January is a bittersweet month to me because it marks the beginning of a new and exciting year, however my feelings of restlessness with its duration are overpowered by my distaste for winter. Therefore, I have decided to embrace this frigid season by covering a highly underrated Canadian isolation winter horror: James Makichuk’s 1981 film Ghost Keeper.
Ghost Keeper tells the story of three acquaintances who are on a wintery vacation in the Canadian Rockies and stumble upon a mysterious lodge where terror unfolds. It begins with an opening scene of a man running from someone then concludes with a pretty gnarly impaling.
I have always been fascinated by movies that have a limited amount of actors or characters as they tend to provide very compelling stories. Ghost Keeper follows Jenny (the sensible one), Marty (the curious man), and Chrissy (the spontaneous ditz) to the Deer Lodge where the ghost keeper and the windigo, a ghost who lives on human flesh, reside. The trio find a hidden trail on their ski doos, dismiss the warning sign, then decide to go ahead and follow it to see where it leads.
I love Jenny because she, like me, is very rational. When they enter the lodge, Marty and Chrissy assume the place is abandoned but Jenny questions them by asking why the heat is on, indicating that they are not alone exacerbating the concern. The trio then embark on different routes in search of whatever they can find. Of course careless Chrissy does so in a garish manner. Jenny on the other hand proceeds with caution, which is exactly what I would do. When she finds a room with an open window the first creepy scene occurs with an eye watching her from the darkness much like Black Christmas. Then, as expected, a snowstorm looms, trapping them in the lodge with their unknown hosts.
Nightfall approaches and while Marty and Chrissy are imprudently drinking near the fireplace, Jenny is morose as she confesses that she thinks someone was in the room with her earlier, however her concern is brushed aside with contempt. Then one of the scariest scenes in the film happens: Marty goes into the next room and we hear a scuffle and his wail. The girls run in and Marty states that there’s an old woman here. It’s the ghost keeper and he first time you see her, is very terrifying and unsettling. Once they are acquainted, they learn that she has a son somewhere around, which only exacerbates the haunting mystery of the film, especially since she is not keen on answering any of their questions.
The next morning, Marty attempts to start his ski doo with no luck and sees that the engine wire was tampered with. Someone doesn’t want them to leave! While he goes on a mission to find a replacement part and finds nothing but a bloody axe, Jenny leads us into the secrets of the lodge and the windigo myth and what unfolds after is the macabre ending of Ghost Keeper.
Much like The Shining, there is something deeply distressful about being stranded in remote winter where not only there’s no one that can help you, you can’t even help yourself. I love the mood of this film. Its haunting imagery of wintery mountains, the night scenes of the lodge with the only light source from oil lamps, the ghostly whispers and shadows, all encompass the sombre side of horror. Also walking in snow up to your ass is nightmare fuel enough!