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Ghost Town (2023) Review

Ghost Town, like Bordello another offbeat western we recently reviewed, takes place in a boomtown gone bust and involves prostitutes. But that’s where the similarities end, rather than a drama this is a horror film about what seems to be a rather literal ghost town.

Solomon (Owen Conway, Krampus: Origins, Breakdown Lane) is a drifter in dire straights. His horse has died, he’s out of money and his gun has gone missing. Luckily for him, there’s a town visible in the distance, and a job working for Hagan (Robert Sprayberry, Non Exitus, Justice) the owner of the local saloon and whorehouse. He’s not five minutes into the job when one of the customers is shot dead while they’re talking to him.

As if that and having an “insufferable prick”, as one of the girls calls him, for a boss wasn’t bad enough, Solomon starts hearing and seeing strange things. Something growl and tries to force his door during the night. The next morning as he’s talking to Stella (Becky Jo Harris, Skinwalker, Battlefield 2025) she seems not to notice as a spider emerges from her mouth and runs into her hair.

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Apart from starring in Ghost Town, Conway also wrote and directed the film. He has a writer’s credit on a trio of previous films, Krampus: The Reckoning, The Covenant, and Eminence Hill, but this is his first time directing. Wisely, he keeps the film’s ambitions within its budget and his level of experience, and doesn’t try to stage anything too elaborate.

Ghost Town is a darkly comic horror set in the Old West. Along with the scares and the gunfights, it’s an intimate character study rooted in true-to- life horrors such as loneliness, guilt and toxic masculinity.

Owen Conway

Using dialogue such as frequent references to the town as a ghost town, graveyard, etc, a mention of an undertaker hung for “committing unnatural acts with the corpses” and simple effects to visualize Solomon’s experiences or possible hallucinations, to set the film’s tone. Which they do perhaps a bit too well as the constant stream of occurrences removes any doubt that something is wrong in this town. Even one of the most basic western set pieces, a shootout, ends with a macabre scene of Sheriff Hoyt (Charlie E Motley, Buried Alive, Hell Hounds) pouring cheap booze on the corpses and cremating them there in the street.

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As befits a film set in a ghost town, the cast is small and apart from those mentioned already the only two that we see much of are Kate (Eva Hamilton, Blood Harvest, Sawed Off), a prostitute with an unexplained hostility towards Solomon, and Benjamin (Stephen Moran, Tight Embrace, The Last Local). Conway gets credible performances out of the cast, even from Moran, who spends most of the time sounding like a TV preacher.

As expected, Ghost Town lets loose in the final act, complete with a preacher (Dan Higgins, Exit to Hell, The Encounter) who looks like he just stepped out of one of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories. And while it ends up delivering some wonderfully twisted images, any sense of plot and logic goes right out the window. It ends with a possible rational, if still horrific, explanation or a supernatural one.

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The effects are a mix of practical and CGI, with the digitally assisted ghost makes being surprisingly good, something I can’t say about the film’s fire scenes. The only real gore is a quick shot near the film’s end, it’s effective but won’t be enough to satisfy those that like their films bloody.

Ghost Town is an interesting film that shows a lot of promise before fumbling in the final act. Owen Conway shows potential as a director, and it will be interesting to see if he does more of it or sticks to writing and acting in his brother Robet’s (Krampus Unleashed, The Encounter) films.

Uncork’d Entertainment will release Ghost Town on DVD as well as to VOD and Digital Platforms on March 7th.

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