Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Cinema FIle #91: "Ghostquake (aka Haunted High)" Review

Syfy Channel Original Movies often get a bad rap, and while it is not entirely undeserved, it sometimes obscures the fact that occasionally they can produce something halfway decent, even if its never been responsible for an outright masterpiece. Much like with the Asylum, I have a strange sort of respect for the SyFy Channel mold and its rejection, by both choice and necessity, of the normal rules of how to make a good movie, recognizing that sometimes a different formula can produce something unexpectedly enjoyable. Today's film Ghostquake, also known as Haunted High, is far from a masterpiece, and I'd hesitate to even call it good, but the elements that do work would never show up in a mainstream movie, and I have to give the network credit for making something I'd have no other option of even seeing anywhere else.

Ghostquake follows a group of students and a bad ass janitor played by Danny Trejo who find themselves trapped inside a private school that has been taken over by the ghost of its old headmaster, a cultist out to claim the body of his ancestor to live again. One of the standards I sometimes use to judge a movie is how many ways I can think of to make it better immediately after it ends, and the list for this movie was pretty long. Its not well executed, but there's enough there that I can see the potential even if it wasn't quite met. I'd say the biggest problem is the cast, which apart from the two leads is made up of several groups of students, none of whom are really all that interesting to watch. Trejo is the same awesome character he plays in everything, but they literally shove him in a closet for a large swath of the film, only letting him out in the second half to round out the movie, which up to that point had a good villain trying his hardest to elevate an otherwise lackluster movie.

Said villain is played by M.C. Gainey, perhaps best known as the gruff but lovable Mr. Friendly on Lost, who is all at once this movie's greatest asset and its single silliest element. As an evil cult leader always in graduation robes, pretty much every line he has in the movie is a quip just proceeding a different kind of supernatural murder. Many of these are some of the most groan inducing puns you've heard since Mr. Freeze in Batman and Robin, from an apology for needling someone just before sewing their mouth shut, to remarking on characters sticking around while their feet are adhered to the floor by ectoplasm, and I'm pretty sure I remember something about how shocking or heart stopping a woman was just before he killed her with defibrillator paddles. Clearly the writer of Ghostquake really loves the Freddy Kruger style comedic bad guy, but lacks either the talent or the restraint to make it work, but even so, Gainey's performance is next to Trejo's easily the most enjoyable.

Trejo plays basically the same guy he plays in every movie he's in (which seems to be an awful lot, just based on how many times he's randomly shown up in movies I've reviewed), and yet I'm still not anywhere close to sick of this bad ass character, and he's a welcome addition to a movie sorely in need of entertaining protagonists. The kids I gather I'm supposed to root for pretty much all fall on some part of the annoying to barely passable range, with the target of Gainey's assault and his would be girlfriend never quite making it to likable, an overweight nerd who gets off a few funny lines but ultimately proves more annoying than not, and about ten or so other students without all that much distinction. Angel's Charisma Carpenter shows up for a cameo to get killed, and while I get that she's not the biggest actress in the world, I have to wonder why she is in this movie, whether she's doing someone a favor or just really needs the money, considering how quick she's there and gone. Of some small note is Gainey's assistant, a so-called "Teacher's Pet" with shark teeth and runes carved into her flesh, who is strangely compelling, even if her inclusion into the story seems superfluous and takes some of the menace away from the main villain by doing considerably more damage than he does.

I'm not quite sure if I can go so far as to recommend Ghostquake, as that particular Syfy Channel blend of hokey and bland is infused within the story in about equal measure with the stuff that makes it a fun watch. As I've already said, Trejo and Gainey pretty much make the movie, their battle culminating in a ghostly throw down that is somehow both disappointing and awesome at the same time, which I suppose is ultimately a good metaphor for all the better Syfy Channel efforts. I'd guess anyone's genuine un-ironic enjoyment of this movie most likely hinges on how much they like the two main two actors, but I'm obviously a big fan of both of them, so I was satisfied with the results. For all its flaws, it certainly has more style than the typical movie shown on this network about natural disasters or unusually giant animals. If you're not one to nitpick and able to accept some cheese with your entree, there might be just enough here to make it worthwhile, but I'm even a little conflicted on that conclusion myself.

I suppose as Syfy Channel quakes go, its far better than the Aracha variety anyway.

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