Friday, December 15, 2017

How to create a horror cult film in 35 yrs - Not yet a cult film

Still not yet a cult film even though there's a few cult-like comments and these. If you've noticed something about Ghostkeeper here  it's this:

It's a snow film!

But this Great Britain version of Ghostkeeper has a creature unlike anything I made and also no palm trees and pyramids. 

But it's getting closer to being cultish (is that a real word?). 

By this time though there are more reviews and a "5" on a scale of 10. Not great but not under 5. You take what you get I guess. By now there have been reviews from real reviewers rather than your next-door neighbor or dog.

And we're getting closer. This Spanish version of Ghostkeeper appears from again, some unknown source who didn't have to pay me for showing my movie.

 Now we're talking. By the way, if anyone wants posters that you've seen I would be happy to send you one, although cost for this one is around $18 and postage, and I don't make a penny except going to Staples on my own gas.

And we're getting closer to being a real Horror Cult Film. There are more comments, both good and bad but "still rated 5 out of 10" and I'm still happy with that too, again. Here's a stack of good reviews. You can find the bad ones on your time.

 Monday: DVD and the Trash Palace

Monday, December 11, 2017

How to create a cult film in 35 yrs - Video

After 1981, there was little going on, there was a bit of foreign sales but nothing much in Canada or the US. As I mentioned before, the lead actress's husband took video rights for several years. 

I had heard from a friend in Belgium that someone saw a foreign video and that someone in Germany had discovered the movie as well. I didn't think anything of it, but we joked about having a tiny European cult film.

Then we got a deal from New World, a pretty good company in Los Angeles and they finally put a video out. I never even saw the deal, so much for a friendly distributor. But it finally got video, even if I never saw the video. I finally found a copy, the one you see now.

I noticed a few people talking about this -

"Ghostkeeper is yet another undiscovered horror gem that is hardly known of at all, even by hardened horror fans."


Somebody likes it? And on IMDB. It was from someone called horror_freek from Oregon.

And then I got an email from MJ Simpson. With a huge comment, found the good and handled the bad. It was a big surprise to me at any rate. This guy writes 3 pages too!

The Passion of the Ghostkeeper

It’s about time that I wrote about Ghostkeeper. But first, I want to recount a curious incident which happened in the SFX office, not long after the first issue was published. The phone rang, and I answered it. (This was 1995, hardly anyone had email. Communication was still done by phone, fax and post. It was like the Middle Ages.) A French voice said, in English: "’Allo, zees is ze editor ov ays-eff-ex magaseen.” Which was an odd thing to say because the editor of SFX magazine was English and sitting where I could not only see him but actually reach out and touch him. (It was an absurdly small office with five desks crammed into a space which could have comfortably accommodated two.)

      It turned out that there was already a magazine called SFX, published in France, about which none of us knew. I knew there had been a British music mag called SFX back in the early 1980s when the abbreviation meant ‘sound effects’, but by 1995 it meant ‘special effects’ and a French glossy all about effects on TV and in films was using that title. They were rather surprised to see a British glossy all about fantasy, sci-fi and horror appearing with the same title. But an amicable settlement was reached. French SFX wasn’t available in the UK and British SFX wouldn’t be available in France. Fair enough. We did later have Italian, Spanish and German reprint editions and it was fun reading what I had written in another language. But the reason I mention all this is because of The Passion of Darkly Noon.

         As a reviewer (I’m not a critic and I’m not even sure what one of those is; I just write reviews) it’s always a treat to see my words used to publicise a film. I rarely get mentioned by name, but I know that they’re my words. During my SFX days I ended up on a few book covers too and was particularly excited when my quote appeared on the paperback of Lawrence M Krauss’s book The Physics of Star Trek, because that did actually use my name. The downside of that achievement was that I felt the need to go out and buy the paperback simply because it had my name on it, even though I already owned a review copy of the hardback. So it ended up costing me money. And you know, writing stuff for sci-fi mags is not exactly a high-paying job.
      All of which brings me, by a very circuitous route, to the subject of Ghostkeeper, which has not one but two quotes from from me on the sleeve of the Code Red DVD released last year. And I’m quite happy to see my quotes on there because I’m rather proud of being instrumental, in my own little way, in reviving interest in this fascinating movie. Most times, a review is a review and who cares? It makes no difference. Maybe a few people say: "Oh look, MJ Simpson says it’s good, I’ll chance a few bucks on a copy.” But for each of them there is probably somebody else saying: "Well, if that idiot Simpson likes it, the movie must suck big time.” You win some, you lose some. But sometimes a review is the little push that starts a snowball down the mountain.
      Ghostkeeper, I should explain, is an early 1980s Canadian horror movie directed by a chap named Jim Makichuk, who started out in TV news and learned all the film-making ropes with a view to directing features. In 1980 he found himself with a cool location - a mountaintop hotel, closed all winter, apparently isolated but actually right next to a big ski resort - and some investment. This was a ‘happy time’ for Canadian film-making with Government tax breaks encouraging investors, and from those investments we have the likes of Scanners, Porky’s - and Ghostkeeper. The story is loosely based around the native American legend of the Windigo or Wendigo (later used by Larry Fessenden for his own horror film) which is a sort of cannibalistic demon-thing. Three tourists on their skidoos end up at this remote hotel run by one apparently bonkers old lady but with a secret in its rooms.

      Ghostkeeper is laden with atmosphere. It’s chilly to watch, the hotel interiors are brilliantly creepy and the snowy exteriors wonderfully evocative of isolation. But it’s not quite the film that Makichuk set out to make. He shot the footage pretty much in sequence and consequently had about half the movie in the can - the first half - when he discovered that a problem with one of the producers meant the money was running out very fast and he had about a day to shoot his creature shots so he shot a bunch of random stuff. It’s not a big suit creature, just kind of a scary guy, but that makes the story all the creepier. All the big chase/action stuff planned for the third act had to be dropped, leaving a film which stumbles to a halt enigmatically, raising more questions than it answers. And lots of second unit stuff was filmed to bulk out the running time which likewise has an unexpected benefit, pacing the story and building the atmosphere in a way that might not have worked anywhere near so well if all had gone to plan.

      Ghostkeeper never played UK cinemas but it did appear over here on VHS, released in 1986 by Apex Video (as Ghost Keeper). The mid-1980s was a boom time for home video releases (the 1984 VRA notwithstanding) and companies like Apex were banging out rental tapes as fast as they could, and not bothering about little things like whether the sleeve bore any relation to the film contained therein. As far as I can tell, where no obviously usable artwork was easily to hand, 1980s video companies would just just use any old pre-existing piece of fantasy-themed artwork. I’m guessing they maybe bought these up in job lots from defunct paperback publishers. Clearly somebody, somewhere, sometime went to the trouble of painting the image used on the Apex Ghost Keeper sleeve - but they certainly didn’t do it for this film.

  As you can see, the sleeve features a quite magnificent Inca/Aztec vulture-demon thing with stepped Meso-American pyramids under a blood red sky. It’s a whole continent away from the snowbound film itself, half-heartedly represented by a couple of small stills on the back of the box. I think I must have picked up this tape from a bargain bin in Stoke-on-Trent sometime in the early 1990s. It travelled down to Bath with me, then up to Leicester three years later, along with hundreds of other VHS tapes and one or two of those weird new things called DVDs (it was totally the Middle Ages). In January 2006, when I was getting rid of a lot of old tapes because I had started buying too many DVDs, I rewatched Ghostkeeper and posted a review onto my website.
 It’s always a treat to hear from film-makers whose work I have featured so I was delighted to receive an email out of the blue from Jim Makichuk, thanking me for the review. We stayed in touch and a couple of years later did a phone interview which also went onto my website. One of the reasons I had reviewed Ghostkeeper specifically was because no-one else seemed to have written anything about it, but once my review and the interview were out there and linked from the IMDB, people searching for info on this old movie they remembered had something they could read. And this started to generate interest among fans of 1980s and/or Canadian horror and create a market for a possible DVD release.
  It’s very tempting to assume nowadays that every film ever made, at least since the introduction of colour, and at least in English, has been released somewhere on DVD but actually there are plenty of movies still awaiting a proper release. Until last year, Ghostkeeper was one of those limbo titles: released on VHS back in the day, even uploaded to the web from a VHS source apparently, but not legitimately available on a shiny drinks coaster. Kudos to Code Red (whose website says the movie has "garnered a large genre fanbase over the years and has been voted one of the most anticipated Canadian horror films for a DVD release”) for reviving Ghostkeeper. The disc has some interviews and a commentary by Jim and the two lead actors, full of great reminiscences about this film and the early 1980s Canadian cinema industry in general. The release has generated some great reviews and now people are starting to ask Jim when he’s going to make Ghostkeeper Part 2. It could happen. And in a lovely touch, Code Red have even reproduced the ‘demonic chicken’ image from the old APEX sleeve on the disc itself.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Back in the saddle again...

For those of you who have followed my blog beginning from 2009, thanks for staying with me. There was a big gap when I moved and got a lot of problems from those Google boys and girls which took a lot of "fixing". It meant my blog was off for a while and a lot of viewers went elsewhere.

ANYWAYS... the blog is back with my item called "How To Create A Cult Film In 35 years". I started a few weeks ago and was glad to see a lot of people back. Here's who's still with us.

United Kingdom

I've had a lot of others, a dozen or so from South-east Asia, a few have returned already.

And my two homes; Canada and USA who keep me reasonably smart.

Back to Monday... 


Thursday, December 7, 2017

How to create a cult film in 35 yrs - no money

Yes, we were running short and I was not able to get that great chase on top of the hotel. We had about a week planned and having a stack of years of commercials and documentaries, we simply said the chase will be inside. Actually later, it was a good idea as the hotel had become one of the characters in our movie.

We added a long stretch for actor Murray Ord to go off into the snow and left in deep snow way off in the distance. But now we had lead actor Riva face off with crazy Georgie Collins (the old lady even though she wasn't that old she says she always gets old parts). Georgie is a good actor, and one of the best I've ever worked with. I miss her as I she passed away this spring.

So face off: Riva is alone against Georgie and the monster John MacMilIian who is very tall. We did the final in the hallway of the hotel with Georgie and Riva facing off until Riva shoots and Georgie is down.

But there still in the creature and there's no way out for Riva. And I did the only thing I could.

Riva becomes the Ghostkeeper although there was no Ghost, just a big guy, but as she sat in front of the fireplace, we know it's all okay. Finished on time, not what we necessarily wanted but we got enough and it worked. This little piece gets comments as I told an interviewer that we ran out of money and this seems to be a "director comment" bit that a lot of the viewers like.

It finally opens at a theater in Calgary March 4 1982.

 That ended most of Ghostkeeper. We had a sales agent, which of course is also known as a thief. They take films to film companies and always seem to have not made money. For us, the makers. 

And Ghostkeeper disappeared. I had sales in Canada and I don't think it ever played anywhere in north America. I was a little sorry that it didn't do well but we had no money to push it. That's where I learned how to watch sales agents. I have one now, and he actually paid me.

Then I got an agent in LA.

But that's another story as Ghostkeeper disappears from my life.

Or does it?

So this is the first part of Ghostkeeper. Remember 1992. 


Monday, December 4, 2017

How to create a cult film in 35 yrs - Here comes the Ghostkeeper


I now had worked at 3 TV stations and ending up in Calgary. And I was getting tired of making tv commercials. Then one of us quit to make movies. I saw that and waited and finally decided to write a screenplay, my first feature. Ghostkeeper. Me on the left and John Holbrook, who shot the film.

I had a friend who had a friend who owned a nice old hotel near Lake Louise. Actually the hotel was his. Around the time there were a lot of new-wave horror films and I was thinking I should make one. We had the hotel as it was closed in the winter.

We needed a creature and I finished writing the screenplay. We worked through spring and summer and fall until another friend who worked with me in the past found money. Around $350,000. ((Equal to $1.8 million in today's amount).

We were ready to go in late December 1980.  Here's the shoot in one big collection.

But there was one big problem. We didn't get all the money we expected and suddenly the chase on the old hotel's roof would not be done. And we had only a couple of days to figure out something. Simple.

Next:  Simple.

Friday, December 1, 2017

How to Create a Cult Classic Horror - One way through a barrel factory

 I still have a dozen or so of this card. The names are on the same card because that's all we could afford. Really. We had a small office off Granville with two movie seats and a desk. We had a calling company, which was women taking messages to people who have offices but not in them. No cell phones either. Here's the official production

It made us real filmmakers in sorts, still broke, still wanting to make movies. Finally I got a producer job in Saskatchewan, cold and snow, not Vancouver. But it was a job. From there I got another producer job. Phil made two more shorts and was getting LA attention.  Still nothing happened.

Finally I got a few producer jobs for tv stations and lasted for a few years. And the cooperage film was very much a help. By then Phil was making his first feature and finally I got together a few friends and a producer and talked about a movie. A horror movie. And somehow we got the money.  And we began to work on something called Ghostkeeper. It's where I learned how to make movies and how to watch people who cheat. 

One point here, Phil and I were always close, we parted due to my going to tv stations while he was making his western. What was important is that we tackled Cooperage together. It really helps to keep close to old friends.

Here's where Cooperage went. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

How did we get into the movies


I decided to fill you in a little more. Like, how did we get into the real movies. It started way back in 1972 (most of you weren't even born) when I and my wife attended a film course in Banff, Alberta. If you haven't been there, it's an incredibly beautiful range of mountains and a school for music and art -- and film.

Before that I was working at a TV station in Ontario. But it was here where I met Phillip Borsos, a real talent in film. Both of us were among 12 other "students" and we all had to make a short movie. At the end, both Phil and I failed. The photo above shows us, Phil is behind the older woman and I'm beside him

Failed. But from that school, we were the only ones who went on to make movies.

A few years found Phil and me getting any jobs on films here and there. Then Phil told me about a barrel factory he had seen in downtown Vancouver. He wanted to film it since school and thought we could do it.

We asked the owner of the factory a few times but he said no. Finally one day he gave it. We got film and borrowed film gear. Phil worked at the film lab so we would come in the evening and get it processed. I filmed most of it but I was also working at the local CTV TV station and Phil directed and we got someone else to shoot the last bits.

Then we got a great editor but also expensive and we managed to get money enough for editing. Now we had a short film.  But nobody wanted it.

 But what happened next changed our lives.