Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Death of a Ghost Hunter

I was very pleasantly surprised with the quality of Sean Tretta's Death of a Ghost Hunter (2007). From what I'd heard, it was a standard b-grade horror. Well, the b-horror nametag is true as far as it goes, but the production values were imaginative and polished, hinting at a higher quality film. In fact, the only things that really ground this film in the b-grade are the sub-par acting and poorly written dialogue. Our heroine is the only one who doesn't appear to be reading off of cue cards, and even she gets tripped up trying to pull off the awkward lines the writers are feeding her. But the story is otherwise solid, and actually scary at times.

The film opens with some backstory, grainily filmed and "aged" to give it the appearance of "file footage." We learn of the brutal murder of the Masterson family in Queen Creek, AZ (a suburb of Phoenix) in 1982. I initially thought this to be a real-life case, half remembered from my childhood in Phoenix. Turns out, the Masterson family of DoaGH is loosely based on a real life and much more recognizable family, the DeFeos of Amityville, NY. Fast forward 25 years. The nephew of the murdered Masterson patriarch has recently inherited the estate, including the ill-fated house in Queen Creek. With rumors of a haunting surrounding the property, the nephew contracts a crew to investigate, including paranormal investigator Carter Simms, local reporter Yvette Sandoval, videographer Colin Green, and a "spiritual advisor", the volatile Mary Young. Far from being a ghost chaser, Carter has spent her life debunking purported hauntings, but she's about to encounter something she was not completely prepared for: an actual paranormal experience. As the days and terrifying nights tick by in the Masterson house, the crew will have to try and figure out what exactly is going on in the house, what really happened to the Mastersons 25 years before, and what terrible secret their colleague Mary Young is harboring. It's a safe bet they won't all make it out alive, and the Masterson house will claim more victims.

DoaGH takes a cue from The Blair Witch Project (1999), employing a somewhat mockumentary style. It's also set up like an extended version of any of a myriad of ghost hunting shows on cable television, complete with voice-over narration and title screens indicating the day and time at key intervals. For the first ten minutes or so, the style and tempo of the film is incredibly annoying and I feared it would be much more like ghost hunter shows, which I personally think are extremely boring for the most part. But once the action of the film heats up, and the audience is immersed in the unfolding history of the Masterson house, the film settles into a comfortable and entertaining groove. The bulk of the movie reminds me more than anything of Brad Anderson's monumentally creepy and underappreciated Session 9 (2001), in its quietly lingering establishing shots, in its subtle hints into the history of place, in its accelerating episodic tempo, and in its chilling score and periodic explosions of sound. Considering I hold Session 9 in very high regard as one of the greatest horror movies of all time, this speaks well for DoaGH.

If you enjoyed Blair Witch (or even if you just liked the premise), or are awesome enough to have seen and enjoyed Session 9, and you don't mind a little sub-par acting, I think you could really get into this film. I sure did.

Storyline & plot: 7/10
Cinematography & effects: 7/10
Music & mood: 8/10
Performances: 4/10

The Reverend says: 7/10


  1. i loved this movie, i thought that it had a great story line and was even more interested in the fact that it was all somewhat true. Now that ive watched it and tried looking up articles and such on the actual murders or Carter herself, im dispointed that none of it was true!!! In my opinion, you shouldnt say something was based on a true story if it wasnt!

  2. Folks from AZ say the murders actualy happened. But that the team of investigators all came out alive.

  3. the names and the address have been changed due to a contract made by the family, due to unwanted guests breaking into the property prior.

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