Ghostmaker (2011)

ghostmaker01“Last year this footage started to appear on the internet.  As of today the identity of these people remains unknown.  The following film is inspired by their story.”

Well, this is new: A film that only claims to be inspired by the events rather than being based on them. I’m not sure that is better.  In this genre, based on is always an obvious lie; but inspired by flat out tells you this is show-biz.  No matter — this is a fun ride.

College student Kyle needs money for college necessities like textbooks and crystal meth so he is working for a cleaning service.  While clearing out an old woman’s basement, he finds a coffin with a window in the lid.  The film immediately becomes terrifying as it reminds me of having to sit through that episode of Ray Bradbury Theater which also featured a coffin with a view.

The old woman makes him promise to destroy it, but he thinks he night be able to sell it on eBay.  He opens it up to clean it out and discovers the cushions lift out.  Inside he finds a clockwork device with more wheels and gears than the Antikythera Mechanism.

ghostmaker04With his friend Pratt, Kyle finds an antique book with a drawing of the coffin which is called a Ghost Machine.  It was created to simulate the sensation of a near death experience.

They test it out first on a goldfish.  Seriously.  I appreciate that they are scientifically weighing the risks, but a goldfish?  Couldn’t they find an ant?  The fish appears to die, but does wake up, leading the brain-trust to proclaim the device safe for humans.  Fairly ludicrous, but more-so as we learn about the device.  It uses sound waves as part of the process — do goldfish have ears?  And plunges a needle into the back of the subject’s head — did the bowl mysteriously spring a leak?

Kyle tries it first and discovers that it transforms him into a ghost.  He is able to move about unseen, even through walls, while his corporeal body still lies in the coffin.  His buddy Platt tries it with similar results.  Kyle’s wheelchair bound roomie Sutton tries it, and naturally is able to walk.

ghostmaker06Kyle compounds his meth addiction with an addiction to the device.  One feeds the other as he uses the device to plan robberies in order to score more meth.  Eventually he sees the destruction that his actions are causing and realizes he must break the cycles of both the meth and the coffin.

Sutton is seduced by the device’s ability to let him walk again.  The more he uses it, the further more enslaved to it he becomes.  He uses the device far more than anyone else and experiences the most changes.  He uses the device to spy on Kyle’s girlfriend Julie, eventually stealing it to protect it from Kyle.  He rats out Kyle as a meth user and abducts Julie.

Platt falls down some stairs and dies.  OK, his story is a little thin.

The film looks great, and has great pacing and score.  The acting is a little spotty, but not distracting.  There is a strange flatness to the movie though, which I am at a loss to describe.  Maybe because there are no extreme highs or lows, no big jump scares, no big twists.  It even has an ending that ties things up maybe a little too neatly.  Maybe all that works in its favor — it succeeds by not doing anything wrong.

But the important thing is that it succeeds.  Highly recommended.


  • Originally titled Box of Shadows.
  • The name on Julie’s medicine bottle is Julie Strain.
  • Not crazy about that cover.  While death is personified in the film, it looks nothing like that and does not carry a scythe.  The cover is actually far less interesting than the reality for a change — the old switch and bait.

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