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SPIRIT STALKERS: ATMOSPHERIC HORROR ON A LOW BUDGET
by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [July 16, 2012]
[HollywoodInvestigator.com] In an age of cinematic gore and jaded viewers, it's tough to create quiet, atmospheric terror on screen, especially on a low budget. That's likely one reason zombies and slashers dominate low-budget, indie horror films. It's easier to shock with blood than to frighten with darkened hallways.
Which makes Spirit Stalkers a welcome relief. Yes, the film has its share of gore. Even ghosts draw blood these days. But the film's emphasis is on story, characters, and atmosphere.
Spirit Stalkers is about "true" ghost-hunters on a reality TV show called ... Spirit Stalkers. Not to be confused with The Feed, another low-budget horror film about "true" ghost-hunters on a reality TV show.
Is this a subgenre in the making?
Actually, the films are significantly different. Both films feature skeptical ghost-hunters who stumble upon what appears to be the real thing. But whereas The Feed is told in the well-worn "found footage" mockumentary style, Spirit Stalkers is a traditional drama, albeit with writer/ director Steven Hudgins's usual, but always unexpected, plot twists.
As always, Hudgins also acts in his film, this time playing Reuben, star of the Spirit Stalkers reality TV show. Reuben has problems. He's smart and conscientious. That's a bad combination for a TV ghost hunter. Because he's smart, he always solves the mystery behind every eerie noise or cold spot at every "haunted" location. Because he's conscientious, he always reveals the logical, rational explanation for every so-called "haunting." He won't pretend to TV viewers that it was a ghost.
Every time Reuben ends another show by saying, "Mystery solved!" the ratings take another dip.
Spirit Stalker's producer and fellow cast members want Reuben to introduce impressive but useless "ghost hunting" gadgets to wow viewers. Reuben resists. No fake props for him. Which means that unless he finds a real ghost soon, Spirit Stalkers will be canceled.
Luckily, Gloria (PJ Woodside), who lives in the same town, seems to be plagued by real ghosts at that very moment. One can't be sure, because Gloria is taking anti-psychotic drugs, having spent time in a mental facility...
Spirit Stalkers is not only entertaining, its story is interwoven and bolstered by strong themes. How much of our integrity do we sell out for fame and fortune? This isn't the usual low-budget terror tale of mindless zombies and impersonal slashers on a rampage. This is a horror story about people.
Spirit Stalkers is Hudgins's and Woodside's seventh horror film collaboration, and is their best work to date. Hudgins's technical skills have improved admirably since his directorial debut, The 3rd Floor (2007). While entertaining and fun, The 3rd Floor suffered from rough production values. Its lighting, sound, composition, and acting all left room for improvement. That film was a learning experience.
By contrast, Spirit Stalkers is a polished effort. The film's composition frames Gloria's house and its interiors in unsettling angles. The lighting is professional and creative, effectively using darkness, low-key contrast, and primary colors, as appropriate. Note the composition (the canted frame) and colored lights in the below shot of Gloria:
Spirit Stalker's sound is technically proficient and creatively edited. Extended periods of silence to build tension, punctuated by sudden noises to shock. Or consider the friends' loud, festive chatter, followed by the sudden silence of the séance (no mood music), to emotionally impress the event's dark portent upon the film's audience.
The film's style and story borrow from past horror greats (The Haunting's canted frames and sound contrasts, Suspiria's colors, The Ring as when Naomi Watts pulls a cord from her mouth). Hudgins has been studying the masters, and it shows.
The film's cast performs admirably. Big Biting Pig Productions is located in Kentucky and, having little access to New York and Los Angeles actors, has been building its own local repertoire of talented players.
Spirit Stalkers is skillfully crafted and highly entertaining. Hudgins's and Woodside's Big Biting Pig Productions improve with each effort. Until now, their slickest film to date was their most recent -- the Woodside written and directed The Creepy Doll. With Spirit Stalkers, they raise the creative bar another notch.
Also read the Hollywood Investigator's 2010 report on Big Biting Pig's previous films.
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