January 21, 2009

REVIEW: THE GHOULS (2004)

REVIEW

The Ghouls (2004)

Written and Directed by Chad Ferrin

RATING:2.5 / 5 zedheads


The boxart and synopsis for The Ghouls (2003) promises a “deadly mob of zombies and flesh eating monsters” that “emerge from below the streets and begin to feast on anyone in their path.” And this movie delivers . . . if by “deadly mob” you mean “no more than six” and “zombies” you mean "albinos with messed up teeth."

In truth, The Ghouls is a no-budget independent film from Crappy World Productions, written and directed by Chad Ferrin. Filmed on Mini DV for $15,000, The Ghouls is not an epic zombie movie. It is really about Eric Hayes (Timothy Muskatell), a hurtling train wreck of a human being who makes a living in LA filming the most disturbing and horrific acts of violence he can sell to exploitative local TV news stations. He films maniacs murdering their families and children without intervening, he hopes car chases will end in shootings to make for more sensational video, he spends his free time drinking, smoking crack, and snorting cocaine . . . . and he's available for weddings and bar mitzvah videos!

One night, coming off a bender because his relationships is in the toilet, Hayes witnesses a
a trio of pale-faced mutants dragging a woman into an alley and eviscerating her. When he tries to sell the footage, he discovers he had no tape in the camera, so he convinces a paparrazzo friend to venture into the urban night with him to capture the creatures on film.

The Ghouls
is plainly low-budget. The music is often jarring and overpowers the dialog. In-door sets are clearly dressed up LA apartments. The “zombies,” which are not not undead -- they can be killed with gunshots to the torso -- are actors in bright white face paint and latex appliances to emphasize their brows and cheeks, yet their hands are unpainted. One stabbing scene consists of a naked woman, splattered in droplets of blood, being poked with what is clearly a retractable trick blade knife. Despite these rough spots, the filmmakers manage to stretch the budget of this film and pull off some incredibly effective gore effects later in the movie. Also to the filmmakers' credit, they deliver stylish camera angles and well-done thematic montages. I was quite impressed by the film's coherence and the flow of the shots although some scenes drag on too long.
The standout achievement of this film is Muskatell as Hayes, who carries the movie as a despicable man who we never feel sympathy or empathy for but are nevertheless interested in watching. His acting rings false whenever he tries to be hard boiled, but I completely bought the rest of his performance. Also, keen-eyed zombie fans will spot Joseph Pilato (Captain Rhodes from Romero's Day of the Dead) in a role that brings some gravitas and zombie-cred to the film.

Yet, despite all these efforts, the film is quite unsatisfying: too low budget to be scary and too bleak to be fun. Also, The Ghouls is not epic the zompocalypse attack movie that its promotional material would have you believe. In the UK, this DVD was released under the title Cannibal Dead: The Ghouls although the creatures are clearly not zombies. They have more in common with C.H.U.D's and Morlocks than zombies. Despite the films rough spots and misleading promotional blurbs, The Ghouls does offer an interesting look at a despicable antihero who is more a ghoul than the creatures he pursues.

If you're an independent filmmaker looking for examples of how to craft a film on a budget, The Ghouls may be worth a look, but causal and serious zombie fans can skip this one.