Bill’s Bizarre Bijou goes to GHOST TOWN (1988)

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

GHOST TOWN (1988)

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Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Ah, Empire Pictures: A Charles Band Production – at one time those words sent anxious chills down my spine as I waited for the credits of the second feature to end and the next movie at the drive-in to begin.  Charles Band brought us unbelievably cheap, shoddy, stupid, and FUN movies during the 1970s and 1980s.  This is the man who unleashed lizard aliens in LASERBLAST (1978), a killer Chuck Connors in TOURIST TRAP (1979), Demi Moore pursued by a chest-bursting Alien-wannabe in PARASITE (1982), midget Satanist monsters in GHOULIES (1985), Tim Thomerson time traveling in TRANCERS (1985), and the list goes on and on. . . . TROLL (1986), TERRORVISION (1986), RE-ANIMATOR (1985), FROM BEYOND (1986), PRISON (1988), CELLAR DWELLAR (1988), CANNIBAL WOMEN IN THE AVACADO JUNGLE OF DEATH (1989), and who can forget 1988’s SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-A-RAMA?  With a few exceptions, these were bad B-movies, maybe even D or E movies, but there was a certain charm to the “I Can Do It” attitude everyone at Empire brought to their projects that compensated for most of the budgetary restraints.  What remained were fun little movies that many remember fondly.

One of the last Empire Pictures produced by Charles Band was GHOST TOWN (1988), a horror western hybrid that was actually head and shoulders above almost everything Band unleashed upon the poor suckers still in their cars at drive-ins at two in the morning.  This little baby fell between the cracks as Band folded Empire Pictures and brought forth Full Moon Pictures, which threatened to (and sadly, for a while, did) release a new movie on video every month.  Don’t get me started on Full Moon movies.  They made the Empire flicks look like Ernst Lubitsch in comparison, although they had their followers.

Anyway, as GHOST TOWN begins, a beautiful woman in a convertible, Kate, (Catherine Hickland from the TV shows CAPITOL, WEREWOLF, and ONE LIFE TO LIVE) races through the desert.  A fallen power line stops her, and she takes a shortcut (Uh oh!  We all know how those turn out).  She tosses a bridal veil from the moving car and she hears the hoof-beats of an invisible horse and rider following her.  Her tire blows, and a mysterious sandstorm envelopes her, all to the sound of many invisible horses, and something takes her, leaving the road completely empty.

Enter scruffy Sheriff Langley, played by Franc Luz (THE NEST, 1988 and WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, 1989).  He’s called out to the missing girl’s Mercedes.  Turns out she’s the spoiled daughter of the richest man in the county, who just turned runaway bride.  Langley has always had a yen for her, so he goes searching for Kate, and instead spots men on horseback who fade into the heat-waves (a cool effect).  Suddenly, a Wild West outlaw attacks his car, shooting it up.  Then, the tires explode and the car catches fire, leaving him on foot and stranded.  He finds a sign for a town, Cruz Del Diablo, and when he reaches for it, a desiccated zombie grabs his arms and rises from the sand.  It says, “You’re the one – the one who will rid my town from this fate worse than death.  Go!  Now!”  And the talking dead man promptly folds itself back into its grave.  This is followed by a raging storm, and Langley takes refuge in a dilapidated house.

Franc Luz as Langley

Franc Luz as Langley

In the morning, Langley discovers the old house is part of a rundown, deserted Western town.  Eventually, he runs into The Dealer, a drunken gambler played by Bruce Glover (CHINATOWN, 1974 and GHOST WORLD, 2001).  He informs the sheriff that the girl is in the town, and that they have nothing but time…nothing but time.  Okey-dokey.  Langley finds a sheriff’s badge in the local bar, and when he puts it on, he starts seeing the inhabitants of the town, including bar-owner/ bartender Grace (Penelope Windust of V, 1983 and IRON WILL, 1994).  She disappears just after informing him the telegraph wire has been down for “some time.”

The town is stuck in time, reliving the wild days before the Devlin gang killed everyone in the place, letting some roam as ghosts and others becoming only voices in the night, crying between heaven and hell.  Now, the zombified Devlin (the despicable Jimmie F. Skaggs of PUPPETMASTER, 1989 and  OBLIVION, 1994) and his gang of thieves hold the remaining townspeople hostage.  Kate, who looks an awful lot like Devlin’s old girlfriend who was killed by Devlin for rebuffing his advances, is being held hostage by his gang of outlaws while Devlin tries to (yuck) romance her.

Langley learns his modern day weapons don’t work on the ghostly Devlin gang, but when he uses the old, dead sheriff’s six-shooter, it kills ‘em real good!  So, it’s showdown time with a chase through Cruz Del Diablo and a final gunfight that, while not worrying John Ford, is exciting enough for a popcorn flick like this one.

Welcome to GHOST TOWN

Welcome to GHOST TOWN

GHOST TOWN is filled with alternating action set pieces and moments of creepy imagery.  There’s also plenty of gore during the exciting shoot-outs, as well as a man dragged by horses, skulls crying blood, a crucifixion on a windmill, silver smelting, and a Phantom of the Opera-type unmasking scene.   It gallops along fairly quickly, aided immensely by Luz’s self aware performance as Langley (you actually root for him; he’s earnest as hell and he’s actually pretty smart for a hick sheriff character, though his jeans are so tight you wonder how he runs in them at all) and the over-the-top histrionics of Skaggs as Devlin.  He isn’t just chewing the scenery; he’s putting a bib around his neck and sitting down for a buffet.  Beneath his yellow fake teeth and his scarred, shot-up face, he rolls his eyes and hisses every line of dialogue, laughing wildly while killing people and spouting lines like “I’ve seen the devil.  When you get to Hell, give him my regards.”

GHOST TOWN is beautifully shot on desert vistas by Mac Ahlberg who photographed dozens of Full Moon and Empire productions (MERIDIAN, 1990, CRASH AND BURN, 1990 and FROM BEYOND, 1986) as well as many bigger productions like DEEPSTAR SIX (1989), INNOCENT BLOOD (1992), BEVERLY HILLS COP III (1994), and A VERY BRADY SEQUEL (1996).  He’s lately returned to the Band family wagon with such unimpressive credits as PUPPET MASTER: THE LEGACY (2003) and KILLER BONG (2006).  He died this year, but he thankfully left us the sepia-toned and sunset-infused photography of GHOST TOWN.  He made this low-budget movie look like it cost twenty million bucks.  It raises the whole production from decent to quite respectable.

It’s really too bad GHOST TOWN is almost completely forgotten after a token VHS release from New World.  It’s a fun little B-movie, full of action, with contemptible villains, heroes to applaud, pretty women, and several great action sequences.

I give GHOST TOWN three zombified outlaws out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

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