Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ghosthouse (1988)

Happy New Year everyone!

I am so sorry that I haven't posted anything new. I've been out taking some much needed time off and now that I'm back, let's get this thing going full force again! During my brief hiatus, I've been able to add a few morsels of good-'ol cheesy horror to my collection and am excited to share them with you within the coming weeks.

There are films that somehow have slipped under the radar of the avid 80's collector and they sometimes do for many reasons. Either the film didn't well and fell into the realms of obscurity or it was promoted enough to get a proper following. In this case, Ghosthouse, is one of those films. At least, as far as I'm concerned. This was released in 1988, just as the horror boom of that era was slowly coming to a close and I'm still trying to find out as to why I've just heard of this film within the last year or two. The first time I heard of this film was while browsing on the Internet one rainy June back in 2007 and I was researching some other films and through another horror website, I discovered an entry for this film. Drawn solely by the film's title, I clicked onto the page and started to read. Instantly intrigued, I started looking up page after page of Internet information on this little ditty and was surprised to read many of the things I uncovered.

For starters, this film was helmed by none other than Umberto Lenzi. Yes, as in Cannibal Ferox Umerto Lenzi. That was ten points just right there. I read the storyline and the whole background of the film and I knew I had to get my hands on this. But, where? I'd never even heard of this film and had never seen it at any of the mom and pops back in the day nor recently in any of the shops I frequent so I didn't even know where to start. Before resorting to paying for it via mail order, I scrounged all the local shops and surprisingly, no one had ever heard of this film. I did some calling around and chatted with some fellow horror collectors and one day, while on a trek to the Humdinger Toy Show in San Jose, I found a horror collector who not only had heard of this movie, but actually had it in his collection. We talked for a good while about it and I was amazed at his fond recollection of the film. He gave me a little overview of the whole thing, though he was reluctant seeing as how I'd never seen it and I could see the sparkle in his eye as he talked about ever facet of the film, but concentrated on one piece of the puzzle: The killer clown.

Ever since I first sat through Poltergeist at the tender age of nine, I've been deathly afraid of the clown within the horror film element. I passed over Killer Klowns from Outer Space and It for just that sole reason but there was something about the way this guy was talking that had me itching to get home and onto the computer to find this. I'm the avid horror collector preferring my selections to be on VHS, especially if I can find them in their original boxes. It has a lot to do with the nostalgia factor and remembering the days when mom and pop video stores were in their prime. So, I logged on to ebay and started to look around for it. And, I looked for several months for this, losing auction after auction. Well, the ones that would come up, seeing that this is a rare piece to find in it's original Imperial U.S. VHS version. The last bid I lost was for the hefty price of $78 - which was something I wasn't going to fight after. I had already spent those kinds of price tags for films in the past and I really didn't have the wallet to do that again anymore. So, I gave up. But, when I returned to the same Humdinger Toy Show a year later and ran into the guy I'd met before, he asked if I'd been able to come across the film. Sulking, I had to tell him my plight to get this on VHS. For one thing, he laughed and told me to get the idea out of my mind that I was going to find it laying around at the local Hollywood Video. This is a real collector's item, Leonel, he said to me. You're going to have resort to something a little more gung ho. Long story short, have me the web address of a private horror collector, a deal was made and two weeks later, I had a DVD-R of the film in my hands. It was just that easy.

Sidebar: Just before Christmas, I wandered into the local Fresno Best Buy and came across Witchery, starring Linda Blair and David Hasslehoff which is better known as Ghosthouse 2. I decided to wait until viewing the first one before proceeding. More on that later.
Excited as a virgin on prom night, I sat my cousin down and we popped this thing into the DVD player. The first thing I immediately noticed was the beautiful transfer. I couldn't tell you if it was a direct-from-VHS or DVD but it was clear and crisp and magnificent. The sound was just as great. Now, onto the film itself:

The film deals with a ham radio enthusiast Paul, played by eye-candy Gregg Scott who one day hears a mysterious transmission come over his radio of some people screaming as if they were meeting their demises. He and his girlfriend follow the signal to a remote house in the woods where several squatters have taken up residence. The house hold a secret: A little girl whose father enclosed her in the basement below for an incident of killing the family cat with a knife (!) is left to die along with her father and mother who are killed by an unseen force by axe and knife, respectively. The murder is never solved and the house remains haunted to this day. But the kids don't know that yet. Shhh!

When two of them recognize the eerie voices from the radio transmission as their own, the group of them suddenly become terrorized by the apparition of the dead little girl and her um...friend. Her friend is a really spooky kid-sized clown doll that will give anyone who'd ever been afraid of the jester in the original Poltergeist film a run for their money. And I'm not joking either. So the group of teens plays a game of who-done-it while trying to figure out what's killing them off one by one. While this sounds like a great reason to spend the night inside, this film, ladies and gentlemen, I must warn you, makes absolutely no sense. There are plot holes everywhere and the film stands as more of a paradox of itself. In some spots it's so good that you're on the edge of your seat and in other's you're reaching for the remote to turn the bloody thing off. There are a few genuinely spooky parts but for every scene that makes you jump out of your seat and scream, there are two or three that will have you asking who the hell green-lit this cattle drive? But, that's the irony of whole thing: Somehow, it works. And it manages to keep you creeped out, spooked and laughing all at the same time. The "song" that's played when the killer is about to make his presence known will remain in your head for days. It's overtly diabolical in all it's own right and you'll want to turn the volume down every time it comes on just to keep the hairs on the back of your head from standing at attention.

The direction by Ferox maestro Lenzi - who uses a crock American pseudonym for this Boston-filmed-but-Italian-produced scare fest - is actually quite good and the gore scenes are not bad to watch a few times. The whole guillotine scene was completely unexpected and I thought it to be one of the highlights of the film. I will be honest and admit that there were a few times where I screamed out loud - and rather loudly - during the appearance of the clown doll. Especially during the scene where Paul's girlfriend stumbles upon the little girl's bedroom and is attacked by the birthday decorations and ultimately, Mr. Clown himself. But the scene where I couldn't help but close my eyes and mutter oh shit in a low murmur has to be the scene where the girl is inside the RV and the television turns on by itself and the program du jour is of the little girl and her clown. Scary! There is a lot more plot to the story, surrounding the groundskeeper of the house and his connection to local funeral parlor where Paul visits and has a crack at one of the dead people who is being prepped. The mortician is quick to make note that the woman being prepped had been stuck by a bus and that it wasn't polite to laugh at the dead.

The secret is then known as to how to free the house from the spirit of the dead little girl and in one whoosh of a match and a can of gas, the evil force is broken and those who remain are allowed to leave the house and lead happy, normal lives. The best scene of the film for me though was it's unexpected ending where Paul's girlfriend is waiting for him on the sidewalk of downtown Boston after they've come home and allowed themselves to move on from the horrible events at the house. It's like a Mentos commercial: She sees him across the street and throws him a pearly white smile. He returns the smila and waves back to her. Just as he begins to cross the street, she turns around to take a glimpse in the shop window and to her horror she sees the clown doll she thought they'd been freed of. She screams and turns around and just as Paul makes it to where she is, the evil song comes on again and a bus comes out of nowhere and slam! The closing shot is a freeze frame of poor Martha, hands over her mouth, screaming in horror as she's just witnessed the demise of her boyfriend. Just like that, the film ends, unhappy ending, with no resolution. I love films that take this turn instead of the long denouement and closing. Only a few number of films in my recollection have this type of ending: I Spit On Your Grave and Pieces come to mind first. It leaves you with that last closing shot in your mind, left to wander around for hours and hours once the closing credits end. Just brilliant.

This ended up being a great film. After all I'd read about it and the devout following that it still has, I'll be honest and say that I did expect a lot more, but what I got was fantastic on it's own. It's a great piece of film work that stands out above some of the more-known horror fodder and gives you many chills and scares that you don't expect. And let me tell you, the image of that bloody clown is going to stay in your head for days. I'm sure you'll be thinking of the picture at the top of this posting and thinking oh, you bastard. Get your hands on this if you can find it. If you really want to know where I got it from, send me a message and I'll be more than happy to refer you to the collector site where I got it from.

Enjoy, and happy new year!


Ross Horsley said...

I used to own this but, damn, I think I traded it already! Now I'm going to have to seek it out again thanks to your review, because it reminded me of all the *good* things about it... Like: doesn't someone get a flying desk fan stuck in their face?!

Matt W. said...

I just happened upon your blog, and instantly favorited it. I found it because I was doing a search of this film in particular because I found it at a used bookstore (I live in Mesa, Arizona) for $3 on VHS. The cover art made it look really gory and I just felt compulsed to by it. To hear your trials to get it on VHS made me feel a little guilty since I picked it up with ease for $3. The bookstore has a small section of horror VHS (most of the time, just newer stuff, but I've found from time to time everything from "The Prey" to this film.) There's also a fantastic mom-and-pop "King Video" I still rent horror VHS from.

Anywho, sorry for the longwinded. Great article and blog, happy to be a fan!

Venger Satanis said...

I'm definitely intrigued. It sounds like a good "B" film.