"There's no hiding from the revenge of the dead.
Reckless fools have violated a scared Indian burial ground. Now they must pay the price.
Enter a world where anything is possible ... Where a resurrected Indian warrior seeks revenge for his people ...
Where the terror of his mission looms large around every corner.
Will the grave robbers survive? Only the ghost dancer can tell."
Several years before Fred Olen Ray dug up his own burial ground in the better known SCALPS (1983), Buffa was also messing with Indian mumbo-jumbo in this slow-moving, but well made slasher flick from the golden age of the subgenre.
As with all films of this ilk, nothing good ever comes from digging up dead bodies and removing artifacts from an Indian burial ground. Any fool could tell you that – and GHOST DANCE is no exception. A blonde and unfeasibly attractive university anthropology professor, Dr Kay Foster (Julie Amato - who was Miss New York State 1964), supervises the disinterment of a shroud-wrapped body from a grave in the desert. No sooner have they whisked away their dusty cargo back to campus, a medicine man comes sniffing around the dig site (in one of the film's more murky sequences, not helped by the antiquated VHS transfer). He bumps off a security guard with what looks like a rattlesnake in a hat box and makes off with several artifacts from the site.
Back home, he intones darkly to his mother about how he will inherit great powers from the dead. She just thinks he's nuts and tells him so – which doesn't improve his humour one bit. He takes off to a local cave where he performs a blood ceremony, and seemingly becomes possessed by the spirit of the corpse now residing at the university. Sadly the spirit isn't Mother Theresa, and soon he's marching through the desert, hunting knife in hand. First, he offs his mother by cutting her throat (that's the last time she'll tell him he'll amount to nothing!) and then sets a vicious dog on a local girl.
Back at the university, Dr Kay lectures her students about the Indian ritual of the 'ghost dance cult': “...where previous generations of Indians would come back to walk the earth.” (this narrative approach is always a good way to clear up any plot points for the more cerebrally challenged viewers!). After a bizarre car accident at the dig, Indian elders begin to worry that the dig is now cursed, and the body that they dug up may have belonged to a long dead Shaman called Nahala, who poo-pooed the more liberal Indian's efforts to get on with the white man, and founded a new religion in which torture and mayhem were the order of the day. Nahala also kidnapped a white woman, who he brainwashed and made his bride – and who joined him on his killing sprees. Rather reasonably, Kay points out that they had permission to dig up dead Indians – and her boyfriend, a native Indian called Tom (Victor Mohica), who has rejected his culture's old ways, reassures her that, “He's just a crazy legend!”.
However, as bodies start to pile up in the Indian museum next to where Kay works, and she finds herself pursued and wooed by the long dead Indian, she finds it harder and harder to dismiss superstition ...
God knows I've seen a fair few slasher flicks in my time. Apart from some especially obscure – and some very tenuous – slasher movies from the golden age of the early 80s, I thought I'd seen – or at least head of – them all. Just goes to show you how wrong you can be! Also goes to show what a good place the forums (ably run by Bodycount Continues supremo Joseph Henson) are for detailed info on our favourite subgenre. GHOST DANCE came up in conversation. I'd never even heard of it before, but I knew I had to see it!
Thankfully, GHOST DANCE is actually a pretty well made film. A million times better than some of those hunks of crap that actually deserve to stay buried (hello SAVAGE WATER (1978)!). If I'm being generous, I'd have to say the pacing is a little leisurely – especially during the first half. I imagine many viewers might have lost interest by that point, but is worth sticking with it (especially for the nicely cynical ending). Essentially, GHOST DANCE is SCALPS' sombre cousin, but there is a good smattering of classic slasher movie touches to keep you going through the slower bits. This includes a double murder which makes great use of the deserted museum at night – an excellent location. The murders themselves are no bloodbaths, but they are mostly pretty juicy – the impalement of one character on a spear is a stand out. The soundtrack is minimal, but boasts some nicely creepy incidental music. There's also an exciting chase through the museum, which culminates in the darkly poetic shot of the killer standing silhouetted against the giant wings of a giant stuffed bird behind him. An example of the good cinematography (especially impressive for a low budget film like this), which is sadly compromised by the full screen VHS transfer (the only way to see the film a far as I know). The acting is also of a surprisingly high standard.
GHOST DANCE just narrowly misses being a mini-classic. The killer is never particularly scary – although at least he's silent. The film lurches – sometimes uncomfortably – between slasher flick, possession story and mystical mystery. Incredibly, Buffa withstands the temptation to off some of the bowl-cutted students at the university. A few more death scenes would have given the film a little more oomph – and maybe partly explains why this sunk into relative obscurity at a time when the floodgates were in full flow with teen slashers aplenty.
Still, if you have the patience, GHOST DANCE is worth digging up and dusting off.
BODYCOUNT 9 female:3 / male:61) Male killed with snakebite