If you've ever been to a historic theater, the kind built in the twenties or thirties, that hosted vaudeville acts and the like, you'll know that they're naturally eerie places, and thus a perfect spot in which to set a horror film. And that's part of what inspired writer / director Jeff Ferrell to make his feature debut Ghostlight.
Mira (Lisa Coronado) is a high strung and fragile young woman, who is none too happy that her husband Andrew (Brian Sutherland) has won a chance at $50,000. All he has to do is spend the night in an old theater, and the owner Mr. Black (Dennis Kleinsmith) will fork over the cash. But Mira has a bad premonition about the whole affair, even though her skeptic husband insists that there's nothing to worry about.
After some hemming and hawing, and a tour of the creepy building from Mr. Black and the caretaker Bob (Russell Hodgkinson), the day finally arrives, and Andrew prepares to spend the night. Black has told him all about the sordid history of the place, how a former owner killed his lover when he discovers her in the arms of the house organist. It's said that the spirits of all three still haunt the corridors of the theater, but Andrew isn't worried.
But perhaps he should be. It isn't long before he's hearing footsteps, seeing shadowy figures and having visions. Things don't exactly go well after that.
Ghostlight isn't a perfect movie. It obviously has a very low budget and faces a lot of restraints because of that. The performances are pretty good and generally fun. Kleinsmith is a bit over the top, but according to the commentary, that was intended. The blood effects are good as well, subtle but effective. There are some genuinely creepy moments, extended periods of tension and dread, and a number of inventive and effective jump scares. However, the biggest problem with the film is that it takes almost forty minutes to get to the part that works the best: Andrew alone in the theater. That material was excellent: spooky and thrilling. But it should have been two thirds of the movie, rather than one third, and started much sooner.
The buildup is fine, and there is some mood setting and general eeriness. But it doesn't pack nearly the wallop of the later material, and could have been dispensed with more efficiently. As such, the film moves more slowly than it could have, and has less of an impact.
Even so, the time spent in the theater is a lot of fun, and saves the film from being a failure. The location they used, an actual historic theater, lends a feeling of weight and authenticity to the affair that can't be bought with dollars. It has its flaws, but Ghostlight is recommended.
The image is 1.78:1 widescreen, and looks pretty good. There is some very mild posterization from time to time, but overall the image is clear, with inky shadows and muted colors.
Audio is Dolby digital 2 channel, and sounds pretty good. Sound plays an important role in a film like this, and it is presented well, especially when Andrew is playing around with the antique organ and the strange groans and moans pour forth in the empty auditorium. No subtitles or alternate language tracks are included.
There are a couple of extras included, beyond the trailers for Hell's Caretaker and Poe: Project of Evil which run before the film. The extras are:
"Morella" A Short film by Jeff Ferrell
A project of Ferrell's from film school, based on the Poe Story. It's moody and effective.
"Sleepless" The Making of Ghostlight
This behind the scenes feature clocks in at an hour and fourteen minutes, much too long to be watched in its entirety, even though it's interesting. I sat through about half an hour of interviews and footage, and it was engaging, but too long.
Jeff Ferrell and Brian Sutherland do the commentary, and it's fairly interesting, with lots of tidbits that will be of interest especially to low budget filmmakers. They discuss the casting, ad libs on set, chemistry between the actors, and plenty of anecdotes from the production.
Ghostlight is a movie with some flaws, but not so many that the viewer can't have some fun, get a few chills and thrills, and enjoy themselves. The story doesn't completely make sense, at least not at the first viewing, and it takes too long to really get going, but there are honest to goodness scares here, and that's always good. Check it out.