GHOST TOWN (1988) Reviews and overview

 

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‘The good. The bad. The Satanic.’

Ghost Town is a 1988 American horror feature film directed by Richard McCarthy [as Richard Governor] and [uncredited] Mac Ahlberg. The script was written by Duke Sandefur (NecronautThe Phantom of the Opera), based on a story by David Schmoeller (Puppet Master; Crawlspace; Tourist Trap) for Empire Pictures.

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According to the book Empire of the ‘B’s, director McCarthy (who had only previously directed an Australian edition of Benny Hill) allegedly discarded the script and improvised whole scenes before either walking out or being thrown off the production.

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The movie stars Franc Luz (The Nest), Catherine Hickland (Witchery; Robowar; Werewolf TV series), Jimmie F. Skaggs (Dead End; Hollow Man; Puppet Master), Bruce Glover (Simon Says; Die Hard Dracula; Night of the Scarecrow), Zitto Kazann, Blake Conway, Laura Schaefer, Michael Alldredge.

Young bride to be Kate Barrett is kidnapped off of a desert road. Deputy Langley is assigned to find the young woman. Once Langley tracks down Kate, the two find themselves stuck in literally in the past. The two must find out how to destroy the evil that has plagued the “ghost town” for decades or just become a page of the towns horrible history themselves…

Review:

Not as lurid as most Charles Band productions of the time, Ghost Town pitches a modern-day sheriff into a premise that could have served an episode of The Twilight Zone. Franc Luz’s Deputy Langley follows a missing woman’s trail to Cruz del Diablo, a decrepit settlement in the outback, where the skeletal remains of its long-dead lawman spring from the ground and beg him to “rid my town of evil” – to wit, a gang of undead outlaws led by Devlin, whose men hold the spirits of the locals in a kind of tyrannical limbo, waiting for the right man to send their oppressor to hell and redeem them for their High Noon-like cowardice when their sheriff was killed. This Langley accomplishes, in a routine finale that retreats from the almost oneiric atmosphere built up in the first half.

The opening scenes yield some well-timed jolts and striking images: the capture of Catherine Hickland’s character, swept up in an unholy dust storm; shadowy, whispering figures silhouetted by flashes of lightning, watching Langley as he investigates the town; a cluster of saloon patrons glimpsed in a mirror, but not in the room itself. Langley seems to be slipping in and out of surface reality, although this impression is not sustained and the plot dissolves into a straight-up western scenario, albeit with supernatural inflexions. The requisite showdowns obscure the more affecting moments, when the few townsfolk given featured roles (notably Bruce Glover as a blind, fortune-telling cardsharp) voice their anguish at lingering in purgatory, as well as their longing for death.

It is the undead villain, however, who captures the filmmakers’ imagination. Devlin alone among the outlaws has rotting flesh, and the only reason for that, one surmises, is that all the decade’s most iconic horror villains, from Freddie Krueger to Jason Voorhees, had similar afflictions. Despite Jimmie F. Skaggs’ enthusiasm in the role, Devlin is not of that calibre.

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Nevertheless, Ghost Town is worth a visit. It has some original ideas, and the production design, costumes and performances are generally convincing, for what was evidently a cheap production. Much like Cruz del Diablo, its director, too, disappeared from the scene – this seems to have been the only film he made.

Kevin Grant, MOVIES and MANIA

Other reviews:

” …the movie is beautifully photographed by Mac Ahlberg; and the performances are convincing. What starts out as an interesting premise, however, soon turns into a run-of-the-mill, Saturday-afternoon bad-guy western–the only difference being that here the villains are zombies.” TV Guide

“Though a little slow-paced and adequately acted, the film has a nice ghost-town atmosphere, thanks to Ahlberg’s clever blending, as in his work on Prison, of genre conventions so that typical Western images work in a horror-movie context.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

” …it conjures up an atmosphere not unlike two other late-period Empire chillers: Prison and Catacombs. But Ghost Town is easily the least of the three (in spite of a superbly-realised dream sequence midway through) and ultimately a missed opportunity. Shame.” Empire of the ‘B’s

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“The pacing for this movie is extremely slow, I swear they shot the scene when he walks to the town in real time, cos it takes close to 15 minutes for him to get there and the whole scene is spliced with stock footage of spiders, birds, snakes, crows, and scorpions. Save for Bruce Glover who plays a Wise Blind Man named the “Dealer”, most of the acting in this ranges from bland to horrible.” Tom, Shit Movie Fest

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Cast and characters:

Franc Luz … Langley
Catherine Hickland … Kate
Jimmie F. Skaggs … Devlin
Bruce Glover … Dealer
Zitto Kazann … Blacksmith
Blake Conway … Harper
Laura Schaefer … Etta
Michael Alldredge … Bubba

Filming locations:

Old Tucson Studios, Tucson, Arizona

Release:

In the US, Ghost Town was released by Transworld on November 11, 1988, in a limited release, only showing on eight screens. New World Pictures released it on VHS. A Blu-ray was released in the USA in July 2016 by Scream Factory.