This is another release from new UK imprint Brain Damage films, a label devoted to releasing budget-priced indie horror at £2.99 a pop. It probably comes as no surprise that the quality of their first batch of releases is a bit hit and miss; "Death of a Ghost Hunter" is probably one of the better titles in the bunch in that it seems professionally made, has some decent cast performances and a fairly compelling scenario that provides the film with several befittingly spooky moments. Writer and director Sean Tretta has done his genre homework here: there are several wry references to famous 'haunting' movies dotted throughout, ranging from "Poltergeist" to "The Blair Witch Project", and, for the most part, Tretta's script homes-in effectively on what makes these kinds of films work, taking the best ideas and, by and large, assembling them into quite an atmospheric little haunted house picture that only really stutters slightly towards the end.
The film begins by bestowing upon itself the one ingredient all self-respecting hauntings need if they are ever to stand a chance of creeping under an audience's collective skin: a macabre legend. This one involves the now traditional Amityville-style house, with its creepy, locked attic room and its indoor furnishings preserved (as though they belong in some bizarre museum of the mundane) exactly as they originally were on the night of a horrific tragedy twenty-five years previously: the slaying, in its entirety, of the then residing family. It seems the Masterson House was once home to a respectable, God-fearing fundamentalist family headed by the minister Joseph Masterson. He, his wife and two children were all killed in circumstances which were never satisfactorily explained. It seems the wife came home to find her husband and her children with their throats cuts and, unable to face life without them, she hand wrote a suicide note and then blew her own brains out.
Flash-forward to the present day, and Ghost Hunter Carter Simm (Patti Tindall) is offered $5000 by the current owner of the house, a relative of the original family called Seth Masterson, to conduct a paranormal investigation into the house. The TV producer doesn't seem to be the type to be interested in the tales of ghostly apparitions that have accumulated around the house in the intervening twenty-five years, but after much prompting, Seth admits to having had such an experience himself, glimpsing the spectre of his dead cousin Peter (one of the dead children) in the attic window.
The film starts off by making Carter's investigation part of the Masterson legend. We are made aware from the get go, much as we are in "The Blair Witch Project" for instance, that the three nights she spends at the house have tragic consequences. Rather than the film being a supposed record of the actual events, catalogued by the doomed ghost hunter's own video recordings, it bills itself instead as a reconstruction derived from her written diaries. This seems a curious decision. "Blair Witch" established a sub-genre of fake reportage based on supposed 'found footage' that has since blossomed (although it was not the first film to use such a device), with even Hollywood getting in on the act recently with the 9/11-inspired monster flick "Cloverfield". This particular film seems tailor-made for such a genre. Ghost hunting has been a boon for the so-called reality TV genre; the airwaves both in the UK and the U.S. are jammed with cheaply-made paranormal shows involving 'ghost hunters' stumbling around in the dark waving temperature gauges and communing with imaginary spirits through the powers of supposed mediums -- all their efforts captured on hazy infrared night-cam. Since Carter and the team Seth assembles to work with her are replete with all the modern technological paraphernalia of ghost hunting, the found footage format would have been perfect for this film. Indeed, much of it is seen through the green-grey haze of the night-cam, giving much of the film a similar feel to one of those late-night real-life sops to the gullible and the credulous. But it seems director and writer Sean Tretta preferred a more conventional narrative approach which allows him the freedom to cut away from the house from time to time.
The film is lighter than it could have been on characterisation. Carter Simms' background is only ever very lightly sketched-in; she's a loner who much prefers her own company and has thrown herself into this work obsessively. Her colleagues though are mere ciphers. The 'video-guy' (as he's called) Colin (Mike Marsh) we know next to nothing about; and while Meg Tily look-a-like Davina Joy gives us a feisty character in reporter Yvette Sandoval, she's not fleshed-out with any back story and appears there merely to make up the numbers. Threatening to steal the show is the mysterious and eccentric local church girl Mary Young Mortenson (Lindsay Page), who is part of the team, apparently, in order to see that the good name of the Mortensons is not besmirched by the activities of these Godless heathens. It is she who seems to be most affected by the atmosphere of the house, wafting around in a zombie-trance, her strange behaviour culminating in a scene in which she pisses into Sandoval's suitcase!
The investigation very quickly establishes some predictably weird goings on in the house. Chairs move on their own, strange voices (EVPs) turn up on audio tape and, most impressively, one of the many video-cams set up all around the house, captures the spectral image of a little girl peering around the door frame of a room that used to belong to the family's young daughter, a supremely creepy image that looks more realistic than most of the 'real-life' ghost image footage you're liable to find on YouTube. Naturally, the apparently idyllic Mortersons turn out to have some very dark secrets indeed hidden away in the recesses of the house, the investigation unexpectedly turns up some very ugly truths from their past. The film progresses nicely for the first hour or so but the final twenty minutes are peculiarly constructed with a tacked-on flashback to the original murders narrated by a character who, no matter how intimately involved they might have been, couldn't have been aware of most of the events they are relating. This is where the film gets a bit bogged down, but there is still a nice coda that relates to Carter's earlier conversation with Yvette: "Do you think we'll ever find out if there really is life after death?" the reporter asks her. "Sooner or later, we all find out," is the reply. The final few minutes of this film offer one chilling version of what might await. One can only hope its wrong!
Brain Damage Films bring "Death of a Ghost Hunter" to DVD in a fairly watchable non-anamoprhic print. The only extras are six trailers for the other current titles in the collection.