As a Los Angeles native, I’ve always been fascinated by the quasi-supernatural power East coast writers and show-biz types sometimes assign to the land we call lah-lah. “It changes you”, “artists lose their souls,” “it sucks the life out of people,” and so on. If you believe everything you hear, you’d think Los Angeles was some kind of Amityville, and it’s mayor was Satan.
Which is pretty much the jumping off place for “The Ghosts of Edendale” — an entertaining, self-aware ultra-low-budget shocker that draws its cues from “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Stepford Wives,” “The Shining” and countless other flicks from decades past in which an isolated location allows evil free reign.
Rachel (Paula Ficara) may have suffered a recent mental breakdown, but she also has a successful career behind her as a model, so she and boyfriend Kevin (Stephen Wastell) move to Los Angeles to start a new life as screenwriters. Rachel’s money allows them to afford a cozy little hillside home just east of Hollywood, complete with hot tub, a spectacular view, and many successful neighbors.
At first, everything seems great. Sure, their most frequent visitors, Alex and Julian (“Lost in La Mancha” co-directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe), are a bit quirky. Also, there is a general smugness in the air. “People on the hill do good work,” someone says with embarrassing elitism. But our happy couple are delighted to have stumbled into so many good connections.
Still, there is that obsession with local history. “Edendale”, it seems, is the real-life, now forgotten name for a neighborhood that was once a major seat of filmmaking. In particular, it served as the home base of legendary movie cowboy Tom Mix, who died in a freak accident in 1940 while driving to his big Hollywood comeback.
Things get stranger. While Rachel succumbs to writer’s block, Kevin starts to behave like Tony Robbins on crystal meth. He’s losing weight, working like mad on a Western screenplay and obsessing over the “hill” and his place on it. Stranger still, even though no one has read a word, he’s already “taking” meetings. (I don’t know when people stopped “having” meetings and started “taking” them, but I think evil ghosts may have been responsible for that, too.) And then there are those frightening visions that plague poor Rachel.
Written, directed and edited by Stefan Avalos (“The Last Broadcast”), this solid scarefest occasionally suffers slightly from an excess of horror-movie slow pacing. Nevertheless, it manages to cleverly straddle the lines between a knowing salute to a particular type of classic horror, while being plenty creepy in its own right and even eliciting actual screams from a (theoretically) jaded festival audience.
Like the pacing, the acting may occasionally flag, but Stephen Wastell’s performance is a pleasure, becoming ever more fun to watch as he evolves from bland nice guy to Stepford Scenarist. There are also some very strong special effects — truly surprising for an ultra-low-budget, shot-on-video production — courtesy of budding SFX genius Scott Hale.
My only real complaint is that I wished Stefan Avalos and company had the budget to shoot “Edendale” on film or high def. Despite solid production values, it occasionally looks too much like a documentary or a television news show for its rather classical content.
Nevertheless, “The Ghosts of Edendale” is the kind of spook film you can watch with a big smile on your face. This is a movie that parodies the out-of-towner’s darkest fears about the horrors of life in “the business,” while actually celebrating the history of Hollywood and the joy of film. It’s all good, dark fun.
And then I remember the last new Western I saw. Open Range did well with audiences and critics despite, among many other problems, some of the worst dialogue in recent memory. Yet, screenwriter Craig Storper emerged unscathed, and I presume his career is raging like a prairie fire.
Hmm. Do we know for sure that Storper doesn’t live in Edendale?