Friday, September 28, 2012

AKA The Killing Box: "Ghost Brigade" (1993)

Clocking in at eighty minutes, this weird horror effort shows classic symptoms of post-production tampering, leaving the viewer wanting a whole lot more from an interesting idea.

During the Civil War, Union soldier Adrian Pasdar is recruited to investigate a series of crucifixions by a renegade band of Confederate soldiers. He enlists the help of his old mentor, now a captured Confederate, played by Corbin Bernsen. The two join a squad, along with a mute runaway slave girl (the only living witness to the renegade band's attacks), and they all go searching for the criminals.

These are not your ordinary Confederates. These men, remnants of Bernsen's old brigade, have somehow fallen victim to an African curse. They cannot die, despite all the Union's firepower. However, they also cannot tolerate silver (like sunlight to a vampire), and they cannot cross a body of running water. The rebels soon enlist some Yankees into their ranks, and the motley soldiers go about killing everyone in their path in order to win the spoils of war for themselves. Soon, Pasdar and the now enlightened Bernsen find themselves surrounded by the brigade, and must fight them off using a convenient water pump and a surprise stash of silverware and coins.

The first confusing item here is the narration. While it sounds very true to the time, it is being spoken by Pasdar's character. The problem is he sounds just like Martin Sheen, who has one scene early in the film. For a while, I was not sure who was doing the narrating.

The film also apes "Silence of the Lambs," as Pasdar visits Bernsen in prison, with a "case file" as it were, for Bernsen's advisement. I do not remember that Clarice had a bucket of urine thrown on her by Hannibal Lecter, though.

The film seems to want to explore so many more avenues to the story, but never gets to fulfill its wishes. Once in a while, Pasdar is shown sitting under a tree during camp, sleeve rolled up, and I assumed he was a drug addict shooting up morphine. This weird sequence is never touched upon. Bernsen is also a little too colorful as a southerner. The film tries to balance the sympathy between the two sides, but this again feels forced and half thought out.

As I wrote, Sheen has one scene and quickly disappears. Billy Bob Thornton, David Arquette, and Alexis Arquette also have small roles here. Matt LeBlanc's name appears in the end credits, but for the life of me I cannot remember him in the movie!

Hickenlooper's direction is pretty good, he does better with dream sequences than war footage. The original idea is an interesting one, we do not see many Civil War era ghost stories . I am just very disappointed at whoever decided to take the film and "fix" it, then release it.

"Ghost Brigade" is not a terrible film, it is actually entertaining, but it plays like what it is: a chopped up attempt to make some money on the straight to video market, at the sacrifice of the audience's seeming lack of intelligence. I really hate when Hollywood decides to dumb something down for me, assuming I would not "get it" otherwise. (* *) out of five stars.