Ghost of the Needle (2003)

Starring Brian Avenet-Bradley, Kevin Bartolomucci, Cheri Christian, Hunter Hale, Greg Thompson

Directed by Brian Avenet-Bradley

Serial killers are scary people. They always seem normal enough to the common man, but then one day the police decide to check out their house or room for some reason and find all the furniture made out of human skin, and books with titles like “How To Cook Human”.

In this, the second indie film from actor/director Brian Avenet-Bradley, our serial killer is the main focus of the film, which to start things off is a refreshing change. His name is Jacob, and he’s a photographer. His specialty is landscapes, but he will only shoot one place one time, and he refuses to allow people to be in them. To relax, to “unwind” as it were, he also enjoys bringing girls back to the abandoned studio his father lets him live in, drug them, take pictures of dead or unconscious (it’s never stated which), then vacuum-seal them in plastic bags and keep ’em in a downstairs storage room. Artists are strange folk…

Ghost of the NeedleL is the story of what begins to happen to him when one of his victims almost escapes, giving Jacob a rather nasty head wound in the process. When he awakens, his “normal” life of killing, photographing, and sealing is haunted by what he thinks must be the ghosts of all the girls he’s killed. To add to his problems, his father, who has to stop by monthly to “check on the boilers”, begins to get a little too curious as to why Jacob is such a recluse, and you know that’s never good.

The cast also includes his agent (Thompson), who has just landed him a sweet paying gig. All he has to do is photograph a particular bridge at a particular time of day and he shall be paid handsomely. This fairly mundane task reveals itself to have other levels of intrigue wrapped up in it, and eventually helps lead to Jacob’s undoing. Don’t worry, that’s not really a spoiler…very few directors could let someone like this guy live past the credits.

Ghost of the Needle is a very well crafted indie horror film, the likes of which come along all to rarely. I have to admit, after all these years of watching all levels of crap, I don’t really relish my time with movies like this, but Ghost kept me interested throughout. It’s pacing is really what does it for me, and what elevates it beyond most cheaply shot independents. Sometimes you can get a great idea in your head, get it all on film, but when you sit down to edit it together you force it to drag on and on, trying to use moments of heightening tension that don’t really pay off, and you end up boring your audience to the point of frustration. Ghost does have a moment or two like this, but they’re few and far between, and the rule here is that things get moving right away and barely take a moment to catch it’s breath. Refreshing.

The performances turned in by our leads are good, nothing too ground breaking. Jacob the character seems defiant to be anything but a starving artist that enjoys the occasional murder or two, and his artistic “rules” (never shooting the same place twice, never with people in them, etc.) get a bit ridiculous. When someone’s paying you $1000 to take a picture of a bridge, you take the damn picture. Don’t bitch about it. His agent isn’t much better, even though you know it’s his job to try and get Jacob more work, he seems to severely dislike our “hero” from the first frame. We, the viewer, just get the feeling he might be doing this as a favor for someone else, because their relationship never gives off that professional artist/agent feel. More like two guys that have known each other for way too long and can’t think of anything nice about one another.

When it comes down to it, though, Ghost of the Needle is a step above what is usually seen via my VCR, and for that I give it credit. It does have its flaws (could’ve been cut down by about 10 or 15 minutes to tighten it up), but it works on levels that most indie films only try to get to.

I would also like to take a moment to make a shout out to Daniel Bellury, former great man on CHUD and Fetal Films, who served as first assistant camera man and AD on Ghost, and did a damn fine job.

3 ½ out of 5

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Johnny Butane