expert deputy Langley (Frank Luz) gets a call that local bad girl Katie (Catherine Hickland) has fled the altar and headed out into the desert. But when her car turns up missing its driver (played out in a fine spectral dust storm kidnapping sequence), it’s up to Langley to track her down, which he ultimately does in a desolate, literal ghost town run by malevolent gunslinger Devlin (Jimmie F. Skaggs). Seems Katie bears a striking resemblance to the dark one’s former barkeep flame Rose, and Devlin isn’t giving her up without a fight. The haunted netherworld’s residents’ souls hang in the balance – and it’s mighty hard to kill what’s already dead.

The Western/horror hybrid is one I’ve always wished were explored more (and with greater success), and while hardly breaking any new ground, Ghost Town is a field day of nostalgia for fans of the low-budget 80s. This fun little Empire flick, nominated for Best Film at the 1990 Fantasporto Film Festival, features some solid practical effects and makeup, along with a number of flashy, fiery stunts overseen by fan favorite Kane Hodder. David Schmoeller provided the colorful screen story, with Duke Sandefur handling the final polish, much as he did with the Robert Englund-starring The Phantom of the Opera the following year.

Though Governor is the sole billed director, legendary cinematographer Mac Ahlberg (The Horror Show, Dolls, Ghoulies) is credited on IMDb as having anonymously helped out with the directing chores; since there are no extras on the new Shout! Factory Blu-ray release to shed light on the subject, we can neither confirm nor deny this, but the fact that this remains Governor’s only film credit to date adds a little credence to the rumor.

However, adding to the curious IMDb/film credits disconnect, the yellow-bannered website lists Charles Band as co-exec producer alongside Timothy D. Tennant, with sometime screenwriter (The Day Time Ended, Tourist Trap) and Texas Chain Saw Massacre editor J. Larry Carroll handling producer duties proper. However, on the actual print, Tennant is listed as producer, with Carroll’s name nowhere to be found. Again, no additional info is available on the disc, so the mystery continues.

The cast is more than adequate, with Luz (The Nest) and Skaggs (Puppetmaster) squaring off ably as the square-jawed man of action and his leather-skinned adversary from Hell. Hickland, recently seen in the Italian WTF-fest Witchery, is fetching and feisty as the wayward bride kidnapped by evil spirits and spirited away (wahahahaha) to the titular dusty burg. The capable supporting cast includes Michael Alldredge (Robot Jox, The Incredible Melting Man) as Langley’s superior, Catacombs’ Laura Schaefer as shy nymph Etta, Penelope Windust as the aging blonde barmaid with a heart of gold, Zitto Kazaan as the crusty blacksmith, and busy character man Bruce Glover as the mysterious sage Blind Dealer.

Harvey Cohen composed the lively score (with some stock Richard Band cues thrown in for good measure). While Cohen didn’t ever have a huge career as a film composer, known mostly for his contributions to the Superman and Batman animated series, he has worked as the principal orchestrator for many big budget Hollywood productions, including The Patriot with Mel Gibson and Peter Jackson’s King Kong.

John Carl Buechler designed the special effects makeup (one of NINE films released in 1988 with his hands in the latex), most of his attentions seemingly directed toward Devlin’s bullet-scarred visage, with a few neck slashes and gunshot wounds rounding things out. There are also some nifty mechanical f/x, with animated decomposing corpses unexpectedly lunging out of their dirt blankets to move the story along.

My frequent snipes about the dearth of supplemental materials on Shout! Factory’s release are intended to be good natured. Considering the film has been languishing in nowheresville for several decades, with nary a North American DVD release in sight, the fact that this enjoyable Western ghost fantasy is now finally available in a terrific looking high-def presentation is reason enough to rejoice, especially for those who missed it whilst stalking the local Goode Time Video aisles back in the day. (I personally hadn’t seen it until a couple years ago, courtesy of my Belgian blood brother Gert who hooked me up with a VHS-sourced bootleg.) Perhaps when the next phase of home video comes around, Ghost Town will have developed enough of a cult following to merit a commentary and a few other bells and whistles. We can only hope.

Ghost Town is available now from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:



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