I used to have a rule.
I had always been nervous, when I looked at a DVD box and noticed that the writer and the director were the same person. It had not meant pleasant movies in the past. In fact, it had very frequently meant second-rate B movies that were precious little more than vanity projects.
This rule especially held true when the writer and director took on a starring role as well. All too often, it devolved into fanboy wish-fulfillment and other, less savory concepts.
But Ghost of the Needle has just shattered that rule into many tiny pieces for me.
The first thing I want you to pay attention to is the DVD menu. Yes, it's pretty blase at first...a series of falling pictures with scenes from the movie playing in them. But check out the effect just before the loop resets.
Check out the menu select effects also, done as shots on a reel of film. Again, very nice.
So what we have here is the story of Jacob, a serial killer / starving artist (man, why does that combination not surprise me in the least?) who has a particular way of immortalizing his work. Jacob's fond of using drugs to sedate his victims and put them into suspended animation, then taking photographs of them to put on the back of framed photographs of the places where he met them.
One girl he kills very nearly got away...and she's where all the trouble will begin for Jacob. Jacob, you see, is going to find himself lodged in a nightmare so intensely terrifying that it's going to make Rod Serling wet himself.
And what you'll really come to love about Ghost of the Needle is how quickly it can shift mood from insane action chase scene with hypodermics to background exposition and right back again.
The plot is looking interesting...but plot by itself is always at risk. Let's take a look at the execution.
Jacob, our looney slasher boy, provides more than his share of suspenseful elements. Are we watching his gradual descent into madness caused by his frequent proximity to nerve agents and other such nasties, or are we watching his guilt catch up to him? Check out the blistering montage at the thirty four minute, sixteen second mark and you'll get a very frightening idea of just what's going on in our boy's twisted little head.
And even better still, the whole problem catches up to Jacob in a very big way. Around the fifty minute mark or so, a very nasty surprise hits our boy. Then he manages to play a somewhat confusing but still very novel part in an infidelity plotline that crops up around fifty seven minutes in.
Ghost of the Needle is just excellent work. This is a movie about a serial killer who gets his gruesome, "Twilight Zone-ish end-up-in-hell sort of thing" ending, if I can borrow a phrase from Bloom County. We get solid performances from all the actors involved, we get some very solid special effects and cinematography, we just get one very solid whole.
The ending comes packed with lots of shocking revelations about what's been happening to Jacob for the last hour and a half. Seriously, these are amazing. It's a fantastic way to close the plot. Plus there's this very well done sequence involving lots of flashlights, which is gripping terror at its most powerful. The long slow fade is also excellently done.
The special features include some audio options, director and actor's commentary, a behind the scenes featurette, and trailers for Evil Eyes, Lady in the Box, Haunted House, and Ghost of the Needle.
All in all, Ghost of the Needle is the kind of movie that'll have you thinking twice about a whole lot of things, and be glad you did.
Steve's columns are entirely self supported.