The western has long been a Hollywood staple since the days real cowboys would congregate at the corner of Sunset and Gower Gulch to get a day’s work as an extra. In the early morning, film companies would pass by on their way up into the hills for a long day of shooting. Of course, not everyone could afford to have a huge cast to tell its story of sod busting, save the girl, and range riding chicanery. The stories were small yet effective moments of humanity or, in the case of writer-director Owen Conway’s Ghost Town, contained a healthy dose of the supernatural.
This offbeat western takes place in a formerly booming town. The film opens with disheveled Solomon (Owen Conway) walking alone in sagebrush towards the sun. He drops to his knees, cackling with laughter as the camera moves into a noir-style flashback. Solomon wakes up in a boarding room of a dead town. He is hungover and needs work, so the crusty proprietor (Michael Harrelson) tells him to go to the local saloon and joy house. Solomon’s horse has died, and his gun has gone missing. Finding the saloon boss, Hagan (Robert Sprayberry), he gets hired, and all is well until one of the customers is shot dead. The following day, as Solomon’s talking to one of the saloon girls, Stella (Becky Jo Harris), a spider emerges from her mouth and runs into her hair.
“…ghosts growling and supernatural gunfighters…”
The cynical, drug-addicted Kate (Eve Hamilton), the romantic, book-reading Kate (Becky Joe Harris), and the mysterious, succubus-like Blondie (Brittany Mae) are all treated hideously by Hagen (Robert Sprayberry). He threatens to dock Solomon pay for any untoward remarks and orders his “ten-dollar w****s” outside to drum up business in a vacant town. All over this, you have gunfights, sexual liaisons, blackmail, a townsperson who sleeps no matter what, ghosts growling, and supernatural gunfighters dispensing wisdom.
Ghost Town uses revisionist dialogue, so the audience gets flowery language and vitriolic barbs in a slightly modern tone, especially from Hagen. The town utilized looks like they are half there, much like the sets used in the Star Trek episode Spectre of the Gun. In a well-directed moment, a shootout ends with a macabre scene of Sheriff Hoyt (Charlie E. Motley) pouring booze on the corpses and cremating them in the street. Effects-wise, there are practical and some low-key CGI with limited softcore sex. The screenplay keeps things small, allowing the handful of actors to showcase their business, leaning into the supernatural element well.
Ghost Town is a solid, odd film with a few characters in a simple locale. The dialogue is inconsistent with the film’s time, verging on the absurdness of Harold Pinter with modern language shifting to a flowery piece of timely imagery. This is a staple of revisionist westerns such as Django Unchained, meaning the film is odd for odd sake, which makes for inconsistencies. Filmmakers tend to love the process more than the result, so things don’t always translate as intended. This does not detract from the fine, if limited, supernatural aspects that strongly emphasize the oddness of the situation and drive the film to a booze-soaked conclusion. A heaping helping of a different kind of hospitality awaits.
"…a solid, odd film..."