Lionsgate’s horror slate hasn’t been all that impressive lately, and unfortunately this trend continues with The Ghostmaker. Originally titled Box of Shadows, the film was picked up by Lionsgate for distribution directly to DVD, and it does feature an intriguing concept. This automatically puts it on a higher level than previous releases from this year like Knock Knock 2. But what good is a great concept if nothing is done with it?
Kyle (Aaron Dean Eisenberg) is a part-time student and crack addict who spends most of his time hiding his drug problem from his girlfriend Julie (Liz Fenning) and not paying his half of the rent or bills, sticking his paraplegic roommate Sutton (J. Walter Holland) with paying for everything. One day Kyle goes to work cleaning up an old lady’s basement and discovers a coffin hidden under a pile of junk. The lady asks Kyle to ensure the coffin is destroyed, so naturally he takes it home and immediately puts it up for sale online. While inspecting the coffin, Kyle discovers an elaborate clockwork built into the frame, and goes to his nerdy friend Platt (Jared Grey) to help figure out what exactly the coffin is. Turns out the clockwork is a music box and a mechanism that allows its user to experience what it’s like to be a ghost: the body is held in a suspended state and the consciousness is free to roam for as long as the clockwork plays its song.
After a quick trial run, each friend has much different reactions to the possibilities of the device: Kyle realizes he can use it to knock off the local convenience store and make some quick money to pay back his crack dealer, Sutton believes he can use the machine to retrain his body to use his legs again (and spend time with Kyle’s girlfriend Julie, with whom Sutton is obsessed), and Platt decides to never get in it again. Soon after their time in the box, though, each of the friends discovers an unpleasant side effect of the box. They can now see the personification of Death, a floating skeletal figure with clockwork in its skull that seems to be stalking them. Ignoring that little problem, Kyle and Sutton are soon battling with each other over Julie and the box as Death hovers ever closer.
The concept of the ancient clockwork machine invented by a sort of evil Da Vinci figure is interesting, but not much is really done with it. Kyle, a spectacularly unsympathetic protagonist, is too dim to think of anything more adventurous than robbing a convenience store and figuring out where his dealer hides his stash. Sutton’s story should be more interesting and dramatic, but instead he becomes a creepy stalker following Julie around. There’s a fine line between flawed heroes and just flat-out unlikeable bastards, and both of these characters cross it pretty early in the film. The special effects are fairly simple but effective, and the performances are good, but with such uninspiring characters there’s not much to hold the audience’s attention. In a crowded direct-to-disc horror market, The Ghostmaker has a solid central concept and is technically well made, but that’s not quite enough to recommend it without some serious reservations.
Lionsgate released The Ghostmaker on DVD on 13 November 2012. Special features include commentary with director Mauro Borrelli and producers Ed Polgardy and Scott Rudolph, deleted scenes, trailer gallery, and a “Behind the scenes” featurette.