Ghostkeeper (1981)

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One of the most beautiful things about the horror genre is how utterly subjective it is. One man’s Madman is another man’s Prom Night. OK, I love both of those movies, but you get my point, see? I have spent years analyzing what it is about certain slashers that chill me to the bone. Even now, after so many films, I can still be surprised by what has an effect on me. Case in point, Ghostkeeper.

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Ghostkeeper is a truly bare boned affair. Filtered with only a few characters, located mostly in one building and featuring very little in the way of gore, there’s still something so… uh… good, which even now after thinking about it for a couple of days, I just can’t explain. But I won’t let that stop me from trying!

Riva Spier is Jenny, a quiet girl who finds herself in a dead end relationship with Marty (Murray Ord) and together they embark on a vacation that feels anything but fun. They are visiting a desolate, snow-covered mountain with their party-girl buddy Chrissy (Sheri McFadden) and the three take off to parts unknown. After a minor accident, they find themselves seeking shelter at the Deer Lodge, an abandoned hotel. Well, maybe it’s abandoned, since they notice the heat running, even though the guest book informs them there haven’t been any visitors in five long years. Looks like they were right, and finally encounter a creepy old lady referred to in the credits as the Ghostkeeper (Georgie Collins, who truly has a disquieting aura about her). She attempts to boot them out, but because of the ferocity of the storm, she relents and they spend the night. That’s when things get weird. Apparently, this Ghostkeeper is keeping a surprise in her basement. And it’s hungry!

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Ghostkeeper doesn’t rely on characterization or story and finds its greatest strengths in the ambiance and the score (by Paul Zaza who also did Prom Night and My Bloody Valentine, among others). There are long stretches of nothingness, yet in that space of air, there’s a feeling of dread so thick you could cut its bloodied heart out with a knife! The desolation in the snowy mountains only heightens the claustrophobia as the film heads towards an ambiguous ending.

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Spier is an interesting actress. She’s gorgeous and because the film doesn’t contain a lot of dialog, she expresses herself mostly with cold stares. I can’t tell if Spier wasn’t very good in the part or was fantastic, because her wooden performance actually feels right for some reason. Perhaps it’s because Jenny is terrified of inheriting her mother’s insanity and it’s that fear that keeps the character distant and slightly blank, as if taking in her surroundings before figuring out if it’s safe to react. The rest of the cast is fun, with Collins the stunning winner. Just thinking about her creeps me out.

Loosely based on the Wendigo legend, this Canadian horror film is slasher and monster lite, but has oodles of snow and deep synthesizer sounds to keep you going. Like Madman, or more appropriately, The Prey, Ghostkeeper isn’t hampered by nothingness, it’s enriched by it.

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7 Responses to “ Ghostkeeper (1981) ”

  1. As usual I agree with your review. I actually watched this for the first time only a few months ago. It is surprisingly rare in the U.S.

    I thought the atmosphere was perfect, and the non-stereotypical couple really added some interesting elements to the story. I like my slasher films with good character development and this one really had that, without going overboard.

    It reminded me a bit of “Curtains” and “Satan’s Blade”. I think “Ghostkeeper” sits somewhere in between.

  2. You know, I just rented this on VHS from a mom n’ pop shop (one reason I joined them is their VHS selection equals their DVD one) and I don’t know, as much as I love Madman and the Prey, for some reason this didn’t do much for me. However, I’ve also used your reviews as a “search out this movie” radar, so maybe I’ll give it another watch and see if things change.

  3. Hey guys!

    Thanks for reading. Matt, I was saying in a message board the other day that I purposely put that part about horror being subjective in there because I knew Ghostkeeper wasn’t for all. I’m glad you saw it though. What a rarity it is!

  4. I found a rare copy of this on some Canadian VHS label I think last year from a video store selling off its tapes (it’s definitely NOT New World Video, with the skull on the front, and definitely NOT Starmaker video). On the front of mine, it has an old dude holding his arm, half of which has been ripped off or something. I haven’t watched the tape yet but it sounds cool. I can’t look up the label because the tape is at my parents and i can’t find it online anywhere

  5. I can’t find the picture of it online, I mean

  6. Ghostkeeper is frustrating for me because a little known horror gem is lurking in this movie, but unfortunately it didn’t come out. Yhe atmosphere and setting are perfect, but it is a little slow at times. Don’t ask for an explanation for what is going on because one is not offered. Still it is a relatively obscure movie that needs a larger audience. Definitely worth a look.

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