Color, 2013, 89m.
Directed by Jeff Ferrell
Starring Brian Sutherland, Lisa Coronado, Dennis Kleinsmith, Russell Hodgkinson, Ramona Freeborn
Brain Damage (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9) / DD 2.0
The old chestnut of an unsuspecting guy lured into spending the night in a haunted house has been around for well over a century, inspiring more than a few vintage ghost stories like Edward Bulwer-Lytton's "The Haunted And The Haunters" and such films as Castle of Blood, House on Haunted Hill, and The Woman in Black. The formula gets a slight tweak in the 2013 low budget indie Ghostlight, which transposes the action to a haunted theater and proves there's some life in the creepy scenario yet.
Exactly eighty years after a famous bloodbath at the site, Andrew (Sutherland) wins a radio contest to earn $50,000 if he spends the whole night inside its cursed walls -- where more than a few people died mysteriously in the interim in circumstances echoing the deadly triangle from the original deaths. Plagued by nightmares in which she tries to sing onstage and collapses into a bloody mess, his wife Mira (Coronado) has reservations about the offer made to her skeptic husband; naturally he accepts and finds himself stuck in a nightmare involving early Hollywood filmmaking and forces from beyond the grave with a few scores to settle, not to mention his own deceased daughter whose presence only becomes clear after a few twists and turns. .
Stylishly shot with a thankful avoidance of the CGI crutch that's destroyed more than a few modern spooky films, Ghostlight doesn't try to break new ground in the genre but delivers its share of atmospheric chills once our hero gets down to business inside the theater of death. The style is strong enough that it's tempting to wish they'd shot this on film rather than digital video, as much darker, inky blacks could have turned this into a truly unnerving experience. As it stands though, this is a few notches above your average homegrown supernatural film.
The DVD edition from Brain Damage does a solid job of handling the film, which appears to be accurately transferred as intended; the two-channel stereo mix also does a fine job with the jump scares, of which there are a welcome amount in the third act. (The music score is really good, too.) The first extra is a lively audio commentary with Sutherland and writer/director Jeff Ferrell, who also appears in a menacing supporting role in the film. Along with covering the production issues with the real theater in which this was shot, they also clarify a few story points that might fly by unnoticed on a first viewing. The lengthy "Sleepless: The Making of Ghostlight" runs almost as long as the main feature at 74 minutes and covers the production in great depth, with the actors and director seen both at work and chatting on camera. As you'd probably expect, they also imply that the real theater is haunted, too, though fortunately everyone survived to get the project completed. Finally, "Morella" (9 minutes) offers an earlier look at Ferrell's handiwork via an evocative Edgar Allan Poe adaptation with a pair of the same cast members from the main feature. Worth a look on a dark, stormy night.