Ghostkeeper, Back To Haunt You (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Code Red has rapidly been re-releasing their DVD catalog onto blu (and I really hope they don't stop before they get to The Carrier!), the latest of which is the atmospheric Canadian horror Ghostkeeper.  And just to amuse myself, I decide to change the format of this review a little bit as a throwback to my coverage of Redeemer, my very first DVD/ Blu-ray comparison on this site, which was another unusual Code Red quasi-slasher.

1981's Ghostkeeper is in a lot of ways, a low budget version of The Shining.  Three characters get snowed in at a giant, closed down lodge, only to suspect that they may be sharing the space with some unearthly staffers.  And like The Shining, it's a question right up to the end of how much of the menace is supernatural, and how much of it is their mental health and them being a danger to themselves.  But it's not only akin to Kubrick's film in terms of premise.  Like The Shining, Jim Makichuk's film is a slow burn, getting a lot of mileage out of a terrific location and surrounding snowy landscapes.  And as with that film, the bulk of the weight is placed on the dramatic performances rather than effects or shocks.  Not that this cast is quite on par with Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duval, but they're pretty strong for virtual unknowns; and the film veers far enough away that this film manages to stand on its shadow as something different and more than just a Shining knock-off.
2012 Code Red DVD on top; 2017 Code Red blu below.
Despite the back of the blu-ray case claiming 1.85:1, both versions are 1.78:1.  But there's more going on here than just the same master being upgraded to blu.  The original 2012 30th Anniversary DVD gave us a "brand new master from the only surviving 35mm print," and the new blu describes itself as a "2016 HD Scan of the only surviving vault element."  Looking at the framing, you can tell it's a new scan because it has slightly altered framing (the blu is a pulled out just a smidge further).  That "vault element," though, appears to be the same print as the DVD, as it shares a lot of the same print damage.  But then again, a lot of the print damage has been cleaned up, and as you can see in the second set of shots, a few bits of damage are unique to the blu-ray transfer.  In short, though, the blu-ray is a lot cleaner with substantially less chemical marks, dirt, scratches and pops in the soundtrack than the DVD had.

While the HD naturally sharpens some softness and clarifies edges (grain is very natural here), there isn't a whole lot of new detail pulled out of this fresh scan.  The biggest difference you'll notice between the two versions is actually the color timing.
DVD left; blu-ray right.
The DVD has a definite greener push that the blu-ray corrects.  Hey, just like with Redeemer!  The green push wasn't quite as bad on the Ghostkeeper DVD, but it's still a pretty pronounced difference comparing the two formats.  The white of the snow makes it pretty obvious and easy to spot the difference, but actually it plays an even more important role in the dark scenes, of which there are many.
DVD left; blu-ray right.
This movie has some issues with the black levels.  I'm not sure if it's due to the aged print or if they just had trouble shooting it, but a lot of this film is super dark, and in order to see what's going on, the filmmakers clearly brightened the shots to the point where the blacks are very grey.  And on the DVD, they often looked downright yellow.  So the blu's new color timing really makes the film look better in these scenes.
DVD left; blu-ray right.
In the regular daytime scenes, it's not such a critical difference.  In fact, there are a handful of shots where I might've actually preferred the DVD's colors.  But very rarely.  For the most part, it's a consistent, solid improvement.  In fact, if anything, I think they could've taken it further.
DVD left; blu-ray right.
To be fair, the above is the worst shot in the movie, and it never again looks quite this bad.  But the blu-ray's colors here just barely help.  It can be a tricky line, deciding when it's okay to tamper for a DVD label to tamper with a film's look in a creative way, versus just presenting it accurately, warts and all.  But I can't help but think a label like Synapse might've been brought down the darks in scenes like this.  Pre-digital, it would've been a lot harder, but these days, you can really bring down the darks without necessarily darkening the whole shot and losing what image there is.  Seeing Ghostkeeper with genuine blacks - and blacks that match shot to shot - would really help the film, I think.  If they had access to the original negatives, none of this would likely be an issue anyway.  But as it is, even for a transfer taken from a print, it still feels like we're watching a slightly damaged product here.
On the other hand, the film's opening text has been really neatened up.
Unlike Redeemer, Code Red's DVD of Ghostkeeper had some terrific extras, and thankfully they've all been carried over.  There's an excellent audio commentary with the writer/director and the two main protagonists, Riva Spier and Murray Ord.  Then both versions list a "featurette" on the case, but really give us two separate interviews, one with co-star Georgie Collins (the ghostkeeper herself), and an audio-only one that plays as a sort of mini-audio commentary over select footage by the DP, John Holbrook.  Both versions also include a couple bonus Code Red trailers (including Cut & Run on the blu).  But the blu-ray adds something new to the mix, too.  An opening scene that was tacked onto the home video release of this film, depicting an unrelated character getting chased and killed, presumably by the Windigo, outside the lodge.  It's clearly just taken from a video source, full-frame and interlaced; and the director never wanted this scene added to his film.  But it's very cool to get to see it as a special feature.
So the blu-ray is a nice upgrade of a nice little film.  It still's not quite showroom floor material, but it's probably the best Ghostkeeper will ever look, and I'm really glad Code Red stuck on that alternate opening.  I was on the fence about upgrading this one when it was announced, because the DVD isn't that old and still looks pretty good.  But I'm glad I bit the bullet.  It's not the 100% ideal restoration I was picturing in my dreams with natural, silky shadows, but it's a nice improvement.

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