Friday, 15 August 2008

DVD Review: Death of a Ghost Hunter - Region One


Directed by: Sean Tretta

Starring: Patti Tindall, Lindsay Page, Davina Joy, Mike Marsh

I’ve been an avid watcher of horror movies for twenty-five years now. I’ve seen trends come and go. There’s only really one movie that has scared me witless and that was The Exorcist. I’m still looking for a movie that will genuinely creep me out. For a second there, I thought it might be this low budget gem. Sadly not, but it is still well worth catching. Just make sure you watch it at night, in a low lit room…


A respected professional ghost hunter, Carter Simms, famous for debunking so-called spiritual manifestations, is offered $5000 to stay in an inherited house to research a spate of phenomena by the owner of the house. Much to her annoyance, the owner insists that she is accompanied by a writer and photographer who get more than they bargained for when they are joined by a mysterious girl who says she’s from a nearby church. She says she wants to maintain the good name of the Christians murdered there, but what is her real agenda?


Death of a Ghost Hunter purports to be a true life story. However, there is no documentary evidence to suggest that this is none other than the writer’s conceit to make the drama more effective. This worked for both The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Blair Witch project, both of which were based upon real life serial killers and urban legends respectively.

In this day and age of seemingly countless versions of Mostly Haunted (almost as much as CSI style shows) it is not a surprise to see a movie tap into that interest. What is strange is the detailed and intelligent way that it is done, and for such a low budget. This movie should shame some of the more experienced directors of horror movies into making something scary. Like the Spanish zombie movie [REC], the characters in the story are believable and react to the events in a natural way as opposed to forced, acted out in dozens of rehearsals, performances.

The low budget does show on occasion. The sound levels don’t seem right as the volume dips in and out. This may have been intentional but it doesn’t seem that way. The location is right for the movie and reminded me of a stripped down Poltergeist on a couple of occasions. Whereas Poltergeist came across as a kid’s movie with adult themes, this film is a clear procedural ghost hunters movie that doesn’t get lost in the investigative process but uses it to dramatic effect. There is an excellent use of night camera footage which is way spookier than anything in Poltergeist.

The entire cast reminded me of “movie of the week” actors. Not great but not horrifyingly cringe inducing. Patti Tindall plays Carter Simms, the ghost hunter, with an earnest honesty. I can’t say that I liked the character and I don’t think we were supposed to. The script helped enormously. Every character has a voice, helping to persuade the viewer that they are watching a docudrama, not an out and out work of fiction. This is also helped by Carter Simms’ narration. Davina Joy plays the brash writer, Yvette Sandoval. She plays the part very well and like the others, is believable. Mike Marsh plays Colin Green, who handles the cameras in the house. There’s a funny scene where Colin and Yvette get high and re-enact scenes from famous movies including the “snot scene” in Blair Witch. Lindsay Page plays Mary Young Mortenson. This character starts as irritating and then goes to being downright creepy and unsettling. You really do not know what she will do next. Whilst her reasons for being in the house are signposted early on, it doesn’t matter. The final denouement might be a touch predictable when it comes but it is also very unsettling and provides a slightly psychological unnerving feeling which is lacking in so many supernatural movies.

There is about twenty minutes of what I would describe as set-up, but it is important because the movie soon shifts into the main plot and leads to an ending that leaves you wondering about, and questioning, theories on life after death.

This is a movie that jaded horror fans might overlook. That’s a shame because it deserves to get a wider audience. True, decent, low budget movies like this come along once in every decade. It looks professional and despite some confusing FX, doesn’t rely on CGI overload. What works in this film is the suggested threat and supernatural presence. Yes, you see ghosts but not quite in the way you would expect, helping the believability of the project. Allegedly shot over 9 days, costing $10,000, it looks far more expensive. I’ll be looking out for Sean Tretta. This man could be in for quite a career.

Look for this movie in all the usual outlets, Region One only at the moment.

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