|Directed by||Jim Makichuk|
|Produced by||Howard J. Cole|
|Written by||Jim Makichuk
|Music by||Paul Zaza|
|Edited by||Stan Cole|
|Distributed by||Badland Pictures
New World Pictures
Starmaker Video (video release)
|Budget||$750,000 CAD (estimated)|
Ghostkeeper is a 1981 Canadian independent horror film directed by Jim Makichuk. The story centers on a trio of snowmobilers in the Canadian Rockies who become stranded at an abandoned hotel, where an old woman is hiding an evil entity within the basement. The film's plot is inspired by the Windigo legend of North America.
Filmed in Banff, Alberta under a tax shelter in December 1980, the film had an unstable financial situation and the filmmakers nearly halted the production mid-way through due to depletion of its budget. The film was given a minuscule theatrical run in Canada and the United States and is consequently little-known among horror film fans, but has attained a cult following over the years. It was released in VHS format in the 1990s, and released on DVD by Code Red Releasing in April 2012.
Jenny, Marty, and Chrissy are spending their New Year's Eve on a snowmobiling trip in the Rocky Mountains. After talking with a storekeeper at a ski shop, the three decide to go riding before dark, but end up caught in a blizzard. Looming before them is a seemingly abandoned hotel at the top of the snow trail, isolated from tourists and miles away from the skiing area. The three enter the building to escape the increasingly harsh conditions, and find that the heat is on, but there are no lights. As night falls, they start a fire and tell stories and reminisce. Marty decides to go into the hotel kitchen where he finds an old woman lurking. She is brash and apprehensive of their presence, and they learn that she lives in the hotel with two unseen sons.
Though hesitant, the woman lodges them in rooms. Marty and Jenny argue in their bedroom, while Chrissy goes down the hallway to take a bath since the plumbing in the rooms is obsolete. While in the bathtub, Chrissy is attacked by one of the sons named Danny and held underwater. A restless Jenny goes to check on Chrissy, but the candle-lit bathroom is empty; Jenny then runs into the old woman and have a conversation about the hotel and hers sons. Meanwhile, Danny carries Chrissy to the basement of the hotel, where he slits her throat and then stores her body in a freezer. Jenny awakens in the night and hears the old woman talking to someone downstairs.
The next morning, Marty goes outside to the snowmobiles to activate them upon no success. Suspecting that they have been tampered with, he goes outside to an old shed for tools, while Jenny stays in the kitchen with the old woman. After accepting the tea from the offering woman, Jenny inquires about Chrissy's disappearance, but the old woman is evasive. Jenny returns to a lounge in the hotel where she realizes she's been drugged, and falls unconscious. She awakens in the basement, where she finds a book on Native American folklore and reads that a Wendigo is often "kept" by an old woman who had the power passed on to her from another. She opens the freezer and discovers a human Windigo inside, being the old woman's second son. Danny then comes down to the basement with a chainsaw and chases Jenny throughout the hotel, up into the attic. Jenny exits through a window onto a small balcony; she manages to push him over, where he is impaled on an iron fence below.
Jenny finds Marty outside, who appears to be possessed and rambling to himself while wandering into the woods. Meanwhile, the storekeeper arrives at the hotel where he is stabbed by the old woman. Jenny re-enters the hotel, where she finds Danny's body has been dragged into the foyer. She locates a shotgun in a storage room, and is confronted by the old woman who remarks claims that she is Jenny's deceased mother. Jenny shoots and kills her. Strangely overtaken, she visits the Wendigo in the freezer where she says that "she will look after you now." and finds Marty's body outside with no reaction. In the end, Jenny sits in a lounge chair in front of a fireplace as the old woman's head is heard.
- Riva Spier as Jenny
- Murray Ord as Marty
- Sheri McFadden as Chrissy
- Georgie Collins as Ghostkeeper
- Les Kimber as Storekeeper
- Bill Grove as Danny (credited as Billy Grove)
- John MacMillan as Windigo
Ghostkeeper was filmed on location in Lake Louise and the Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. Filming began on December 1, 1980, and finished on December 23, 1980. The film's budget was a modest CA$750,000 dollars, thus justifying the film as a highly low budget production. The cast was made up of unknown or locally known actors, and for most of them, Ghostkeeper was their first and final film credit (Georgie Collins was primarily a well-known stage actress in Calgary, and Murray Ord went on to become a successful film producer in later years). The film was photographed by cinematographer John Holbrook.
The film was made under a tax shelter, which made its financial situation rather unstable; Jim Makichuk said that he was given the option of halting the film's production when the funding began to run low, but he pursued to finish the film anyway—
|“||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.||”|
According to Makichuk, prior to the depletion of the budget, his original intention was to film a much longer ending, including an extended chase sequence with Spier and the Wendigo creature on the rooftop of the Deer Lodge hotel.
The film's score was composed by Paul Zaza, who also composed music for both Canadian slasher film productions Prom Night (1980) and My Bloody Valentine (1981). Zaza got on board due to the involvement of film editor Stan Cole. In fact, some of the musical themes featured in Ghostkeeper were also used in Prom Night.
An alternate opening to the film was shot by distributors two years after the initial production. In the opening, a young man fleeing from the hotel at sunlight and running into the woods until backing up against a tree. While pinned, he is killed (presumably by Danny) and stabbed from a sharp wood stake. This opening was not featured in the 1986 VHS.
The film was released in Canada and the United States in December 1981, being distributed by New World Pictures, but did not receive a home video release until September 1986. The film was released on VHS in September 1986 through New World Pictures' home video branch. Director Jim Makichuk stated in an interview that he was trying to get a DVD released through Netflix with a quality print of the film.
In April 2012, Ghostkeeper was released for the first time on DVD through Code Red Releasing. The DVD included a commentary with Jim Makichuck, Riva Spier and Murray Ord, an interview with director of photography John Holbook as well as an interview with actress Georgie Collins. The film is presented in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen for the first time on video and has been restored from the only known existing film elements.
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Critical reception for the film has been mixed to positive, with praise regarding the presented atmosphere. Terror Trap.com gave the film a positive review stating, "Not for all tastes, the methodically paced Ghostkeeper is an exercise in disciplined mood generation; its bare claustrophobia either works for the viewer or not. But for those who prefer their chills straightforward, pre-sneer and pre-sarcasm, Keeper can be a most rewarding snow trap".
J.A. Kerswell from Hysteria Lives! gave the film a negative review calling the film "flawed", and "muddled". In the The Blockbuster Entertainment Guide to Movies and Videos (1999), the film was rated two-and-a-half stars out of five, deemed "an absurd thriller." Eric Cotenas of DVD Drive-In noted the film's prominent atmosphere and drew comparisons to Stephen King's The Shining as well as cinematographer John Holbrook’s "aesthetic response to the desolate location."
- Vatnsdal 2004, p. 240.
- Coffel, Chris (December 30, 2016). "6 Horror Films to Help You Ring in The New Year". Film School Rejects. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
- "Ghostkeeper Review". MJ Simpson: Cult Movies and the People Who Make Them. 2006. Retrieved December 27, 2009.
- Lengeman, Bill (June 2006). "The Wendigo (essay)". The Internet Review of Science Fiction. Retrieved March 25, 2010.
- Freitag, Loiselle & 2009, p. 25.
- Vatnsdal 2004, p. 153.
- "IMDB Box Office/Business – Ghostkeeper". IMDB. Retrieved December 29, 2009.
- Vatnsdal 2004, p. 154.
- "Interview with director Jim Makichuk on Ghostkeeper". MJ Simpson: Cult Movies and the People Who Make Them. June 2008. Retrieved March 22, 2010.
- "Nightmare at Deer Lodge: An Interview with Jim Makichuk". The Terror Trap. Retrieved October 31, 2012.
- "Ghostkeeper (1981) Alternate/Missing Intro". YouTube.
- Cole, Harold J. (May 1981). "Cole getting ready to shoot again as "Ghostkeeper" goes to Cannes". Cinema Canada. p. 23.
- "Retailer's Guide: New World Video". Billboard: H-6. October 4, 1986.
- Cotenas, Eric (April 2012). "Ghostkeeper". DVD Drive-In. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
- "Ghostkeeper DVD Review At Rock! Shock! Pop!". Ian Jane. April 2012. Retrieved April 26, 2012.
- Hunter, Dan; Knowles, Jason. "The Terror Trap: Ghostkeeper". The Terror Trap.com. Dan Hunter and Jason Knowles. Retrieved October 17, 2014.
- "GHOSTKEEPER". Hysteria Lives!. Hysteria Lives.com. Retrieved October 17, 2014.
- Blockbuster 1998, p. 446.
- Blockbuster (1998). The Blockbuster Entertainment Guide to Movies and Videos. Dell. ISBN 978-0-440-22598-0.
- Freitag, Gina, and Loiselle, André, eds. (2009). The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-1-442-62850-2.
- Vatnsdal, Caelum (2004). They Came From Within: A History Of Canadian Horror Cinema. Arbeiter Ring. ISBN 978-1-894-03721-1.