Sunday, July 12, 2015

GHOST TOWN (1988)

GHOST TOWN (1988)
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: July 28th 2015
Region Code: A
Duration: 85 Minutes
Rating: R
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1)Director: Richard Governor, Mac Ahlberg
Cast: Franc Luz, Jimmie F. Skaggs, Penelope Windust, Bruce Glover, Catherine Hickland

Synopsis: A dusty ghost town, seemingly abandoned, holds the lives of its original inhabitants in an animated netherworld for 100 years…

When a modern-day sheriff's deputy is lured to a desolate, spooky ghost town in search of a missing woman, he comes face-to-face with a malevolent spirit from the town's past. The spell of death and suffering over the undead townspeople must end to set them free from eternal pain. The horrors of a possessed outlaw, in a time-suspended dimension are only the setting for a frightening battle for the mind, nerves and flesh.

I am always pleased to see something from Empire Pictures coming to Blu-ray, there's just so much 80's awesomeness wrapped-up in my memories of the defunct distribution company, from the ghastly fun of  Re-animator (1985) and Ghoulies (1985) on through to the sci-fi action of Robot Jox (1990). This is one I remember seeing on the VHS shelves as a youth though I never got around to watching it back in the day, The reason being I sort of hated Westerns, at the time I thought those monochrome John Ford and John Wayne movies were boring, though I have since come around to violent Spaghetti Westerns and the dusty gunslingers of Sam Peckinpah, so I came into this one with a bit of enthusiasm. 


The movie begins with a would-be bride named Kate (Catherine Hickland, Witchery) cruising down a dirt road at high speed in her red sport scar. Apparently having just skipped out on her own wedding with few regrets, she tosses her bridal veil to the wind with a smile and some laughter. The gleeful smile doesn't last long when she takes an ill advised detour which ends with her being carried away by an eerie dust storm, to the sound of galloping hoof beats. Hours later the local Sheriff discovers her abandoned car on the roadside and calls in Deputy Langley (Franc Luz, The Nest) to investigate, as he does so the eerie dust storm returns and a gunslinger dressed in black riding a black horse emerges from the dust storm and fires a few rounds at Langer before riding off into the desert. 

With his car car now immobilized by the man-in-black the deputy sets off on foot through the desert in search of the missing woman, along the way he discovers the skeletal remains of a sheriff from a nearby ghost town, the corpse comes to life momentarily and tells the deputy that only he can save his town from certain damnation. 


A short time later Langley happens upon the very same ghost town, made up of a rustic collection of dilapidated saloons and brothels that are populated by handful of ghosts from the Old West. There's a blind gambler (Bruce Glover), a helpful bar wench (Penelope Windust), a blacksmith (Zitto Kazaan) and the dreaded man-in-black, a cursed undead gunslinger named Devlin (Jimmy F. Skaggs) who keeps the inhabitants of the dusty ghost town under his thumb with the help of his his outlaw gang of ghosts baddies. 

It's fun watch but it does start off a bit on the slow side with a languid pace, though  the atmospheric cinematography highlights plenty of big sky and open desert vistas, a film I believe was shot right here in Tucson at Old Tucson Studios where many classic Western TV shows and movies were filmed, which translates to a very fine looking set with loads of small flourishes, you get the genuine feeling of an old timey Western town, it looks lived in and then some, not like indie Westerns today that look like fresh-milled lumber bought at the local Home Depot. 

The ghosts are dressed in appropriate period garb and Devlin looks pretty menacing as the undead gunslinger with a zombified gunshot wound to the face that adds a lot of character to his face, but he's sort of a one-note baddie, but it works for the movie. Hickland doesn't get much to do, she's definitely a pretty standard damsel in distress, and Lutz is just okay as the modern lawman thrown back in time, he's just as one-note as the baddie, but again it works well enough for the movie that it is. It should also be noted that actress Laura Schaefer (Catacombs) is kind enough to showcase her wonderful breasts for moment for which we should all be thankful pigs for. 

Ghost Town (1988) is a low-budget western-horror hybrid with some atmospheric visuals and a fun premise with god production values, it starts off a bit on the slow side but once things get underway this is a spirited shoot 'em up and a fun watch, recommended. 

Audio/Video: Ghost Town arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p HD transfer from Scream Factory framed in the 1.78;1 widescreen aspect ratio. This release marks the debut of the film on any modern digital format - it never even had a DVD release that I am aware of. The source material seems to have been in good shape with only minor print damage and some white speckling. The HD won't make your eyes bug out in disbelief but it is an attractively shot film and the HD upgrade looks quite nice, shot by cinematographer Mac Ahlberg (Robot Jox, From Beyond) the film has a nice dusty atmosphere about it that suits the Western tinged ghost story. The image can appears bit soft at times but overall the HD transfer is very nice with strong color reproduction, natural looking skin tones and decent black levels. The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track is good and clean, a well-balanced mix of dialogue, score and effects sounds, there are optional English subtitles provided. 

Unfortunately, there are no extras produced for the disc, not a single damn thing, not even a trailer. The production had a somewhat stories history with the director walking off set just a few weeks after production started, leaving the cinematographer Mac Ahlberg to finish the film. It would Ahlberg's last film he would direct, with his earlier films having been a string of low budget porn and softcore fare -- all things considered he did a pretty bang-up job finishing the film. Additionally composer Harvey Cohen (Batman: The Animated Series) was contracted to produce the score but most of his original score was replaced with pre-existing music for some reason, so it seems there could have maybe been a few choice behind-the-scenes nuggets that the cast and crew could have shared. What we do get is a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring the very cool original theatrical poster art and the familiar VHS artwork. Given that there are no extras on the disc whatsoever I think this might have made more sense (from a buyer's perspective) as one of the Scream Factory Double Feature Blu-ray editions, maybe paired with the Full Moon Entertainment science fiction-western hybrid Oblivion, but I am just happy to have in in HD no matter how we got it. 


In the end it's great to see this one come to a digital home video format for the first time ever by way of scream Factory with good picture quality and sound, however, a few extras would have been appreciated as we gt absolutely nothing -- this is as bare bones as you can get. If you have a soft spot for Western-horror hybrids I think you will have a lot of fun with his one, just don't expect some lost 80s classic, it's not quite that. 2.5/5


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