Ghost Town [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (7th August 2015).
The Film

The raiding of Empire Pictures’ vault continues, with Scream Factory bringing the minor cult classic “Ghost Town” (1988) to Blu-ray for the first time. The picture is unique in that it is part of a rare subgenre: the horror western. Few films have been made combining the two genres, and even fewer are worth taking the time to watch. It is a bit peculiar that filmmakers have avoided using a western template for horror films, although the rapid decline in popularity of the western genre as a whole is the likely reason for such a dearth. And unlike horror-comedies, it isn’t as though these two genres were tailor-made to perfectly amalgamate. Westerns are predicated on the use of rote plot elements and now-standard movie clichés, leaving most to feel a bit stale simply because how often can the same old “lawman vs. lawless men” tale be told? Yet despite a boilerplate story, “Ghost Town” marginally succeeds for that exact reason – it might be telling an old tale, but with a lack of horror-western pictures this fact can be mostly overlooked. The story is made novel thanks to the addition of the supernatural.

A young blonde, Kate (Catherine Hickland), is winding through desert roads in her Mercedes Benz when a gusty wind comes through – carrying with it something malevolent – and she is snatched from her driver’s seat and lifted off into the ether. The local sheriff, Langley (Franc Luz, who looks like he could be Joel David Moore’s dad), is sent on a mission to ascertain her whereabouts. On his journey through the desert, he begins to see things… strange things. Eventually, he arrives at an old town, seemingly abandoned. But soon townsfolk start appearing one by one until Langley realizes he’s caught up in something very old and very sinister. Flashbacks reveal to him that the town is at the mercy of Devlin (Jimmie F. Skaggs), a deviant cowboy who killed the sheriff. Although these events occurred over a century ago, Devlin and his posse still maintain a firm grip over the locals now, in the afterlife. As viewers may easily surmise, Langley is their one true hope to break Devlin’s curse and release the people of this ghost town from his clutches.

Despite melding two genres, “Ghost Town” isn’t entirely successful at encapsulating either one. As a western, the story feels trodden, offering up very little to compel viewers into caring about what happens to the characters. Outside of one or two supporting players none of the townsfolk are humanized, making it difficult to empathize with their plight. As a horror picture, it isn’t scary or horrific. The essentials of a good horror movie require at least a modicum of tension and bursts of gory goodness – the former is non-existent, while the latter barely registers. To be fair, there are a few moments featuring nicely done FX work, such as early on when Langley comes across a weathered corpse buried in the earth. Devlin’s makeup is never all too convincing, though he does look appropriately sun-dried and leathery.

In terms of acting our lead, Luz, is perfectly serviceable as a bit of a loner, crack shot sheriff who can handle himself in even the most unexpected of situations. This guy did just stumble into a ghost town populated by the undead, after all. And again, he looks so much like an adult Joel David Moore that I kept waiting for him to say “I am not a robot” in a faux-electro voice. Hickland isn’t much more than your standard damsel in distress, but she is very easy on the eyes. Bruce Glover pops up in a weird role as a blind gambler. Glover seems like he’d be above this sort of role, making one wonder if he owed Charles Band a favor or maybe he just happened to be in the neighborhood and took a minor role for fun. Skaggs is having the most fun of anyone in the cast, chewing scenery like it was a three-course meal. As Devlin, he exudes loads of nefarious glee, hooting and hollering his way through the picture right up to the final shootout.

“Ghost Town” manages to keep viewers intrigued throughout the first act by slowly unfolding its mystery. Once all is known, the picture becomes little more than a standard western shoot-em-up, with Langley learning the hard way that conventional weaponry doesn’t work on his undead enemies. There’s just enough atmosphere and energy on screen to maintain engagement, even though the story itself is nearly as old as the decaying town. “Ghost Town” may rise to the top of the horror-western list if only by default, since it has so few brethren, but fans looking for something a little outside the norm should find it enjoyable. Empire Pictures had a strong run during its heyday, featuring many atypical films that tried to be different… and there is still plenty of gold to be mined from their catalog.

Video

Whoever is in charge of storing Empire Pictures’ films deserves a big pat on the back, because the 1.78:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image presented here looks light years better than any version I’ve ever seen (though to be fair, any previous versions were simply a VHS bootleg). The movie’s cinematic look is preserved via a fine sheen of grain, while minor details come through nicely thanks to a well-kept 35mm print. The dusty desert palette looks appropriately sunbaked and hot, an aesthetic maintained nearly throughout as most of the film takes place under the sweltering sun. When the action does shift to night, black levels are stable and the image isn’t wholly swallowed by shadow.

Audio

The lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track ably carries the sound here, with a nice sense of weight and spacing to the effects despite being a rather limited offering. Dialogue comes through clearly, and the sound effects move about the front end speakers enough that a sense of immersion is achieved. Subtitles are included in English.

Extras

Amazingly, there is not a single extra feature to be found here; not even a theatrical trailer.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case. The cover art is reversible, allowing for display of two very different, very cool covers.

Overall

Horror-westerns are in short supply, so there isn’t much to which “Ghost Town” can be compared, but the film makes good use of a dead horse storyline by punching it up with some savory supernatural moments.

The Film: C+ Video: B+ Audio: B Extras: F Overall: C+

 


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