Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
March 1st , 2005

Ghost Lake

Directed by Jay Woelfel
111 mins

Young Wolf Productions' "Ghost Lake" is a film that tries its hardest to be all things to all people. While I can't help but respect its sheer ambition, I find myself wishing that it would pick a ball and run with it.

So what we have here is the story of a surprisingly familiar event. Anyone remember the movie "In Dreams?" Basically, that's what we've got here, after a fashion. Up in the wild, untamed reaches of upstate New York (ever been to Buffalo? wild and untamed is a good description!) state planners decided someone needed a lake.

Apparently, no one bothered to tell the residents of one particular little town in upstate New York beforehand, Rushford Lake, because the establishment of the lake drowned them all.

Which is pretty interesting, when you stop and think about it. I mean, how does this happen? Didn't anyone from the local zoning commission hear about this? Didn't anyone bother to stop into Rushford Lake and say, "Hey, guys, you're gonna want to know about a couple weeks here we're gonna flood the valley with somewhere in the neighborhood of ten million gallons of icy cold water. You should probably go get some change-of-address forms."

I know, it's strange already, but it gets worse. Our heroine, a girl by the name of Rebecca, has just lost her parents to a car accident, and it's not sitting well with her. She goes off to our flooded little town to mourn her parents and recover, which she definitely needs. She's already hallucinating and having sex in the backseats of cars and we're not even ten minutes in yet.

Even better, once our hallucinating skank-in-waiting gets up to our flooded little town, bodies hit the floor as the bodies of the flooded dead are emerging from the lake to feed on the bodies of the living.

So we've gone from "In Dreams" to "Night of the Living (albeit flooded) Dead" in the space of around thirty minutes. Wow. Talk about breaking some serious film-speed records.

The strangest thing about "Ghost Lake", you'll discover, is its rapid shuffling of genres. It can be a suspense movie, a murder mystery, a zombie movie, and then suddenly something completely different all within the space of as little as twenty minutes. While I'm not beyond mixing things up a bit, "Ghost Lake's" frequent genre shifting confuses me more than a little. There's a difference between spicing things up with a little variety and emptying the spice rack into the pot.

Now, despite the truly baffling nature of the plot, "Ghost Lake" has a lot going for it. For instance, Woelfel has a gift for suspense building, which he exercises to the fullest. For instance, start watching around the twelve minute mark and you're treated to a slow sequence with lots of moving shadows and assorted jolts. Check out the nifty dual-dream sequence around the twenty two minute mark that'll also give you a heads up on the baffling plot. Woelfel's ability to create a frightening world makes itself plain around the forty minute mark--check out the run through the graveyard for all the scares you could need. And some of the effects near the end qualify for gruesome and scary points all at once.

Plus, as an interesting aside, Rebecca's last name is "Haster," a fairly clever play on "Hastur" of Lovecraft fame. Plus, it fits pretty darned well when you come right down to it.

The ending is a pretty big surprise, in and of itself. It really needs to be seen to be believed.

The special features include director's commentary, deleted scenes with commentary, two behind the scenes featurettes, an audition reel, and a trailer for "Ghost Lake." However, I'm told that I got an advance screener copy, and looking at the box it does say just that in giant white letters, so there's a chance that when you get your copy, there may be something totally different in the special features.

So don't blame me.

All in all, "Ghost Lake" is a graphic lesson in biting off more than one can chew. It's an incredibly ambitious project, and not without its charms, but this film of blind ambition proves that a film can go in entirely too many directions, giving viewers a maze instead of a roller coaster ride.

Ghost of the Needle

Directed by Brian Avenet-Bradley
83 mins

I used to have a rule.

I had always been nervous, when I looked at a DVD box and noticed that the writer and the director were the same person. It had not meant pleasant movies in the past. In fact, it had very frequently meant second-rate B movies that were precious little more than vanity projects.

This rule especially held true when the writer and director took on a starring role as well. All too often, it devolved into fanboy wish-fulfillment and other, less savory concepts.

But "Ghost of the Needle" has just shattered that rule into many tiny pieces for me.

The first thing I want you to pay attention to is the DVD menu. Yes, it's pretty blase at first...a series of falling pictures with scenes from the movie playing in them. But check out the effect just before the loop resets.

Nice, huh?

Check out the menu select effects also, done as shots on a reel of film. Again, very nice.

So what we have here is the story of Jacob, a serial killer / starving artist (man, why does that combination not surprise me in the least?) who has a particular way of immortalizing his work. Jacob's fond of using drugs to sedate his victims and put them into suspended animation, then taking photographs of them to put on the back of framed photographs of the places where he met them.

One girl he kills very nearly got away...and she's where all the trouble will begin for Jacob. Jacob, you see, is going to find himself lodged in a nightmare so intensely terrifying that it's going to make Rod Serling wet himself.

And what you'll really come to love about "Ghost of the Needle" is how quickly it can shift mood from insane action chase scene with hypodermics to background exposition and right back again.

The plot is looking interesting...but plot by itself is always at risk. Let's take a look at the execution.

Jacob, our looney slasher boy, provides more than his share of suspenseful elements. Are we watching his gradual descent into madness caused by his frequent proximity to nerve agents and other such nasties, or are we watching his guilt catch up to him? Check out the blistering montage at the thirty four minute, sixteen second mark and you'll get a very frightening idea of just what's going on in our boy's twisted little head.

And even better still, the whole problem catches up to Jacob in a very big way. Around the fifty minute mark or so, a very nasty surprise hits our boy. Then he manages to play a somewhat confusing but still very novel part in an infidelity plotline that crops up around fifty seven minutes in.

"Ghost of the Needle" is just excellent work. This is a movie about a serial killer who gets his gruesome, "Twilight Zone-ish end-up-in-hell sort of thing" ending, if I can borrow a phrase from Bloom County. We get solid performances from all the actors involved, we get some very solid special effects and cinematography, we just get one very solid whole.

The ending comes packed with lots of shocking revelations about what's been happening to Jacob for the last hour and a half. Seriously, these are amazing. It's a fantastic way to close the plot. Plus there's this very well done sequence involving lots of flashlights, which is gripping terror at its most powerful. The long slow fade is also excellently done.

The special features include some audio options, director and actor's commentary, a behind the scenes featurette, and trailers for "Evil Eyes," "Lady in the Box," "Haunted House," and "Ghost of the Needle."

All in all, "Ghost of the Needle" is the kind of movie that'll have you thinking twice about a whole lot of things, and be glad you did.