Posts Tagged ‘Turner Clay’

If at first you at least partially succeed — then keep going! That seems to be the modus operandi of micro-budget horror filmmakers from Nigel Bach to Ryan Callaway to — shit, everyone in the game, right? You don’t have that much money you need to earn back from these things because they didn’t cost that much to make, obviously, but if you get a few months’ rent or mortgage payments in the can every time you put one out, then why not keep on keeping on?

Turner Clay is no exception, and since he probably recouped whatever “investment” of time and money that went into 2017’s The Blackwell Ghost, plus a little something extra for the effort, there was literally no reason for him not to go back to the well in 2018 and crank out The Blackwell Ghost 2. Amazon Prime picked up the first one, so why couldn’t they be counted on to do the same again? Such a presumption is right, of course — but none of that answers the one question that you, dear reader, are presumably here to find out about, namely : is this movie any good?

As is the case with its progenitor, the answer to that isn’t so much an unqualified “yes” as it is a “sure, what the hell?,” chiefly because it does the same things all over again and gets right what the first flick got right while also getting wrong what the first flick got wrong. It’s nominally more ambitious, which is both welcome and, frankly, to be expected, but it treads decidedly familiar ground : Clay went and made another one of his horror cheapies (a real movie, as it turns out, titled Raccoon Valley) after “surviving” his time in the Blackwell house, but he hasn’t been able to get the “experience” out of his head, so when he receives a mysterious package containing an old record and a photo of Ruth Blackwell with a young girl, he’s eager to meet the sender, who turns out to be — drumroll, please — the little girl in the picture all done growed up, who in due course allows him access to a storage facility filled with other Blackwell paraphernalia, the most intriguing item of which is a schematic of the house marked with a purportedly ominous “X” that Clay believes to be an indication of where something — or maybe even someone — is buried. Time to grab wife Terri (once again played by Terri Czapleski) and go back up to Pennsylvania even though they never leave Louisville!

Things aren’t as easy for our “mockumentarians” this time out given that the owner of the property, with whom they have a friendly rapport, is selling the place (good luck with that), but he’s willing to give Clay the keys to the joynt for three nights, and during that time another series of vaguely creepy events takes place that convinces our man and his lady love that, yeah, this house really is haunted, but aside from a bunch of conspicuous plugs for Raccoon Valley, it’s largely just more furniture moving on its own, record players turning on by themselves, footsteps in the dark, etc. The pacin’,s better, though, with events actually moving along at a fairly nice clip once they get to the house, and Clay himself is as charismatic and likable and self-deprecating as ever, so watching a slightly-amped-up version of what we’ve already seen before is certainly no chore, and often even quite fun. In other words, he’s getting better at making these things as he goes, and that’s something he should, and hopefully does, take a reasonable amount of pride in.

That being said, actual scares are still conspicuous by their absence in this second film, the run-time still feels padded (and it is just a bit longer than the first), and originality is still an item nowhere to be found on the menu. This is an agreeable enough “found footage” paranormal yarn, but it’s certainly miles away from being essential viewing and I can’t really see how it would hold much, if any, appeal to someone not already well-versed in, maybe even reasonably committed to, this particular sub-genre of homemade cinema.

And yet — for those of us (like myself), who do fit into that particular (and, yeah, particularly narrow) “fan classification,” this is a darn good time. The Blackwell Ghost 2 may be more a refined extension of the previous entry in this “franchise” than it is a “sequel” per se, but that’s okay, and Clay’s continuing development as a writer/director, as well as his genuinely engaging on-screen persona as an actor, means that there’s reason enough to not only give this flick a shot, but to look forward to The Blackwell Ghost 3 if (okay, fair enough, when) such a thing happens, as well. I’ll certainly be ready and waiting to watch, and subsequently review, it when it does.

In another lifetime — okay, in this lifetime, and right up through last year, at that — I positively drowned myself, and readers of this humble site, in horror film reviews during the month of October. That was before a little thing called Four Color Apocalypse took off like a shot and started greedily consuming every spare moment I had for writing, and before those moments became even more spare thanks to a frankly pretty goddamn grueling work schedule, but hey : it’s still “Halloween season,” is it not? And that means I’ve gotta make at least some time to watch a so-called “scary movie” or two, and to talk about ’em here. For the sake of persistent tradition, if nothing else, but also to make sure no one’s made off with the good china and silver I keep in a cabinet around these parts.

Amazon Prime is my go-to choice for micro-budget horror these days, and has been for some time, but I prefer not to “fly blind” on there whenever possible, so when I heard that the estimable Turner Clay — the backyard auteur latterly revealed to be the “brains” behind the much-speculated-upon The Phoenix Tapes ’97 (probably the last “found footage” flick that actually managed to fool wishful thinkers into believing it was “the real deal”) had jumped back behind, and in front, of the camera for not one, but two “paranormal investigator”-themed flicks in the space of the past year, I was all in to give ’em a go. First up, then : 2017’s The Blackwell Ghost.

Borrowing the same credit-omission trope as his first flick (hey, it set the “chattering class” to — well — chattering, didn’t it?) in order to imbue the proceedings with at least a thin veneer of “authenticity,” Clay introduces himself as a frustrated zombie filmmaker who wants to find some real scares, but his initial foray into ghost-hunting for the camera ends up scuttled for reasons left bizarrely oblique (truth be told, I honestly wonder why footage of this purportedly-abandoned “haunted hotel” project was even included here, the end result being that a film that only runs 59 minutes in length anyway actually feels padded), but fear not : just when it looks like our man is gonna have to go back to filming shambling corpses for the DTV crowd, a correspondent provides him with some mildly disturbing footage of the goings-on at a reputedly haunted house in Pennsylvania (whatever — this movie was actually shot in Lexington, Kentucky), and before you can say “boo!,” Clay and his wife, Terri (played by Terri Czapleski) are on a plane and headed straight for, I guess, danger.

Look, let’s not kid ourselves : when it comes to these “mockumentaries,” they often tend to rise or fall based on the sheer likability of their narrators/protagonists, given that gore, special effects, and complex technical set-pieces are usually well outside both the budget and the ability of the filmmaker, and this one is no exception. Clay’s pulling triple duty as writer, director, and nominal “star” of this flick, but surprisingly, he doesn’t appear to have spread himself too thin — he’s an engaging and relatable central figure with just enough of a sense of humor about what he’s doing to keep the tone agreeably light until things start going bump in the night. There’s very little by way of tension in this hour-long flick, it’s true, and the “big finale” revolves around water faucets turning on of their own volition, but don’t let that prejudice your view before seeing it, simply because nothing here is quite as lame as it sounds, thanks in large part to Clay’s more-than-competent acting and a pleasingly well-developed backstory that makes this particular low-rent haunting seem pretty darn plausible. Yeah, the pacing here is lackadaisical and we’ve seen all this “security camera” and “night vision” stuff a million times before, but it’s all assembled in a coherent manner and the guy tasked with being our “eyes and ears” is, refreshingly, at least not someone you feel like punching in the face.

Now, if you’re on the lookout for originality, clearly you need to be looking elsewhere, but if you can extract a reasonably good time from a tired premise — and I freely admit that I can — then you could do a hell of a lot worse than this movie. It’s predictable in the extreme, it’s true, but it never insults your intelligence, never pretends to be anything other than what it is, and even has a little bit of fun pointing out its own shortcomings. Some might consider that to be damning with faint praise, and maybe it is, but it was good enough to keep my attention and, crucially, doesn’t outstay its welcome. 90 minutes of this might be a little much but, to his credit, Clay knows that, and once we get into the “main” story, he never veers in getting to point B from point A. You’d have to be really damn gullible to think anything happening here is “real,” but I honestly don’t think that’s a big concern. It has a reasonably authentic look and feel to it — which may just be a nice way of saying that it’s smart enough to make its “warts and all” approach work for it — and, combined with its audience-friendly tone, that’s enough to make me feel like I haven’t wasted my time.

Honestly, if you’ve made it this far you should have a pretty clear idea of whether or not The Blackwell Ghost sounds like the sort of thing that you’d enjoy. If not, fair enough — I really can’t hold it against anyone for having had more than enough of the whole “found footage” sub-genre as a whole — but if you’re happy to play along with a well-established set of rules and don’t expect any sort of reinvention of the wheel or anything, then I think it’s a solid bet that you’ll have a fairly good time with this one. I know that I certainly did. So, what the hell — bring on The Blackwell Ghost 2!