The Ghost Dance 1980 Review
The Ghost Dance 1980
Directed by: Peter F Buffa
Starring: Julie Amato, Victor Mohica, Felicia Leon
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Just a side note, before we get going. I pencilled this in 2008 and my topic was the terrible credit crunch that had struck the world economy back then. It is obviously very focused on the events of those times, but instead of rewriting everything, I decided to leave it as it was, because it is actually rather interesting that not too much has changed some four-years later.
As I write this review, the world is on the verge of one of the biggest financial meltdowns in economic history. My country of birth, Spain, has just guaranteed the savings of up to 80,000 Euros for every Spaniard in order to restore customer confidence. In the UK, a rumoured 500 billion of tax payer’s money is about to be pumped into the recently nationalised British banking system in a bid to put trust back in to the financial market. In Iceland, banks have already crashed completely, leaving customers without their hard-earned savings, whilst politicians in the USA are battling around the clock to to thrash out a saviour package. Things are not looking good.
Two weeks ago the Credit Crunch seemed a million miles away, but today I noticed that it’s starting to hit the most financially adventurous of sports, with London’s West Ham United football club looking set to be the first to feel the pinch. As investments crumble to dust, chairmen will begin to haul in the reigns and become less enthusiastic to spend on those much-needed squad reinforcements during the transfer window. We may be seeing the beginning of a total re-shape in entertainment as we know it.
That suddenly got me thinking, what if the Credit Crunch was to hit the movie industry? What if suddenly producers became bankrupt and it was left up to production teams with experience of delivering a feature on the tightest of budgets to fill cinemas on a Friday evening? Although that would be awful news for global viewers, it would be a momentous occasion for the slasher genre. You see for all their faults (and they have many), stalk and slash flicks are arguably the cheapest and easiest of any genre to produce. So if you don’t see the names of Nolan, Spielberg and Mendes on billboards in the near future and instead see the likes of Devine, Stryker and Decoteu, don’t be too surprised…
There was a time of course when a cheap slasher movie at the flicks was a common occurrence. Back in the inglorious days of the early eighties, titles like Ghost Dance were the ‘Paranormal Activities’ of that long-gone and thankfully forgotten era. Although that sounds bizarre in our current climate of multi-million-dollar blockbusters, history has a funny way of repeating itself.
Ghost Dance kicks off in trappings that we would see again three years later in Fred Olen Ray’s Scalps. A group of youngsters on an excavation raise a grave from the Californian desert and head off into the night with the corpse on-board their flat-bed pick-up. Next up we meet a crazy medicine man who seems determined to conjure the spirit of an ancient American Indian renegade from beyond the grave. After a hopelessly unconvincing ‘magic’ spell, the evil ghost possess the mystical magician and heads off into the desert on a maniacal rampage. Soon we learn that there is something more sinister to the killer’s motives as he begins closing in on our leading lady
Alongside titles that include the aforementioned Scalps, Demon Warrior and Camping Del Terrore, Peter Buffa’s opus attempts to inject the curiosities and intrigue of Native American culture into the trappings of the slasher genre that was all the rage in the early eighties. Back then, the cycle was still in a transitional phase and unaware of its stereotypes. This feature though, seems to already know the rulebook and underlines all the clichés that would become a trademark of identification in years to come. Despite making good use of gimmicks like the good-old ‘have sex and die’ routine, kudos must be given to the scriptwriter for adding a little puzzle and intrigue to the template.
A large chunk of the runtime is dedicated to the mystery element of tracing the origins of the maniacal assassin and although the ideas are bold and commendable, the story-telling does limit the space for occasions of glorious splatter. It does feel somewhat snooze-enticingly slow moving in places and the killer’s appearances are disappointingly sparse. When the psycho does strike, Buffa handles the tension surprisingly well and the score creates a mildly foreboding and at times impressively claustrophobic atmosphere. I especially enjoyed the murders in the abandoned museum and Ben’s face slashing was exceptionally gruesome. Although there’s very little in terms of grotesque gore, the killings, when they occur, are satisfying enough and competently handled by a capable director.
It doesn’t take long for us to realise that there’s sure to be a twist in the plot towards the climax and even though it may seem fairly ‘old-hat’ by today’s standards, the conclusion was fairly ingenious for its time of release. Native Americans are always intriguing and mystic characters for the silver screen, but hiring a cast of competent actors that carry the appearance, heritage and dramatic credibility is never an easy task for a film crew on a meagre budget. With that said, the performances here are reasonably good and credit to Victor Mohica for a strong turning as the leading man.
So this may not be a hidden-gem, but it is decent enough for true genre fans to appreciate. It seems somewhat unfair that whilst utter dross like Don’t go in the Woods can live on in the hearts of slasher aficionados, Ghost Dance has been largely forgotten. Slight problems with pacing do not detract from a decent entry to the cycle. I recommend viewers get used to watching this kind of entertainment…you never know when the Hollywood financial bubble could burst……….
Final Girl: √√