October Horrorshow: Ghostkeeper

From our neighbors in the Great White North comes Ghostkeeper, a creepy little flick about a group of vacationers stranded at an old hotel in the Canadian Rockies. Released in 1981, Ghostkeeper was directed by Jim Makichuk from a screenplay by Makichuk and Doug McCloud.

The film stars Riva Spier, Murray Ord, and Sheri McFadden as Jenny, Marty, and Chrissy. They’ve come to the Rockies as part of a group celebrating the new year at a lodge. It’s New Year’s Eve day, and before the festivities in the evening, the three decide to do some snowmobiling in the area. They find a road going up into the woods, and being curious sorts, decide to see where it goes. The snow-covered road leads to a hotel, seemingly abandoned. Meanwhile, the weather turns bad and the three decide they need to take shelter in the old hotel (played by Deer Lodge in Banff).

As night descends, they discover that while the hotel has been closed for years, it is not abandoned. It is being watched over by an old woman (Georgie Collins) and her grown son, Danny (Bill Grove). The old woman is a bit of a crone, but she is nice enough to allow the stranded would-be revelers to take a couple rooms for the night. Of course, there’s more to this hotel, and the old woman, than is at first apparent.

Not long after the old woman shows them their rooms, the characters find various reasons to leave their rooms during the night and get in trouble. There being only three protagonists, there can’t be much of a body count in this film. But, the cast do manage to get themselves into and out of varying scrapes. For her part, the old woman lets on that the three might not be unexpected guests, after all, and the danger they are in might have a purpose. It’s connected to a creature she keeps chained in a basement, but this part of the plot is never explained all that well.

As for that creature, it’s the weakest part of a film that relies on atmosphere more than plot. The monster was teased at the start of the film as a wendigo, the creature of American Indian myths. The wendigo is played by John MacMillan and a little makeup. Not much effort at all was made to make this creature look all that different from a man. But that doesn’t really matter, because any effort to dress up this monster would have been wasted. It never escapes from its icy prison at any point during the film, and no cast member gets close enough for it to do any damage. It’s such an underutilized aspect of this film that it shouldn’t have been included at all. It’s just kind of there, waiting for Makichuk to make it relevant.

While this curious use of the film’s monster was a real headscratcher, the remaining protagonists, after one of them exits the film in bloody fashion, try in vain to flee the hotel. This part of the film has a decent sense of urgency and tension. It’s not a great amount, but in a film with such a small scale it’s handled well.

However, the things Makichuk did well can’t overcome a lack of forward movement, and coherent reasons for why anything is happening. There are horror films that work where the bad guys have murky motivations. But in this film, the lack of meaningful exposition is the result of poor storytelling. Ghostkeeper just isn’t all that memorable of a movie.