Teenage Ghost Punk

| April 24, 2017

The family-friendly straight to video and VOD movie is a strange subsection of independent cinema. There have always been occasional oddities that threw off kids browsing the all-ages section at their local video store with something inexplicably weird. In the late 80s and 90s, low-budget independent production companies cranked out bizarre “kids’ movies” like Munchie (produced by Roger Corman’s New Horizons and directed by exploitation legend Jim Wynorski) and releases by Full Moon Pictures’s Moonbeam Entertainment such as the Prehysteria! films (directed by Albert & Charles Band and David DeCoteau). Fast forward two decades and the video stores are gone, but the independent filmmakers and production companies are producing stuff like A Talking Cat!?! and Nessie & Me–not coincidentally directed by DeCoteau and Wynorski, respectively. It’s good to know that there will always be a place for weird family-friendly films, since regardless of their relative quality it’s impossible to say what oddball movie is going to spark a kids’ imagination. Teenage Ghost Punk is the kind of movie that would have sat comfortably on the shelf next to Theodore Rex and Leapin’ Leprechauns!

Amanda (Grace Madigan) is a high schooler who is none too happy to be moving with her mother Carol (Adria Dawn) and super genius little brother Adam (Noah Kitsos) from their home in Michigan to Oak Park, Illinois. She would have had a perfect life next year in school–head cheerleader for a squad that made it to #2 in the state the previous year, and with her football player boyfriend Amanda would have been high school royalty. Now she has to start all over again making new friends while Amanda struggles to fit in at work where she’s constantly annoyed by office lothario Barry (Darren Stephens). Shortly after the family moves in, things start happening that they can’t explain. Carol brings in the cops while Amanda and Adam call local ghost hunters the Super Paranormal Investigation Team (or, uh, SPIT). SPIT is immediately chased out of the house by a spirit who then reveals himself to Amanda: Brian (Jack Cramer) is the ghost of a punk rock-obsessed kid who was struck by lightning while playing his guitar on the roof in the 1980s. His friends in the afterlife are other “haunters” from different time periods who wander the neighborhood, and Amanda starts hanging out with them more than her living friends. But what’s she going to do when she can’t take her ghost boyfriend to the big dance?

Teenage Ghost Punk is a very light teen comedy that coasts along on its considerable “let’s put on a show!” charm. There’s not much in the way of supernatural hijinks beyond Brian’s initial terrorizing of the inept goofballs of SPIT. The closest it gets to “scares” other than that is a sequence where Brian tells Amanda about the other ghosts that haunt her neighborhood including women in flowing white dresses who wander the streets endlessly and “Vlad the Bad” (Brian Shaw), an imposing caped character all the other ghosts avoid. Much of the humor is in Amanda’s interactions with Brian’s neighborhood ghost friends, each of which represent a different time period: a 1960s hippie, a 1950s greaser, a high-school buddy of Ernest Hemingway, an 1800s farm boy, and “Goose Hair” (Alex Waheed), a ghost from so long ago he can barely speak English and is mostly unable to process what the world is now. There’s nothing here that’s really laugh-out-loud funny for adults, but kids might get a kick out of it.

What kids probably won’t get a kick out of is Carol’s travails at work with serial harasser Barry, who is given way too much screen time to deliver a torrent of lame pick-up lines. Most of these are just tiresome, although eventually they start to get genuinely bizarre: “You remind me of a jigsaw puzzle–I’d like to stuff you in my closet and save you for a rainy day,” he tells one of his coworkers. Whether actor Darren Stephens was riffing some of these or not is unclear, but they certainly could have used some more judicious pruning. At over 90 minutes, Teenage Ghost Punk is at least 10 minutes too long and could have used some tightening up in other areas as well. It’s clear the cast was having a great time, though, and that spirit of fun is infectious. The music, as you may have guessed, is mostly terrible, but it’s one more thing that adds to the film’s goofy charm. If it had been released in the 90s, it would have made a fun double feature with The Skateboard Kid. Whether or not that sounds like something you’d want to watch in the year 2017 will pretty much tell you exactly whether or not you should watch it.

Midnight Releasing released Teenage Ghost Punk on DVD and VOD 31 March 2017.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium: www.medium.com/@rabbitroom
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