Judge Profancik has found yet another horror movie that won't scare anybody.
Some people are dying to make it in the movies.
It was about a week before Halloween when I pulled this DVD out of the screener pile. I thought, "Hey, it's a ghost story so this is the perfect time of year to watch this and get it up at the site." It's now a month later, and I am finally done with the disc. As you should correctly deduce, it's not because there was so much material for me to watch and ponder. No, it was because this ghost story was very, very bad.
Facts of the Case
Rachel and Kevin have decided to move out to Hollywood. Kevin, an aspiring writer, hopes he'll make it big one day. Rachel, a model with a history of mental illness, needs a fresh break from life on the East Coast. When a house in Edendale appears on the market, the two at first think it's a scam, but it turns out that the owners just needed to move fast. The lovebirds make the cross-country drive and move into the house located near the top of the Edendale Hill.
Soon enough, all the neighbors come out to great the new residents. Friends are made, and Rachel and Kevin quickly learn that Edendale used to be the location for making movies back in the silent era. In fact, their home is in the heart of where the famous Tom Mix westerns were made. But just as quickly, strange things begin to happen to Rachel. She's not entirely certain if she's having a recurrence or if there are ghosts. Luckily, just as she's getting overwhelmed, a fantastic modeling opportunity arises back East. Rachel jumps at the chance to get away for a bit.
Kevin stays behind in Edendale, and he begins to change: He stops smoking, eats healthier, and starts working out. Even more oddly, Kevin begins writing a screenplay—a Western. By the time Rachel comes back, Kevin is fixated on his draft. Edendale still has a movie connection, as everyone on the street works in the business, and Kevin soon finds his rough draft given the greenlight for production. But Rachel is startled by the changes in Kevin. It's not so much the healthier outlook on life, but she's bothered by his short temper, aggression, and fixation on his screenplay. And with all of that going on, she's still seeing very odd things in the house on Edendale.
What is happening to Kevin? Is it the house? Is it Edendale? Is it just a figment of Rachel's imagination? Or is it something far more sinister?
At first I had attributed the problem to the film being an indie feature. I was being kind and thinking that inherent in the independent filmmaking process rubbed me the wrong way. After a few more minutes of watching The Ghosts of Edendale, though, I realized that it was just a bad movie.
Unfortunately, there's not much that works in this film by Stefan Avalos. It's a mess from start to finish in every category: script, acting, production, special effects, music, and so forth. For a film that is supposed to be a scary, spooky, horror flick, I have to say they only succeeded in making a film completely lacking in any suspense. Not once did I jump nor was I even the least bit startled. If it weren't for the ghosts and the title itself, I never would have deduced I was watching a supernatural thriller.
I drafted a fairly thorough laundry list of flaws and weaknesses in the film, but I don't think I need to really bog you down with all the details. Though Avalos and his wife, Marianne Connor (the film's producer), think quite highly of this film that they worked on so hard, the film is a loss. Here are some of the edited highlights:
• Acting: There's no way to ignore the fact that the actors portraying Rachel and Kevin are horrible. Their recitation is reminiscent of a high-school production, and they lack the innate skills to make their characters come to life. That's not to say they don't get lucky from time to time and nail a scene—though it's "Rachel" who usually succeeds in those instances—but most of the time it's a decidedly amateur performance. Stemming from that is also the simple fact that there is no natural chemistry between these two.
• Script: But is it really bad acting or just a lousy script? Both. While there is a germ of an interesting idea hidden within the pages—disregarding the innumerable "homages" to other horror films—Avalos did not write a solid script. The words that these actors sometimes have to utter are unnatural and clunky. Their tongues are practically tied trying to keep up with the words.
• Production: As one might expect, the independent filmmaker does not always have access to the greatest funds, sometimes resulting in an end product that doesn't look quite as finished and polished as the big studios' fare. That is the case with The Ghosts of Edendale. From the get-go, this movie screams "indie!" The movie has problems and inconsistencies because of the cameras, ineffective lighting, and, I would also posit, the film stock.
• Editing: The editing could have been better, which would have helped the film in many spots. Most notably, the ending was too slow and would have benefited from a brisker pace. Also, the entire first two-thirds of the film was too slow, with entirely too much setup for the eventual ending.
• Special Effects: This category isn't all bad news. In some instances, the special effects work done by Scott Hale is subtle (power line removal, tweaking the sky) or even good (morphing the dead boy's face). But in some of the most important scenes, the special effects are obviously done using basic software on a computer. I'm probably being too nitpicky in this instance, but I have become spoiled by the Hollywood blockbuster.
• The Whole Story?: At the end of the movie, I was not entirely certain what had happened. Was it truly what the film inferred with Tom Mix and Kevin? Or was it related to that fleeting reference of Rachel's past illness? What really happened to Rachel? Was the ending "a few years" down the line, or was it a figment of that homeless person's imagination? Even after watching the commentary, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to resolve the film's ending, which, in my book, lessens any potential impact from the movie.
• Horror?: And, as mentioned earlier, there is nothing scary about this film. The most descriptive adjective would be "boring."
The transfers for The Ghosts of Edendale are fairly average. The video is a bit soft/fuzzy, lacking strong details, with decent colors and blacks, but, because of the way it was filmed, many spots are a bit too dark. I have listed the ratio for this disc as 2.01:1 anamorphic, but that is my best deduction. The official specs are not listed on the packaging or on the website, and an email to the company has yet yielded a response. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is solid, with clear dialogue and nice use of all channels. And, though only tangentially related to the transfers, I'll note here that the director's choice to overamp sound effects was a poor artistic choice.
On the DVD you'll find a pretty nice assortment of bonus items. On the whole, I found them far more interesting than the film itself. I guess I'll always be interested in how things are done.
• Audio Commentary with Director Stefan Avalos and Producer Marianne Connor: I had hoped to have many questions answered by this husband and wife team, but, alas, that did not happen. The two are obviously proud of their finished product, share some very nice stories and anecdotes, and give you a little bit of insight into their film. Yet I wish they would have clarified the ending for me. Maybe I'm the only one who doesn't get it.
• Discrete Music Track with Commentary by Composer Vincent Gillioz: I'm going to tell you the truth—I did not listen to this track. It held absolutely no interest for me, but I'm sure "musicologists" might find it useful. I applaud the inclusion of this bonus item.
• Behind the Scenes of Production (25.5 minutes): Though this feature started to run a bit long, I enjoyed seeing the different facets of production that went into making this film. It clarifies and spotlights some of the problems I noted above, and the various snippets show the passion everyone had for the project.
• Behind the Special Effects (10 minutes): Scott Hale details how he created some of the special effects in the film. Again, this is both good and bad—while you see the interesting facet of how he did it, it also details the flaws with what he has done. Most interesting is his discussion of going old school and doing pencil sketches to be used for later animations.
• The Remaking of Scene 125 (6 minutes): This featurette details how Avalos tried to recut a scene to make it better. He shows the original, various iterations, and the final product. It was interesting to see the thought processes at work.
• Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary (17 minutes): There are seven scenes available here. There is a little more story to be fleshed out, including a character that was removed entirely.
Rounding out the group is the theatrical trailer, a gallery of Effect Production Artwork (which are Hale's pencil sketches), and a few Easter eggs. I do want to note that there are some "trick" eggs that seem to do nothing but lock up the DVD, at least until the menu "recycles."
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Not all is bad with The Ghosts of Edendale, but its positives are few and far between. First and foremost are the bonus features. They are diverse and strong and show some interesting material on how a film is put together. As for the film itself, interspersed in the nugget of an idea and the glimmer of real acting from the actress portraying Rachel, composer Vincent Gillioz did some nice work in a few scenes (Note: only a few scenes). And the DVD itself is very well done, with nice packaging, clever "liner notes," and excellent menus.
It's just dawned on me now to ask the question "why"? If there are ghosts in Edendale and if they are doing things to the residents of that street, then I am curious to know why. The horror genre isn't one to focus on developing a strong backstory for the motivation of its characters, yet all films seem to have a reason. Freddy Krueger kills because he is seeking revenge; the same thing goes for Jason Voorhees, and most villains in these movies. You can go on and on through the well-known movies in the horror pantheon—Amityville Horror, The Ring, The Exorcist, and so on—and you'll always have some idea of why things are going on. Yet in The Ghosts of Edendale there is absolutely no clue.
The Ghosts of Edendale is not the worst movie out there, but there are few redeeming qualities in this slice of independent moviemaking. Worst of all is the undisputable fact that the movie is not scary in the least. If you're going to write, film, and release a "horror" film, then you have to make sure it lives up to that billing. The Ghosts of Edendale does not. Therefore, I cannot recommend the rental, let alone the purchasing, of this disc. You can find better horror elsewhere.
The Ghosts of Edendale is found not guilty of being scary.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Audio Commentary with Director Stefan Avalos and Producer Marianne Connor
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