Judge Kristin Munson almost died with her boots on. Never take the stairs when wearing stiletto heels.
I didn't know the Sci-Fi Channel started making Westerns.
Panning a movie made to honor a director's father feels like kicking a puppy, but Dean Teaster's Ghost Town is 30 minutes too long—and that's the least of its problems.
Facts of the Case
Thirty years ago, Harmon Teaster watched as his father was dragged into the street and executed by a group of Burnett family gunmen. Teaster got his revenge by killing everyone on the Burnett ranch except for psycho son Victor, prompting Maggie Valley to change their name to Ghost Town.
Harmon is an old man now, sick with fever, so his daughter Violet heads for town, not knowing that Victor is running things and is still hankering for vengeance.
Maggie Valley must be the most anal-retentive town in the west because there's not a speck of dirt on anyone in the place. Everyone's clothes look freshly starched and straight off the rack, and one shirt goes through a saloon brawl, a main street beat down, and a rough night with a hooker and still manages to look its whitest.
Movies live and die by their attention to detail, and Dean Teaster's Ghost Town is full of weird oversights like this. Every time I started getting into the movie, some simple mistake would pull me right out again, especially in the utterly confusing opening sequence where the flashbacks, fever dreams, and main story blended into a sepia-tinted slurry. There's constant thunder in Maggie Valley but never any rain and a total of six things for sale in the general store. One character rips off a bloody bandage and doesn't have a wound underneath.
The story is more soap opera than horse opera, as scriptwriter DJ Perry piles on the silly subplots, story holes be damned. The movie about bloody vengeance spends over an hour setting up a reason for Harmon's return and when the big gunfight finally kicks off, characters within slapping distance can't hit each other with bullets.
If things had been more tongue-in-cheek it might have worked, but Dean Teaster directs it as a deadly serious drama. The movie was filmed in the streets and buildings of Ghost Town in the Sky in North Carolina, a Western theme park built in the 1960s. A lot of Teaster's family worked at the park and in the cowboy shows, and the movie is a love letter to his childhood, with Teaster himself taking over his father's role as the town undertaker.
Because of the tone, the few actors that camp it up are completely out of place. Herbert Coward and Bill McKinney team up for a Deliverance villain's reunion, and McKinney chews the scenery like it's made of blood-soaked gingerbread.Ghost Town's one shining moment comes when Rance Howard (The Red Pony) delivers a soliloquy about the town's violent history and his own feelings of weakness; it's shame the character he tells it to forgets it all by the next scene.
The actual transfer for Dean Teaster's Ghost Town is a blessing and curse. The exterior scenes and mountaintop views look beautiful, but the brightly lit interiors come off as stagy, and both the 2.0 and 5.1 stereo mix highlight the unfortunate echoes that occur when recording in large wooden buildings. Features include a photo gallery that's been put through a sepia-toned wringer and a "Making of" that's more of a montage of the cast's on-set shenanigans. There's also a commentary by Dean Teaster and DJ Perry. Between the two, you have the perspective of an actor, writer, director, producer, and Ghost Town expert, but the track is mainly about patting the cast, the crew, and even each other on the back. Pretty much every small role is played by a Teaster family member or Ghost Town in the Sky veteran, which explains why things didn't get more brutal in the editing room. Unfortunately, the track is mixed at the same sound level as the feature, so the two are often drowned out by gunfire and yelling.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Along with the film-related extras is a '60s travelogue that tours the original park and shows some of the daily gunfights. It's wonderfully politically incorrect blast from the past, boasting about "family friendly entertainment" and then cutting to the can-can girls flashing their panties. On the commentary track, Dean Teaster points out the faces that also appear in his movie and shares stories from when he was a child and his father worked there.
The DVD also comes with a free pass to the newly reopened Ghost Town in the Sky that offsets the cost of the disc, if you've still got a hankering to visit after watching a man being beaten, riddled with bullets, and set on fire in the main street. Come on down and bring the kids!
Dean Teaster's Ghost Town is well-intentioned but messy. It's a self-indulgent flick with plenty of flaws, but the quality of certain performances keep it from reaching "so-bad-it's-good" status.
Ghost Town is hereby sentenced to push up the daisies on Boot Hill.
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Scales of Justice
• Feature Commentary by DJ Perry and Dean Teaster
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