Wednesday 24 April 2013

The Prospector's Curse (2012)

Director: Josh Heisie
Stars: David Roberts, Johnny Quinn and Robert Nolan

Josh Heisie is racking up a lot of credits in a variety of departments lately, from small indie short films like this one to, well, to SyFy channel movies like Witchslayer Gretl and Pegasus vs Chimera. I've only seen one so far, the decent Abra Cadaver, which he wrote and shot but didn't direct. He debuted as a director with the 2011 comedy, Mail Order Bride, which I'd like to see, then followed it up with this one, an interesting horror piece that wins out with its sense of humour and a quirky period setting. Contrary to what IMDb tells us, this is a short film not a feature and while it aimed for a May 2012 release, it wasn't completed until this year. In fact, Heisie's plan is for it to be one segment of an anthology film, where each chapter is a tribute to a different type of B movie. This would represent both spaghetti westerns and ghost stories, with others covering film noir, slasher and monster movie genres.

Strangely, while I enjoyed The Prospector's Curse, it didn't play to me like a film at all. It felt more like a haunted house ride or a magician's grisly live stage show: lively, energetic and archetypal, not to mention overplayed enough to ensure that even the folk in the back row don't miss out on anything. Watching at home, it certainly feels overdone, as if almost everyone in the cast wanted a reaction from the audience. It's at the pantomime level with one scene prompting me to shout, 'He's behind you!' at the screen before I remembered where I was. I'd love to see this in a theatre with an audience of kids. For all that it's a horror movie, it's the sort of horror movie that children would watch, proudly exclaim how gross it all was and then promptly watch again. The only catch is that I doubt Heisie will be marketing battery operated Cackling Prospector action figures. If that happens, I'm putting my order in right now and I want Robert Nolan to sign it.
Though it's never mentioned on screen, I believe we're in the Yukon during the gold rush, outside a town called Hillcrest. Two of the three leads are on the run and for very good reason. Theodore 'Tubby' Ellsworth is wanted for murder, given that he stabbed Charlie Chickenfeather in the back when he found him with Rosie the town whore. He's a little dense and a lot smitten with Rosie, but he's bright enough to get the hell out of Dodge, or Hillcrest, with his knife left in a corpse's back. Jack Smith is a gentleman crook, a confidence trickster who's outworn his welcome after selling a bottle of snake oil or an Austrian fish whistle too many. Their only wish is to put enough distance between them and the angry mob following them, at least until they come upon an old prospector dying in the wilderness, one with a bag of gold and a map to his strike. He doesn't want to lie dead on Indian ground so they promise to give him a good Christian burial.
You can write the rest of the story yourself because, sure as eggs is eggs, they only have eyes for the gold. They promptly leave him to rot where he dies and what do you think his ghost is going to do? This really isn't about a fresh story, it's about the joy with which this old chestnut is retold and the characterful setting it's placed in this time around. I can totally see a sequel short with Heisie himself playing a summer camp counsellor who recounts his gnarly tale of The Prospector's Curse to jumpy kids around a campfire at night, only for Robert Nolan's prospector to stagger cackling into the clearing and cause delightfully bloody chaos. I'm not used to Nolan overacting, his roles in Worm and Familiar being textbooks of seething subtlety. He's more like a theme park marionette here with an unlimited supply of batteries and a pair of awesomely bugging eyes. He's going to get a reaction out of you, one way or another, and in that he's a fair mirror of the film itself.

For a film that's about the grand experience, rather than the writing or acting, it's pretty spot on. The pace is just right, starting slowly and surely but escalating quickly and running a short fifteen minutes. Heisie wasn't just the writer/director, he was responsible for the editing, which is surely the main reason for that pace, and also the production design, which is excellent. The only thing I expected from the Yukon gold rush that isn't in this film is snow and I'm quite prepared to be shot down for being stereotypical there. Jenn Woodall's costumes are just as solid, meaning that it all looks believable. The camerawork is relatively simple, doing just what's needed but nothing more. Perhaps the music could have been a little lower in the mix on occasion so that we could hear the dialogue better. Some of that is rather fun: 'Two hangings in one day?' asks a local. 'Yeehaw!' It almost invites a rating of, say, ten thumbs up with one bitten off by the cackling prospector.

1 comment:

Robert Nolan said...

Thank you, Hal C F Astell, for the review of PROSPECTOR'S CURSE. Camping season is almost here. As the Sun fades into darkness and the moon trembles behind the clouds, keep the fire going and the candles lit. Some say there are more than loons out on the lake late at night when you're shivering there all alone in your tent. Some say that something else is out there too. You'll find out.