This weekend I crashed the Cleveland Haunters Club screening of American Poltergeist: The Curse of Lilith Ratchet including a Q and A with the director. I had no idea what I was going into. The cover art feels like a low quality Asylum movie, heading straight to Netflix. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Ratchet is a well shot film with a good script and fine actors ding a competent job. The license plates and news segments remind us that film was shot in the Cleveland area, most notably in several locations in Westlake and Akron.
Don’t be fooled by the title though. While our antagonist, Lilith Ratchet, is indeed a ghost, she acts like no poltergeist I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t a surprise then, to discover that American Poltergeist: The Curse of Lilith Ratchet wasn’t the intended title. Director Eddie Lengyel planned on calling the film simply The Curse of Lilith Ratchet, but the distribution company stepped in and decided they could sell more copies under a different title, tying it to an existing (if unrelated) anthology franchise.
The movie starts at Creative Apothecary in Akron, a new age store where our protagonists discover an ornate wooden box (have we learned nothing from Hellraiser or Gremlins?) containing a shrunken head (have we learned nothing from Charles Band??) and a poem. The sell it to a radio host who makes the head the centerpiece of his Halloween show. Broadcasting from a packed night club he plays hot potato with the head while repeatedly reciting the poem (have we learned nothing from Candyman???) unleashing the curse and the evil ghost of Lilith Ratchet.
I kid with all the horror references. While you can definitely spot Lengyels influences in things like the way Ratchet moves (a glide that really reminds me of Angela in “Night of the Demons” or even the Daleks from Doctor Who), he doesn’t wear them on his sleeve. There’s plenty here that feels original. I was particularly impressed with the boldness of using a big crowded party to unleash the curse. More often this happens in small, intimate settings. A slumber party or small gathering of friends. Doing it in a populous setting is a risk, but the kinetic energy of the lights and people at the party is also a great juxtaposition with the later kills, most of which happen in isolation and gloom.
It’s not a perfect film. Despite the 30 day shoot, with a budget of $15,000 some cracks will show. They are few and far between, but there are occasional clumsy segways and certain scenes that didn’t get the attention to lighting that most of the rest of the film did. Lilith Ratchet is a great looking ghost, but light is not this makeup’s friend. When she’s too lit up, she looks too much like an actress in a costume, but when she’s cloaked in shadows and darkness, those horrifying teeth and piercing eyes give me chills.
That’s the reason I’m recommending this film so highly by the way. Sure, the Conjuring movies made me jump a couple times. Human Centipede made me squirm. But I haven’t really gotten goosebumps from a horror movie since “Sinister”. That takes some talent. It’s got some blood, but it’s not really gory. It dosen’t rely on the gore, but rather an atmosphere and a ghost whose presence fills the room every time Lilith glides into frame.
The film ends with a requisite twist that I could mostly see an hour into it, but also manages to tie things together nicely, bringing us full circle back to the beginning. It’s a satisfying enough ending that leaves the door open for us to possibly see Lilith Ratchet again, and I for one, hope we do.
American Poltergeist: The Curse of Lilith Ratchet is currently available at Wal-Mart, and is coming to Redbox as well as Netflix in the near future.