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19 January 2011


Code Red has picked up the snowbound Canadian horror pic GHOSTKEEPER (1981) for release.  Directed by Jim Makichuk, this low-budget film is low on gore but high on atmosphere.  Below is a review I wrote for HubPages (original review with more pictures HERE):
Neurotic inevitable final girl Jenny (Riva Spier, RABID) and boyfriend Marty (Murray Ord, now a producer in Canadian film) and their snobby, bubble-headed friend Chrissy (Sheri McFadden) leave a boring New Years party at a ski resort and take off on snow mobiles to explore the scenery. Of course, they ignore the warnings of a storkeeper (Les Kimber) about getting lost in the snow and take a trail marked "Keep Out." No sooner do they stumble upon an ominous looking old hotel then Chrissy promptly crashes her snowmobile. Reckoning the three of them cannot get back on one snowmobile (Jenny's dependence on Marty is first evident in that she rides with him and it is further explored later in the film), they break into the hotel. Although there is a fire already going, Marty notes that the guestbook has not had any entries for several years. They do some exploring to show off the eerie location and for the obvious "someone's watching them" eye close-up. Once they settle in, the script introduces sexual tension by emphasizing Marty's obvious interest in Chrissy (who tells the story of how she got one of her high school teachers to pay her for sex). Jenny does the whole "I have a feeling we're not alone" thing and the others dismiss her feelings as if they've never seen a horror film before. The keeper of the inn (Georgie Collins) then reveals herself. She goes through the motions of warning them off before showing them to their rooms. While Jenny and Marty argue about Marty's attraction to Chrissty, Chrissy takes a bath and is promptly carried off by the keeper's hulking son (Billy Grove) as food for the Wendigo (John MacMillan), another hulking dark figure imprisoned in a room with walls made of bricks of ice. The story really falls apart the next day after Chrissy has disappeared (and not just because she's a much more interesting character than Jenny). The keeper proves evasive when Jenny wonders where Chrissy has disappeared to and Marty is too preoccupied with fixing the stalling snowmobile to worry. Jenny goes off exploring but discovering Chrissy's remains and catching a glimpse of the wendigo proves the least of Jenny's problems when the keeper's son brandishes a chainsaw and chases her around the hotel. Then Marty inexplicably (and I do mean inexplicably) goes nuts, paints his face with grease, and wanders out to die in the snow leaving Jenny to face off against the keeper. 

This little known Canadian horror film combines influences from Stephen King's THE SHINING (or, more likely, Kubrick's just released film) with the Algonquin legend of the Wendigo, a creature that feeds on human flesh (though, anthropologically, to actually symbolize the taboo of cannibalism) which figured in the periphery of King's novel PET SEMATARY. Here, he's a dark figure living in a room of ice blocks and being fed by the "ghostkeeper" though his supernatural attributes go unexplored. Further underlining the film's indebtedness to THE SHINING is the late reappearance in the film of the shopkeeper who has come looking for them only to be knifed pretty much as soon as he steps in the door. The ending also plays on certain passages in the King book/Kubrick film about the role of the inn's caretaker; however, the scenary chewing ghostkeeper in this film projects none of the menace of the Overlook's caretaker. By making Jenny the protagonist, the film gives Marty little to do since Jenny is both the terrified heroine and the basketcase (thus when Marty goes nuts for no particular reason, he doesn't get much screentime to pose much of a threat). Despite these shortcomings, the film is nevertheless atmospheric with wide angle exteriors of the hotel in which the building seems to stare at the camera, the camera panning across stark, snowy landscapes, and Paul Zaza's minimal, needling orchestral score (Zaza was the go-to-guy for Canadian horror in the early eighties including MY BLOODY VALENTINE, PROM NIGHT, and the underrated and muddled CURTAINS). This is an ideal rainy/snowy day time-waster; too slow and not scary enough for your full, undivided attention but entertaining enough if you're in a lazily receptive mood.

Well, now it's gonna hit DVD and I definitely am in a receptive mood for some Canadian horror (hopefully more to come).  Not a perfect film but it will be interesting to see what Code Red's transfer will look like and what extras they can dig up.

No pre-order link yet (no date announced).

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