GHOST TOWN (1988) Blu-ray
Director: Richard Governor
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

The late Empire Pictures entry GHOST TOWN hits Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory.

Runaway bride Kate Barrett (Catherine Hickland, WITCHERY) disappears along a desert road in a powerful sandstorm, leaving only her car behind. While Sheriff Bubba (Michael Alldredge, ROBOT JOX) returns to town to round up a search party, Deputy Langley (Franc Luz, THE NEST) follows a lone trail of hoof prints further into the desert where is car is assailed by a series of increasingly real mirages. Taking shelter from a sudden electrical storm in a long abandoned ghost town, Langley encounters a series of eccentric people who he slowly (very slowly) realizes are spectral residents of a town suspended in time and terrorized by outlaw Devlin (Jimmie F. Skags, OBLIVION). When quick-draw Langley ably defends himself against two of Devlin's undead gunmen, the townspeople – including brassy saloon owner Grace (Penelope Windust, TV's V), the blind Dealer (Bruce Glover, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER), and blacksmith "Smithy" (Zitto Kazann, SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENTS) – believe that he may be the one who can lift the town's curse by killing Devlin. Many have tried before, and Langley and Kate could just as easily end up among the town's damned.

Like the late Empire entry CATACOMBS, GHOST TOWN – its Duke Sandefur (PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) script based on a story by David Schmoeller (TOURIST TRAP) – is more low key than much of the studio's product (or much of what would follow from Band's Full Moon Pictures). Lacking the animatronics and stop-motion beasties of the surrounding productions, GHOST TOWN builds up atmosphere around over familiar ghost story elements (possibly jumping off from the curse a murdered lawman puts upon the small town of HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER). Skaggs' delightfully evil Devlin is the film's best special effect (John Carl Buechler's contributions are restricted to some prosthetic make-up and puppetry) while Luz makes a fine hero. Hickland has a bit more to do late in the film, but the standouts in the female cast are Windust's saloon owner striking the right emotional cords and CATACOMBS' Laura Schaefer as the innocent whose violation by Devlin pushes Langley from simply looking for a way out to fulfilling his destiny. GHOST TOWN reportedly had a troubled production history with script changes and additional scenes possibly being directed by Ahlberg. The original score of Harvey Cohen was also largely jettisoned and replaced with cues from Fuzzbee Morse's score for GHOULIES II (starting with the main titles) as well as cues seemingly lifted from the Pino Donaggio scores for CRAWLSPACE and CATACOMBS. If the cues that I could not place are any indication of Cohen's work, it is understandable just why these overbearing pieces were substituted in other places. TV writer J. Larry Carroll served as producer here as well as a handful of Charles Band's earlier productions like TOURIST TRAP and THE DAY TIME ENDED.

Like CELLAR DWELLER, GHOST TOWN went straight to video and laserdisc courtesy of New World Pictures in 1988 (I first saw it on late night TV where it seemed to play throughout the early nineties). Although it became part of the Epic package of Empire, TWE, and Vision titles that went to MGM, it did not get a VHS reissue or DVD release. As such, Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen encode appears to come from a newer transfer that attractively renders the slick cinematography of genre stalwart Mac Ahlberg (MERIDIAN) in its sunburnt desert vistas and warm, low-lit interiors. The Ultra Stereo mix is given a clean DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 rendering with clear dialogue and the patchwork score given prominence. The optional English SDH subtitles are without glaring errors. There are no extras. In fact, I'm surprised that this barebones presentation was not considered for a double feature with some other Empire production. (Eric Cotenas)