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Eric Hayes is a stringer. One notch below the lowest rung of the journalistic ladder. A video vulture preying on police chases, ambulance runs, and random street violence, selling his footage to the highest bidder and living on a steady diet of cigarettes and bloodlust. For years, Eric has lived off of other people's pain and misery. But he's about to discover something beneath the streets of Los Angeles even hungrier for blood than he is. He's about to discover THE GHOULS. Written by
It's hard to fully immerse yourself in the latest low budget trend of DV filmmaking. Unless painstaking measures are taken to mimic the cinematic conventions of film, like depth of field and the crispness of the image, one can easily lose focus on the story and be distracted by the the quality of the picture, which is more along the lines of a cop corralling a perp or a father getting kicked in the balls by his kid. However, Chad Ferrin's latest offering (I saw his first film UNSPEAKABLE at Sundance in 2000) uses the DV format not in an aesthetic gimmick (like BLAIR WITCH) but to further the dread and grit of his subject matter...for what it's worth I was appalled and enthralled...and it scared the shit out of me.
THE GHOULS follows a down-on-his-luck video muckraker (Ferrin sets up the main characters moral decent in a shocking prelude that will be a true litmus test for any viewer...not giving anything away but if you can survive the opening moments, you're in for a ride) as he prowls the streets, a stringer looking for a lead to both pay the bills and support his crank habit. To be frank, our protagonist Eric (Timothy Muskatell) is a piece of s**t that Travis Bickle would scoff at; We see him drown his sorrows in drink after coercing a man to murder while he shoots the "exclusive" footage, moments before the cops burst in. Yet with the over-saturation of media bloodhounds also scanning the street looking for a good lead and a juicy shot to sell, our hero is mostly plopped in a bar booth, killing brain cells and wallowing in his inner pain.
Nice horror in-joke: Cast as the TV news producer who sometimes buys Eric's footage but mostly berates our hero, Joe (DAY OF THE DEAD) Pilato is in fine form and, with Ferrin being an obvious Romero fan, gives the actor great lines and exploits Pilato's ability to make the word "fuck" seem evil again, like it was when you weren't allowed to say it in public when you were a kid.
However, things change suddenly as Eric drives into the depths of Downtown L.A. one lonely Christmas eve, where he stumbles upon a gruesome, cannibalistic murder that happens right before his eyes in an alleyway, and from here the film goes full tilt boogie. Using his camera and the help of another video freelancer/"vulture" (Trent Haaga, who is by and large one of the best actors in the low-budget horror scene right now and used effectively as both comic relief and the "young sage competition" cliche), Eric returns to the scene of the crime to hopefully capture another murder, which could be the shoot of his career, but of course, like every good horror film, our hero is pulled into the darkness...and comes face to face with THE GHOULS, and himself.
Honestly, I don't want to give anything else away mainly because when I was watching this, it was hard to take in, especially since the main character is so unlikable. But as the plot progresses he is faced with strange phone calls at night, bodies piling up around him as well as his own demons. Plus, the film boasts the most disturbing performance from a Down's Syndrome actor EVER.
On that note, along with Pilato mentioned before, all of the performances are effective in a low-key way. There is little "acting" here, mostly reacting and silence that says so much. Haaga is great as the "sidekick" but doesn't use the usual trappings to illicit a laugh; rather he serves as a humorous light is the depths of scum that surround this film
The film, shot on digital video, looks very good for it's limitations, and Ferrin knows where the camera needs to go to feel "real", and once the film gets into gear I never once got taken out of it because of the medium. However, the sound design and the sets, for example the ghoul's lair and the cavernous pipelines and sewer systems, are AMAZING, especially after finding out there were mostly created and not found locations! The sound effects, which most filmmakers either take for granted with "scare stings" or neglect all together, make this film SCARY. The makeup effects are also effective and are a notch above TROMA quality but Ferrin is not afraid of a little splatter (thank god).
I wish i could say something negative to balance out this review but I was very happily surprised with this. When I heard Ferrin was doing a digital feature, I was dismayed because I tend to not have the ability to enjoy a film on video unless it has an obvious contextual reason. Yet THE GHOULS inspired me to say "fuck film" and tell a story with whatever you have available, and Ferrin scares and disturbs with great style.
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