Look At Our Facebook Page Look At Our Twitter Page Buy Our Books On Amazon Buy Our Books On Our Paypal Shop


Murder Slim Press's Reviews Murder Slim Press's Outsiders Film Reviews Ghosts of the Civil Dead Murder Slim's Reviews A to Z Murder Slim's Book Reviews Murder Slim's Crime and Sleaze Reviews Murder Slim Press's Horror Film Reviews Murder Slim Press's Literary Film Reviews Return to MurderSlim.com

Set in a futuristic looking Aussie prison (but actually set in the present-day), GHOSTS OF THE CIVIL DEAD is based on a true story from a prison guard appalled by the conditions at his workplace. Central Industrial Prison is the Australian equivalent of Alcatraz, isolated in the middle of a desert and thoroughly inescapable.

The movie kicks into life after an outbreak of violence means that all the prisoners are "locked down" and isolated to their cells... causing a simmering atmosphere of impending disaster. That mood is conveyed beautifully in the music, with Nick Cave (who also does a fantastic job acting as a terrifying lunatic) providing some typically haunting stuff. Cave is so talented he can probably fart diamonds and think nothing of it.

At MurderSlim.com, we try to highlight movies that are largely ignored by mainstream sites. Forgotten classics, mostly, but also some forgotten oddities. Well, GHOSTS OF THE CIVIL DEAD isn't even out on Region 2 or Region 1. And it's far from easy to download either. I had to buy it from Australia on Region 4. That deserves some brownie points, huh? And this doozy is a slight oddity and a big classic.

Some idiots say that the film is too relentlessly bleak. That's a hard comment to understand, unless a film is unrealistically bleak. GHOSTS OF THE CIVIL DEAD isn't. In fact, it feels much more genuine that a lot of lauded prison moments in films. There's a good comparison to the critically respected AMERICAN HISTORY X here, which features the requisite prison anal rape scene. That scene is laughably bad, with two henchmen holding Ed Norton up while the lead gang member fucks him. Aside from the baffling fact that two henchmen would agree to hold an arm each and watch their boss plough a hairy stinkhole (wouldn't it be easier to beat him up beforehand and let their boss have his way?) we're then treated to some lovely classical music and a slow-motion shot of some water coming out of a shower head. What is supposed to be vile actually comes off as weirdly romantic. GHOSTS OF THE CIVIL DEAD avoids the stereotypical buttfucking, and the violence is genuinely vile through the cold - yet uniquely odd - visuals.

And that leads into another reason why GHOSTS OF THE CIVIL DEAD works. It has a really distinctive visual style. If you take the British prison movie SCUM, there's very little going on visually. It's grainy, of course, with a semi-documentary style. But GHOSTS OF THE CIVIL DEAD goes beyond that. It's bleak and a little grainy, but it's also very empty. At times it's just incredibly white. The style and set design isolates the characters even more than their situation does. I wonder if Winding Refn had seen this movie before he decided on the prison interiors in BRONSON. There seems too many links between the two movies' prison styles that this has happened coincidentally.

Aside from those key points, the story and characters of GHOSTS OF THE CIVIL DEAD grab your attention. You feel for the good prison guard. You feel for some of the prisoners. But above all, you're drawn into the whole thing. You know it'll end badly, but it's impossible to pinpoint how it will end badly.

The director John Hillcoat's biggest success was 2009's THE ROAD, and there's the sense that finally this distinctive director is finally getting the chance to wield his downbeat, bleak style in more mainstream movies. I liked LAWLESS a lot too. But I don't know if he'll ever top GHOSTS OF THE CIVIL DEAD. It's bleak in a unique way, while still asking very relevant questions about society. All of that is so rare that it's well worth the effort you'll need to own this movie.

Review by Steve Hussy