I’m a tad peeved by writer/director Jay Woelfel, and here’s why: for about 20 minutes of “Ghost Lake”, I had convinced myself this might be one of those hidden gems in a sea of bad “b” horror movies. Alas, Woelfel has to go and ruin my little self-congratulatory moment, and instead of a subtle, semi-intelligent ghost story about a young woman haunted by guilt and what might be deep mental problems, turns the whole thing into a silly escapade involving water ghosts, water zombies, and a town curse that recycles every 13 years cause, you know, the number 13 is bad and stuff. With extra cheese on top of the whole ball of wax, of course.
“Ghost Lake” starts promisingly enough, with Rebecca (Tatum Adair) feeling mighty guilty after a night out on the town ends with her elderly mother and wheelchair bound father dying at home from a gas leak. No doubt it didn’t help that Rebecca was getting shagged something fierce in the back of some stranger’s car while ma and pa were getting gassed at that very same moment. (This sequence of events is made crystal clear by Woelfel, who cuts between Rebecca getting the hard and fast one in the back of the parked car by a guy she just met a few minutes earlier, as ma and pa suffocates and crawls about the house.)
Post-funeral, and after some ghostly visions, Rebecca high tails it to the family’s summer cottage upstate, situated next to the titular lake. (Although to be honest, judging by the house Rebecca lives in with her parents, the Hasters didn’t look wealthy enough to own a “summer cottage” — but I digress.) It’s here that Rebecca runs across mysterious loner Stan (Timothy Prindle), and begins seeing ghosts, zombies, and people getting killed by said ghosts and zombies. Actually, it’s a bit hard to figure out if the killers are ghosts or zombies or both, as they seem to be able to disappear and appear at will, but looks and shuffles about like zombies. In any case, as Rebecca tries to piece together the mystery of the lake, she runs afoul of the handsome but impossibly dull sheriff (Gregory Lee Kenyon), a spooky little girl (Azure Sky Decker), and wonders if it’s all in her mind.
First off, “Ghost Lake” is a low-budget horror film, shot on what looks like digital video. Not that those two things are measures of quality (or lack thereof), as I’ve seen low budget films shot on DV that have been excellent (“Expiration” comes to mind). Here, it’s just cheesy, made worst by Woelfel’s inability to take things in a slow and gradual manner. Much of the movie is framed in tight close-ups or medium shots, even in scenes where the real terror could have been achieved by using long, static shots that allows the moment to linger and simmer. For a movie that runs over 100 minutes, length shouldn’t be a problem, but it is.
Blonde Tatum Adair, who looks more like the female lead’s best friend rather than the female lead, heads the unknown cast. Adair is at times very good, and at other times very bad (especially in the beginning). Then again, maybe it’s just working across stiffs like Prindle and Kenyon that make Adair seem better than she actually is. The rest of the cast ranges from awful to just a shade below awful, with Chuck Franklin getting in some good laughs as the crusty Doctor Bloch. Young Azure Sky Decker has what I think is a lisp; either that, or her line reading is just awful.
The thing about “Ghost Lake” that makes you feel cheated is that it could have been a decent little ghost story — with emphasis on the “little” part. There are shades of “The Others” in the beginning, and if anything Woelfel’s script, and his lead character’s history, makes for a better (or at least, more reasonable) ghost tale. So why not make the whole thing about a young woman who can’t come to grips with the sudden deaths of her parents, all the while trying to maintain her sanity? And who decides to isolate herself at a cabin upstate, where her guilt manifests itself in horrific events?
Woelfel gets in some good haunted scenes when Rebecca reaches the family cottage, further convincing me that “Ghost Lake” should have been a small, intimate film about a young woman losing her mind rather than an overblown remake of “The Fog”. There are other missed opportunities in “Ghost Lake”, but also a lot of questionable decisions. Why was the early scene of Tatum Adair’s character getting roughly humped in the back of the car shot the way it was? From that one scene, one is inclined to believe this is going to be a cheap exploitation film, but this turns out not to be the case. It’s cheap, but not very exploitative at all, especially since there’s only one more nude/sex scene after the car hump, and it’s relatively tame.
“Ghost Lake” could have worked if approached in the right way, and with the right frame of mind. As it stands, the film has some solid, spooky minutes in the first 20 or so minutes — too bad it kept going for another hour and change.
Jay Woelfel (director) / Jay Woelfel (screenplay)
CAST: Tatum Adair …. Rebecca Haster
Timothy Prindle …. Stan James
Gregory Lee Kenyon …. Sheriff Dobbs
Azure Sky Decker …. Flora Tompson
Chuck Franklin …. Doctor Bloch