Recycled yet effective micro-budget scare-fare

An American Ghost Story is a film that wears its influence on its sleeve, with the Paranormal Activity franchise in blatant evidence, but had it not actually worked as well, this would have been worse off for it. Instead, even watching all the old tricks being used throughout the film, I still got caught out with some pretty good scare tactics. 2013 has seen some very good movies in this very genre, like The Conjuring or Mama, and while this couldn’t really match those brilliant examples, it didn’t have even close to the budget of those two. Believe it or not, this little movie was made for $10 thousand and when you take that into account, you begin to realise how much of an achievement this film really is. There are movies out there made for upwards of $250 thousand that aren’t anywhere near as good as this in almost every way, like acting, scripting, direction etc, but here we see those things, albeit imperfect, put to good use but done on a shoestring budget. First the premise.

An American Ghost Story
Derek Cole
Stephen Twardokus, Liesel Kopp, Jon Gale
Release Date
August, 2013
Influx Grade: C+

It’s day one, and Paul Anderson (Twardokus) with girlfriend Stella (Liesel Kopp), move into a reputedly haunted house. Why in hell would they do something like that? I hear you cry. Well, Paul is unhappy in his part-time job of writing ads for a local rag, and has decided to write something meaningful and interesting. He also wants to prove to himself, he can finish what he starts, because he hasn’t done so in the past (this is what we’re meant to take in). He has the idea of recreating the look and feel of 89 Maple street by putting furniture back to where it was, and then see what develops, if anything. Indeed it does, as it makes itself known to a terrified Stella (and where we first encounter the borrowed scenes from Paranormal Activity) by opening drawers and cabinets. While this was happening, I remember thinking I was going to hate the movie but then I got my first good scare, and quickly changed my mind.
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The fun of trying to see Casper is rapidly forgotten by a skittish Stella, who leaves the house during the night, with a note on the table. This was the couples first night together and an unhappy Paul won’t leave another thing unfinished so must continue his research, to get his book written, but he must wait awhile for things to really kick off. He tracks down a previous tenant, who tells her story, then warns him to leave the house. Things escalate but Paul wont give up. A man murdered his family in the house, covered the bodies with sheets, then blew his brains out. There is something in the house, scaring everyone away, but why this is happening is a mystery, and unfortunately, always will be.

Written by, and starring Stephen Twardokus (who bares an uncanny resemblance to Edward Burns), does a decent job of playing Paul, although certain times, when he’s jumping with fright, or falling inexplicably over (during the first Tom encounter), could’ve done with a few more takes to keep it a tad more convincing. But even so, an admirable performance. Liesel Kopp as Stella was also pretty good, but again, when it came to the scares, more takes were in order. This is of course down to director Derek Cole, a low-budget, straight-to-DVD specialist, who obviously likes to do things quickly, but he can certainly use a camera, as the cinematography was one of the movies strong points. Rarely was the camera not in an interesting position, which enhanced this movie greatly.

For what this movie is, it’s very very good, with Cole and Twardokus doing what they set out to do. Make a low-cost, enjoyable scary movie. The pacing isn’t great, it slows down too much at times, and a lot of the dialogue was off by a mile (Eh, wait, it’s a really hard name to remember — I think it was Tom. Really? And doing this twice?), but that said, it cost 10 grand. I think this a fine example of no-budget filmmaking, and it deserves to be successful. Not everyone will like it, and I fully understand why, but try seeing beyond the budget.

Nav Qateel