Ghostkeeper (1980) *****  Anchored by the enigmatic and quietly beautiful presence of star Riva Spier, Ghostkeeper is an elegantly realized suspense film that succeeds on the strengths of its casting, simplicity, inescapable atmosphere, and distinctive, forbidding Canadian setting.

Opening with an eerie and gorgeous view of silent, wintry mountains that mirror Spier’s charms, the film introduces three vacationers from the city: callous lawyer Marty (Murray Ord), his taciturn lover Jenny (Spier), and frivolous blonde Chrissy (Sheri McFadden). Doom naturally awaits the trio when Marty arrogantly disregards the warning of the local storekeeper (Les Kimber) and goes venturing into taboo mountain territory. They end up stranded at a disused inn, where a mysterious old woman (Georgie Collins) who may or may not be the innkeeper is waiting for them.

Tensions develop and are sustained throughout, from Marty’s poor decision to lead the women into the unknown to the uncomfortable triangle that quickly makes itself felt once the group is ensconced at the lodge.  Marty is clearly more interested in Chrissy than in Jenny, who becomes emotionally distant and offers little resistance to Marty’s intentions. The old woman hostess has other plans, however, and after Chrissy disappears, Jenny and Marty are thrown into uncertainty and danger. Also aiding in maintaining discomfort levels is the questionable mental stability of Jenny and others among the small cast of characters. Could there, too, be any truth in the Indian legend of the flesh-eating Wendigo, established in a blurb at the beginning of the film? Watch Ghostkeeper and see for yourself.

While Spier is the principal attraction, Collins enlivens her every scene with a hamminess that is also genuinely creepy, while Ord as the thoroughly unlikable Marty also has a powerful and unnerving moment toward the conclusion. Comparing favorably with its similarly themed and situated contemporary The Shining (1980) and utilizing a subtle, effective orchestral score with muted choral elements faintly reminiscent of Invaders from Mars (1953), Ghostkeeper is a horror film of a type that used to be more common – one that understands the usefulness of deliberate pacing, suggestion, silence, and subtle, abiding moments.

Blood Beat (1982) ****1/2  Filmed in rural Wisconsin, Blood Beat is a rare treat for fans of the unusual and obscure in the horror genre. A young woman and her brother come home from college to spend Christmas with their mother along with the brother’s new girlfriend, who exchanges a strange look with the mother when introduced. Whether the two have met before in some way is a mystery, but they clearly make each other very uncomfortable, a feeling that permeates and drives the entirety of the film.

What then transpires and what Blood Beat is ultimately about are described only with difficulty, partly because the happenings are so utterly bizarre and partly because a synopsis of its tale of a supernatural samurai warrior preying on a family and a rural community will do the film the disservice of making it sound like a hokey, disposable exercise in high camp, failing to convey its actually very interesting texture and unique sensibility.

Using non-professional actors and rustic locations, Blood Beat feels lived-in and convincing as an environment for the characters. Its strangeness is also natural and never feels forced in a winking or pretentious way – at least until the end. Keeping the tension of scenes wound tight, even when seemingly little is happening onscreen, is a wonderfully minimalist electronic soundtrack of inhuman music and otherworldly sound effects somewhat reminiscent of the similar effectiveness achieved by the synthesizer music in Fred Olen Ray’s early effort Scalps (1983).

The use of stock classical music in low-key moments recalls the work of Michael Findlay and Shriek of the Mutilated (1974), while the regional character of the film and the unabashedly unreal nature of the menace are in the vein of Don Dohler’s alien features – though neither comparion is entirely satisfactory, surprisingly serious, individual, and uncategorizable a little movie as Blood Beat proves itself. Its willingness, meanwhile, to take its time in creating nagging discomforts for the viewer is almost worthy of a brooding film like The Shout (1978) or fellow wintertime horror Ghostkeeper (see above).

The more prominent presence of the samurai onscreen during the climactic moments of the film diminishes its impact somewhat, as does the poor and hackneyed choice of the introduction to Orff’s Carmina Burana to serve as the score for the final confrontation. Blood Beat nonetheless deserves to be seen, imperfections and eccentricities only adding to its unusualness and charm in the final analysis, if final analysis of such an odd duck is ever really possible.

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