Ghouls, The (2003)

Starring Timothy Muskatell, Trent Haaga, Stephen Blackheart, Joseph Pilato, Tina Birchfield

Directed by Chad Ferrin

Channels like E! and VH1 seem to love to show just what a low form of human life the paparazzi are. How far they will go and how intrusive they will be on others’ lives just for some scandalous story or a few candid photos. They’re scum, and they always will be scum, no matter what anyone says.

Eric Hayes is a level below them.

Hayes (Muskatell) makes his living by filming horrific atrocities that go on in everyday life and doing nothing to prevent them from happening. In fact, he does as much as he can to encourage them to happen, just so long as he can be there with his video camera when it goes down. It’s a disgusting way to live, and it’s so far cost him his wife (Birchfield), most of his friends, and worst of all, his dignity. But…it’s a living.

One night, while on his way home after missing a fatalistic car chase, he happens to see a girl being dragged down an alleyway. Instead of stopping to help, he stops with his camera and gets ready to roll. But what he thought might just be a mugging or a rape turns out much worse. The attackers tear into the woman as she screams her head off, ripping out her intestines and dining on the flesh. Disgusting, yes, but Hayes sees nothing but money signs floating when it’s all over.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have a tape in the camera, so all he has now is a wild story with no proof. His boss (Pilato, showing just how un-Rhodes he is now) throws him out of his office, so he goes to the only friend he has left, a fellow photojournalistic scumbag (Haaga). He convinces this “friend” to help him, but as always things go badly. When his wife essentially tells him she would rather be dead than be with him another second after he shows her the footage of his friend being torn apart, he’s thrown into a downward spiral of self-hatred and despair as he realizes just how far gone he really is.

Ferrin managed to do a lot with very little in The Ghouls. Working with some friends and a very small budget, he set out to create a horror film that’s different than what you’re used to. There are no cheap scares or quick jump cuts within; what you have is just this overwhelming feeling of dread throughout, which is helped rather than hindered by the film’s low production budget. The Ghouls is gloomy; almost none of it takes place during the day so you’re never really able to just relax and let the movie get to its next point. There’s always something dark or evil going on, be it in the characters’ actions or what the actual creatures are doing.

Muskatell pulls out a great performance here, always a plus when you have a lead that has to essentially carry the movie on his own. He’s a character whose life is over. You can tell he hates what he does but feels it’s the only thing he can do that he’s any good at. And he’ll really do anything for a story. When he discovers the ghouls of the title, though, he sees that things can get worse, and sometimes something needs to be done to stop evil from spreading, rather than encouraging it. He’s able to hit the range of emotions from maniacal rage to pummeling depression to worn-out victory very well, and by the end you feel like you’ve really seen a man go through a life-changing experience.

My biggest complaint with the film as a whole is the music. There is one scene in particular that is just hard to watch and take seriously, when Eric goes to try and convince his estranged wife to help him, because some horrible Christmas music is playing in the background that is just loud enough to be able to hear clearly over the characters’ words. This happens a lot, but that scene was the most nerve-wracking. It’s possible Ferrin did it on purpose, perhaps to heighten the tension, but I get the feeling it was just something overlooked in the final mix. Hopefully someone will correct it when it gets the DVD treatment.

Some of the scenes drag on for too long, slowing down the pace of the film, but overall it moves along at a good clip and doesn’t lull too long on unnecessary stuff. The part with the Down’s Syndrome kid, which I won’t go into but you’ll get when you see it, is just downright disturbing; and that alone might serve to make any complaints you have up till the end of the movie null and void.

The film was recently nabbed by Heretic Films for a DVD release, so I’m sure you’ll all be getting a chance to see it soon enough. For now, check out the film’s official site here for more info.

3 ½ out of 5

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Johnny Butane

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