My first feature was a suspense-thriller called Ghostkeeper, which I wrote and directed way back in 1980 through my Badland Pictures company. At that time I lived in Calgary and a friend of mine, Doug MacLeod, knew the son of the owner of the Deer Lodge Hotel in the nearby Rocky Mountains.
The hotel is right beside the famous Chateau Lake Louise, known all over the world. The Deer Lodge was much smaller and not as well known. It was also closed during the winter.
Doug and I figured out a basic plot; young couple get trapped in the empty hotel by a mad woman and chaos ensues.
It did a bit of business, got some good reviews, primarily for the spooky ambience and some bad reviews like "worst movie ever made". I used local actor friends and a union crew and we shot it for around $650,000 which would be roughly equivilent to around $1.5 million today.
My Vancouver friend John Holbrook shot it and did a beautiful job considering it was often below zero temperatures and real snow falling. And I got a great editor, Stan Cole, who edited, among others, the classic A Christmas Story. Both of them helped make it better.
But what happened afterwards was truly amazing.
About 5 years ago, I noticed more reviews of Ghostkeeper, even though it had been out of circulation for almost 25 years. Horror fans in Germany and England were finding copies of it and watching it. Again reviews were mixed, "great movie" or "horrible movie".
Then I heard that the kids that get hired to work the Deerlodge Hotel, now open all year, actually found copies and would watch it together.
Then I got a call from a British critic who raved about it, followed by a British distributor who wants to release it as a DVD.
Just goes to show you that if you wait long enough, someone will say something nice about you.
Then, last month, I got an email from someone in Toronto who found a 16mm print of the movie and was going to show it to his cult film group and wanted me to attend.
Now the truth is, Ghostkeeper isn't a great movie, it was my first screenplay and had some flaws. We had financial problems during the last week and as a result I couldn't shoot the spectacular ending I had written.
So I made up the last 20 minutes. Every day I would go to the hotel and find out who we had in terms of the small cast. Then I figured out what we could do for nothing, then we filmed it. And somehow, Stan put it together so that it had a sense of coherence.
What I learned was that, even now, it gets differing reviews. But it doesn't really matter because the good ones are good, the bad ones don't get it. It does have a creepy atmosphere, from the real steam that comes from the actor's breath to the real snowfalls that we filmed at around -25 F.
I am the first one to admit that some of my movies weren't very good. Some are not bad, a few are pretty good. But Ghostkeeper was a surprise to me, I had all but forgotten about it. And it's where I learned a great lesson, find the best cameraperson and editor that you can afford because in the end, they will save you.
So... I am taking time off to go to T.O. and introduce the movie to the horror/suspense crowd and then sit back and answer questions afterwards. I'm also going to visit family and put a bit more closure on my mom's passing.
Casualties of Love is on hold for 2 weeks, actually I'll be doing a rewrite on it, so it's not completely on hold. We hope to do the reading around the 2nd week of November and then after that I hunt for money to film it.
Here's one review that's relatively good and believe it or not, this is the mood I was going for:
Director JIM MAKICHUK thankfully resists gilding the lily and permits the frozen Canadian landscape to play its own chilly tune. There’s no spray-on frost on these windowpanes. Snow encrusted trees tower like glittering skyscrapers and we’re shown that walking a few feet through the accumulation is a feat in and of itself. Filmed on location in a preexisting lodge/hotel, the devil’s in the details everywhere you look.
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