Howdy fellow fiends and Happy New Year! I trust everyone had a delightfully dreadful holiday season filled with enough dismay to start your year off right… or wrong depending on your preference. Welcome back to the NOFS Video Vault. We’ve been waiting for you…
We figured we would welcome you back with a grotesque gem from Canadian director, Jim Matichuk (Blood Games, Highlander TV series). This little-film-that-could is a master class in guerilla filmmaking. Not enough money in the budget? Who cares! Have an unfinished script? So what! Need the opening reshot for the film despite it being finished and released more than two years prior? P’shaaawww! The folks that served up this one don’t have time for the naysayers, these guys have got a horror movie to make!
So break out your ski boots, matching form-fitting snowsuits and get feathered coifs in check ’cause it’s New Year’s Eve in 1980 and we’re takin’ the sleds out for a rip, bud! Here is the NOFS Video Vault‘s look at Ghostkeeper (1981).
“A trio of snowmobilers in the Canadian Rockies become stranded on New Year’s Eve at an abandoned hotel […] hiding an evil entity down in the basement”
The cast is small and unknown in this early 80’s trip into the Rocky Mountains. Riva Spier (Rabid, 1977) stars as Jenny, the quintessential final girl. Murray Ord (Runaway, 1983) plays boyfriend Marty, the jerkiest of jerks while Sheri McFadden in her only film to date plays Chrissy the stereotypical promiscuous blonde who aims to steal Marty out from under Jenny’s nose. The late Georgie Collins (The Visitor, 1974) is the Ghostkeeper, a creepy caretaker at a mysterious, abandoned hotel. Les Kimber (Superman III, 1983) plays the Storekeeper while Billy Grove in his only known role plays Danny, the creepy son of Georgie Collins’ caretaker character. Finally, rounding out the small cast is John MacMillan who plays the “Windigo” in his only known acting role.
Back of the Box Overview
A trio of snowmobilers in the Canadian Rockies become stranded on New Year’s Eve at an abandoned hotel, after trespassing and subsequently getting stuck in a blizzard. After taking refuge inside the old hotel they encounter a creepy old woman, the caretaker, who, unbeknownst to our hapless interlopers, is hiding an evil entity down in the basement. Fun Fact: The film’s plot is inspired by the Wendigo legend of North America.
For those that ain’t hip to Native Canadian legends the Wendigo, (Windigo, as it is spelled in the movie) is a mythical evil spirit who preys on human flesh, native to the northern Atlantic Coast and Great Lakes Regions of North America. It’s a spirit that appears differently to different people. Sometimes it appears as a physical monster with human characteristics while to others it manifests as a spirit inside themselves, possessing the individual, turning them monstrous. Regardless of how it chooses to show itself, it is always associated with murder, greed, and cannibalism.
“Wendigo Psychosis is a real psychological phenomenon […] with symptoms such as craving human flesh and fear of becoming a cannibal.”
There is also a scientific side to the legend where the idea of the legend can manifest into someone’s actual life. Wendigo Psychosis is a real psychological phenomenon described by psychiatrists as a “culture-bound syndrome” with symptoms such as craving human flesh and fear of becoming a cannibal. These severe psychological cases have been known to stem from things like environmental destruction with the above-mentioned symptoms manifesting within the subjects.
So if you’re sitting around the house and you suddenly feel the need to gnaw on your own arm, you may be a Wendigo. See a shrink, stat!
Filmed at Lake Louise in Banff, Alberta, the production was on shaky ground from the get-go having been made under a tax shelter. This style of budgeting was a very unstable and unorthodox way to make a movie but despite the choice by investors to do so, Ghostkeeper ultimately secured a budget of $750k. A small cast of local actors and crew was assembled with the exception of Georgie Collins, who was a well-known stage actor at the time, but for most, it was their very first film.
The film was originally intended to be a supernatural thriller based on the above mentioned Wendigo legend but the script was never completed after the gamble of proceeding production with the tax credit model ultimately crashed and burned. Director Matichuck was faced with either shutting down the production or finishing the film with what he could scrape together and with half a film in the can, Matichuck ultimately decided to push forward and complete the film. Because of this, the whole the second half of the feature was basically improvised. Scenes were being written the day before the crew would shoot them and the result drew the plot closer to a slasher movie than the originally intended supernatural concept.
“…every day I made up the scene as we’re going along, which is not the way to make a movie. That’s what made it so uneven and without a terrific ending that we had hoped for.” -Jim Matichuck
The following is a quote from Matichuck in an interview with MJ Simpson: Cult Movies and the People Who Make Them in June 2008, regarding the funding problems;
They told us that the money is almost all gone. We had a choice of stopping the movie, pulling the plug and I said, ‘No way, we’ve gotten over half of it shot.’ So every day I made up the scene as we’re going along, which is not the way to make a movie. That’s what made it so uneven and without a terrific ending that we had hoped for. But the thing I wanted with Johnny Holbrook, who is a great cameraman, is to have a mood. A dark sort of mood, an ominous thing going on – and I think for the most part it works. The prints that got finished were so dark but the distributors, those guys, they don’t care at all.
But Matichuck cared and he moved mountains (figuratively, of course) to finish his film. In fact, had he secured a stable budget the ending of the film wouldn’t have felt so rushed and thrown together. There would have been more of the Windigo and an extended chase between the monster and Jenny, complete with a race across the snowy rooftops of the old hotel was originally planned.
Theatrical Release/Home Video
On December 31, 1981 Ghostkeeper was released across North America theatrically. This is the official release date notwithstanding the fact that it screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May of the same year, though not for competition.
Ghostkeeper sat in a five-year distribution limbo after its initial 1981 release. It didn’t receive a home video release until 1986 when the home video branch of New World Pictures released it on VHS. Twenty-six years later, in April 2012, it found a home for the first time on DVD courtesy of Code Red Releasing. The DVD included a commentary with director Jim Makichuck and actors Riva Spier and Murray Ord. Interviews with director of photography John Holbrook and actress Georgie Collins were included in the special features.
Fun Fact #2: There is an alternate opening to the film that features a young man fleeing from the hotel and running into the woods. He his ultimately tracked down, caught and backed up against a tree by his unseen assailant and impaled with a sharp wooden stake. This was shot two years after the film’s release by the movie’s distributor. This opening was not featured in the 1986 VHS version, distributed by the very same distributor that shot the alternate opening. I know, go figure, huh?
Ghostkeeper is a slow burn, there’s no doubt about that, but that atmosphere though… creepy AF! Matichuck takes the time to set the stage and build the atmosphere, allowing the audience to get to know the characters and allowing the tension to build throughout the story. Couple that with Georgie Collins gritty scenery-chewing performance as the titular Ghostkeeper and John Holbrook’s claustrophobic cinematography and you’ve got a pretty (and literally at that) tight little movie. Sure the characters and dialogue are dated and there are some hokey tropes by today’s standards but back in the day, these were fresh ideas. Keeping that in mind, Ghostkeeper is a solid watch for a snowy night in.
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I hope you enjoyed your visit. Feel free to look around some more but remember to close the door on your way out. We wouldn’t want any of these vicious video vermin to vamoose their way outta here, would we? If you enjoyed the NOFS Video Vault, let us know what you thought of Ghostkeeper on Twitter, Reddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook. Until next time, fellow friends, stay creepy!