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


Directed by Jeff Burton
100 mins

I thought I'd never be writing this one. It comes with a dark, and frequently disgusting, story of an ambitious production studio, dedicated seemingly to churning out as many horrible, disgusting movies as the video store shelves could handle. Brain Damage studios, operating out of Tempe, Arizona, poured tens of sad and sorrowful projects designed to churn the stomach and insult the intelligence, with cheaply produced efforts such as "The Zombie Chronicles," "Terror Toons," "Hell's Highway," and other such similar fare.

The last movie I saw come out under the Brain Damage aegis was almost two years ago, and it was a contemptible piece of fake-blood-drenched slime. It was vile beyond any practical definition of vile. In fact, the bulk of Brain Damage's work has been low-budget slop at its worst for years now. Eventually, Brain Damage will start filling their video boxes with fake blood, so you too can join in the experience of being covered in the same glop as the cast.

And now, Brain Damage has resurfaced with "Invitation," coincidentally the title of a fairly solid film featuring Lance Henriksen. And it's a bad sign when the DVD starts off with information on how to join the "Brain Damage Fan Club." Nothing like hawking cheesy crap wares before even starting in with the cheesy crap movie.

So what we have here is the story of a group of friends indulging in some fairly straightforward behavior. You know, playing baseball and persecuting the neighborhood fat kid. One of the friends goes home for dinner and, in a pinch, the remaining kids decide to let the fat kid play ball. Amazingly, the fat kid slams a long drive over the back field fence.

Now, before you start cheering for the fat kid, who has managed to salvage a come from behind win in baseball on par with Charlie Brown himself, the remaining ball playing friends mock the fat kid's efforts, sending him to get the ball that he hit out of the park. The fat kid stumbles his way through the underbrush and reaches the ball, which he has hit into the middle of the roadway.

Triumphant, he seizes the ball and turns to return to the field.

And he gets hit by a truck.

Talk about your born losers. But things aren't over yet--no sir. We then fast forward to the future, where the ball playing gang has reunited at an old lodge. And while they're all expecting something big from one of their old friends, what they actually get's really rather predictable.

First off, their casting choice for the fat kid role was really, really poor. This kid is only fat if your standard of normal weight is Somalian. Emaciated Somalian at that. This kid is really not that heavy. Sure, he's wearing this really doofy looking pair of Gary Oldman-esque sunglasses from his shot on "Bram Stoker's Dracula," but hey--is that reason to get picked on? No, says I, on behalf of every other poor schlub with shoddy fashion sense. And the truck that hit him? It doesn't even slow down. Not a tire screech or a swerving sound to be heard. Somehow, I genuinely can't buy that someone would be driving along, see a kid run out in the road almost two hundred feet away (at least that's how far it looks from the perspective we're given), and not at least try not to hit him.

Worse yet, Burton's favorite shot and plot device appears to be "Shove the camera into someone's face while they deliver dialogue / react to important events / eat a sandwich." I swear, Burton has managed to find a way in which the cheesy set design ceases to be an issue simply by virtue of not actually allowing anyone to see anything but the character's faces. And seeing them in such incredible detail that we can see right down to the open pores.

The camera, you see, is a mere eight inches away from the character's faces.

And then, the all important sequence that truly makes this a Brain Damage flick crops up just before the forty two minute mark as an elderly woman is buried in the ground up to the neck and her head driven over with a snowblower. It's not a Brain Damage flick until, at some point, chunky red goes flying at the screen.

However, I'll admit that things get plenty creepy the farther in you go. Especially toward the end, which is the biggest, strangest part of the movie. The ending, you see, offers all manner of deranged plot twists, messy death sequences, and surprises of all manner. Despite a truly annoying sequence laden with strobe lights, the ending is still sublimely creepy. Not to mention a truly fantastic twist ending.

The special features include a behind the scenes featurette and an abundance of trailers for "Invitation," "Vulture's Eye," "Hellbound," "Strange Things Happen At Sundown," "Vampire Sisters," "Goregoyles: First Cut," "The Tenement," "The Shunned House," "Goth," "Hollywood Vampyr," "Death Factory," "Hell's Highway," and "Terror Toons." Pretty much all of them are laden with blood, dismemberment, decapitation, naked chicks, blood, poor production values, shoddy scriptwork, mock satanic rituals, blood, and pretty much everything that'll make you turn up your nose in disgust at the entire slate. The "Goregoyles: First Cut" trailer alone made me regret the entire creation of surround sound.

All in all, Invitation may have its problems, in fact it may have many problems. The last twenty minutes are pretty much the only high point in this otherwise slag heap of a movie. But, it is still one of if not the best things Brain Damage has going for it. Which really says something about the Brain Damage catalog of titles.

Ghost Watcher

Directed by David A. Cross
89 mins

Any movie that takes place on Halloween is generally a movie to pay attention to. There's a long legacy of movies that took place on that dark and evil day. Some of them are excellent blockbuster titles that forever lodge themselves in the national pantheon. Others are utter wastes of DVD plastic--just plain garbage.

Ghost Watcher firmly lodges itself in the latter category.

So what we have here is the story of an agoraphobic living in a haunted apartment. about your catch-22's, eh? She lives with a paralyzing, irrational fear of wide open spaces (read: anything outside her apartment), meanwhile, the one SAFE place she's got is spook central! What does our frightened agoraphobic do? She goes on the internet and orders a load of ghost tracking gear off a "ghost hunter" website. She even goes so far as to enlist the services of the same "ghost hunter" that she brought the crap from. Not that this is any kind of "serious ghost hunter," if such a thing actually exists--the girl's got a "members only" section on her web site that involves her hanging around in skimpy lingerie for thirty bucks a month. Not exactly a promotional bell ringer--I know I'd never select a ghost hunter on the basis of who looks the hottest on their web site.

The ghost hunter, along with the agoraphobic and the agoraphobic's friend / sole link to the outside world that doesn't involve a computer, spend the rest of the movie hunting up the ghost of a man who killed the agoraphobic's family. Of course, it seldom works so simply--frequently the ghost hunters are rebuffed and beaten, bruised and bloodied by the ghost they pursue.

Ghost Watchers has a very tenuous hold on its audience. It is by lengths frightening and confusing, with segments that are truly bone-chilling inserted in the midst of events that have no conceivable explanation. They insert long skeins of exposition in the middle of the movie, and frankly, I have no clue where they're going with this. Their plot requires so much less time than this to complete, that they're just basically running filler material to keep up the runtime. You know, like writers DO sometimes when they can't think of much else to say but they have a deadline and a minimum word count. Kind of like I just did.

But seriously, Ghost Watcher needed a heavy editing hand. I have to think that it could have been a quality movie if they would have reworked the script to remove the repetitious and confusing segments.

The ending might very well be magnificent, but since I really couldn't follow what happened in the preceding hour and twenty minutes, I can't vouch for the quality of what I just saw.

The special features include director's commentary, Spanish subtitles, Ghost Watcher trailers, deleted scenes, alternate ending, gag watcher (which is really just a blooper reel with a clever name), and trailers for Open Water and Ju-On: The Grudge (the Japanese version, still Sarah Michelle Gellar free).

All in all, Ghost Watcher has its creepy moments, its truly suspenseful bits, and some truly excellent segments. But these are overmastered by the wide expanses of pointless, incomprehensible filler material. This renders Ghost Watcher nearly unwatchable for all but the most patient.