The Underground is our recurring feature, resurrected from an all-time great CHUD column, the aim of which is to get the word out on projects outside the Hollywood studio system. Studio films have big promotion engines behind them. The Underground caters to everything else: from indie films, to cult films in the making, pet projects, guerrilla films, internet shorts, etc.
If there’s ever a movie that deserves to be featured in this column, it’s America’s Most Haunted, a great indie horror comedy from Fulvew Productions and directed by Chris Randall. It’s a slickly-made project with high production value on what I’m assuming was a pretty tight budget. Shot over nine days in Saugatuck, MI, it centers on the cast and crew of America’s Most Haunted, a fake ghost hunting show, who are brought in by the owner (hey, James Karen!) of a haunted hotel in Michigan. The hotel was formerly a logging camp and is the site of a mass murder by a man named Pierre Boutierre who flipped out and killed 13 people with an axe in the mid 1800s.
The AMH crew, led by star and head douche, Leon Falco (Brad Norman), descend upon the place, ready for the next installment of their show, which is typically full of hype, fake scares and preset gags like slamming doors and rigged electronic gizmos. Leon is joined by cast members Scotty (Joe Anderson), Emily (Brittany Risner), Rob (David Gries), new editor Kevin (Dave Lyzenga) and their tech guy, Jimmy (Jimmy Meritt). This is poised to be Emily’s last episode as she’s gotten a callback for another show in L.A.
It’s not long after they get there, that they actually do start hearing and seeing things, including real apparitions via the night vision on their cameras. One of them is a child, a woman named Mary, and Pierre Boutierre, who’s sporting the axe he used to kill his victims. The cast and crew have various chilling and funny runs-in with them, including Leon being guided by Mary to a secret. Emily has a particularly hair-raising encounter with Pierre and the girl in one of the bedrooms. Somebody gets ghost-axed, and Jimmy has a fateful encounter in the woods. Still, it’s not lost on Leon and the others the incredible opportunity that’s presenting itself: to finally produce a real show with real ghosts. But even though they know they’re dealing with actual specters, when they they learn the truth about the source of the disturbances, they realize that they’re going to be in for more than just the makings of a legit show. They’re going to have to become real life Ghostbusters.
I didn’t have high hopes going into this film. I’ve seen more than a few low budget indie horror films that are just god awful. But I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the story here. It’s a fun and funny movie with some legit scares. I especially like that it takes aim at a genre of TV show, namely ghost hunting shows, Bigfoot hunting hows, and monster hunting shows in general that coast on hype without ever producing real results. The production value is also quite good. It’s often shot in drearily dark hallways and corners, but is lit well lit by DP Keith Golinski. The setting (the film was shot in an artist camp) provides for some genuinely creepy environs and some of the musical cues are reminiscent of early John Carpenter, particularly The Thing. Likewise, the special effects are pretty damn good, featuring some green screen work for the ghosts that aren’t obtrusive or bad-looking in any way. There are several instances where the ghosts appear onscreen subtly that make for a nice effect. Finally, the performances all around are fun. Overall, just a cool experience, this movie.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
If you’ve got a film or project somewhere in the fringes that belongs in The Underground and needs some attention, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org