My favorite kinds of horror movies are those where the concepts are mythos related, where the horror has a lineage, and the horror at the root of Pay The Ghost is just that and it reminded me of Candyman (1992). Both movies are about innocents from other eras who are murdered and who end up becoming so hateful they stalk the world murdering and in so doing become a part of humankind’s urban legends.
In Pay The Ghost that innocent lives in barely settled New York in 1679. She’s Irish and her Celtic tradition is blamed for a recent deadly influenza outbreak, so how do the locals primates rectify that? They march to her house on Halloween, take her and her three kids out and burn them all at the stake, but before she succumbs to the flames she curses the area and vows to return and take three kids every Halloween for as long she can stoke her after death hate.
Cut to Halloween 2014 where we meet Mike Lawford (Nic Cage), his wife, Kristin (Sarah Wayne Callies) and their son, Charlie (Jack Fulton). Days before Charlie is taken, he sees a mysterious figure outside his window. The day this woman’s ghost comes to take him it’s at this Halloween street carnival. Mike took him, while Kristin stayed home, and while getting ice cream and holding his hand firmly, Charlie looks up at something and asks his dad if they can “pay the ghost.” He then vanishes.
Emotionally stricken by the loss we meet Mike a year later and see he and Kristin have separated and it’s three days until Halloween again, but wherever Charlie is he’s not “resting in peace.” Mike is the first one he chooses to make his presence known and his father spots him on a bus, hears his voice on a street and is even hit by a toy arrow he used to play with.
Kristin believes none of what Mike tries to tell her until one morning she hears Charlie’s scooter downstairs, and downstairs she goes to find his scooter scooting around on it’s own. Yeah, okay, now she believes, and both parents unite, but what I didn’t quite get is what that one motivating factor was that makes Mike come to the unbelievable conclusion that all these kids that go missing on Halloween are linked and that there’s probably this “one thing” responsible. We see him learn that a good percentage of kids who do go missing on Halloween are never found, but we never get those connecting dots to see him make that leap from the normal to the possible paranormal.
Once that leap is made, however, he and Kristin try to use a psychic to see where Charlie is and that psychic is supernaturally killed, obviously because she was getting too close to learning the truth. And I will say at least it was a unique death. She was burned to death from the inside!
There’s a detective Mike routinely contacts to see if there are any leads, and this Detective Jordan (Lyriq Bent), feels a little bit of this supernatural heat as he looks into the kidnapping of this Asian girl a year earlier. Before she vanished her mother tells him she said the same thing Charlie did before he went away.
Vultures seem to play a part in this urban legend; three of them are spotted from time to time in the employ of the ghost. Eventually Charlie leads his father to this abandoned building where the homeless call home and learns the ghost screams he just heard is that supernatural kidnapper of kids. There’s also a portal that exists between this world and the next upstairs, but it’s only accessible during the hours of Halloween.
The rules are only the kids from the previous year have a chance of being saved, but after that Halloween ends they become just as dead as dead can be. This is where the movie goes from horror to being somewhat of a horror fantasy, which didn’t bother me. Mike travels to this other side and this other side is the farmhouse we saw in the prologue where mother and kids were taken from. In the basement is where she’s keeping all the kids she’s taken and that scene was at least awe inspiring. When Mike opens it up and walks down there are all these ghost children standing around and I mean tons and tons of them. They can’t be touched, the ones who are not totally dead are still physical and Mike finds his kid and two missing ones that were taken when Charlie was. I will say this is one horror flick that actually has a happy ending. And I liked that.
I’m giving it two thumb’s up and can easily see myself watching it again, but it’s a hair shy from being that perfect flick I would normally give my DVD News Flash Seal Of Approval on. Cage doesn’t chew the scenery in this one like he normally does. It’s more low-key Cage and I was all right with that. I know this has gotten a lot of bad reviews but I liked it enough to want to add it to my collection. It could use more chills, more creepiness and perhaps a more three dimensional villain than the “monster ghost Mike needs to overcome,” but what was there was enough to entertain me.
The ending incidentally, that aforementioned confrontation, reminded me of an Elm Street movie. I can’t remember which one; I think it might be The Dream Master installment where all the kid’s souls Freddy has killed get revenge and tear his body apart. A similar situation exists in Pay The Ghost, but not so visceral. Those ghost children Mike couldn’t rescue, the ones who are now truly dead, finally get their revenge as the ghost mother attempts to stop Mike from taking his kid and the other two back to the realm of the living.
And that “pay the ghost” term . . . back in Celtic days you pay the ghost by offering a child to her to take, there’s a ceremony however where locals from back then burned effigies as a way of “paying the ghost.”
This movie is based on a novella written by Tim Lebbon that was in Cemetery Dance’s 2000 anthology release called, October Dreams: A Celebration Of Halloween, which is long out of print, but Lebbon has recently re-released his tale in Kindle form to coincide with the release of the movie. I’ve never read the tale but a small portion of it can be peaked on Amazon and from what I see the kid in the novella was a little girl rather than a little boy.
On November 10th Image Entertainment releases Pay The Ghost on separate DVD and blu-ray editions.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 2.35:1 high definition widescreen—5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio—English SDH, Spanish subs only.
There are no extras. One of the things that bothers me about Image Entertainment, they don’t do extras except in rare instances and that came in the form of a commentary for Frankenstein Vs. The Mummy (2014). In lieu of any for Pay The Ghost I found a short on set interview of Nicolas Cage on YouTube.
Being rural based I relate more to Halloween-themed horror flicks set in the country or suburbia but this urban tale of All Hallows’ Eve was pretty damn good.