[Review] Shot-on-Video Horror 'The Spirit Gallery' Should've Stayed in the '90s

The Spirit Gallery was released on VHS in 1995 and I am rather surprised it didn’t stay there. The film follows Gwendolyn, a woman so obsessed with artist B.A. Catch that she goes to work for his old agent, Gideon Hall. When we first see Gideon, he is using an odd face sculpture that appears to let him feel the effects of torture without actually taking any physical damage, though his predilection for this is never explained. Upon meeting Gwendolyn, Gideon secretly arranges for Catch to run into her at a party, as he feels that her innate goodness is perfect for Catch’s work. Catch is clearly a tortured artist, and we soon figure out why, he has the ability to pull a person’s soul out and adhere it to a sculpture, creating a sculpture with that strange power of illusionary torture that Gideon has been enjoying. As Gwendolyn becomes his latest subject, Catch will be forced to finally come to terms with his work and decide whether he wants to continue or destroy it all.

The movie was written and directed by John Strysik, and it falls somewhere between a senior film project and an art house horror film. It looks like it was shot on a VHS camcorder, or maybe there wasn’t an actual print of the film left and the DVD was just poorly converted from an existing VHS tape. Either way, the film looks grainy and unpolished and not in an intentional way. The camera work is painful to watch at times, particularly when the camera is in motion because it is so shaky that it is almost nauseating.

When it comes to effects, there are at least some redeeming qualities. The film has a focus on body mutilation and disfigurement, though far more minor than I was anticipating, but sometimes the effects look fairly realistic, which was nice. However, there are other times where the effects are so over the top that it’s just distracting, like the big final scene between Gwendolyn and Catch, which I spent most of trying to figure out if the tentacle type things involved were actually strips of raw bacon. The best visual piece is actually the final reveal and had everything in the film been at that level of quality this would have been a far better movie.

As far as the performances go, the only one that really did anything for me was Jim Burkhart as B. A. Catch. Burkhart delivered a believable performance of a tortured artist, and he was consistent in the portrayal, which was an accomplishment for this film. Gwendolyn was played by Holly Riddle Zuniga and she did an okay job with the role, but the character felt fairly one dimensional and I just didn’t find her very interesting. Leonard Parnell played Gideon Haul, and he was a bit too over the top. Haul is the true villain of the film, but Parnell’s portrayal made it difficult to take the character seriously and I was usually just waiting for him to get off screen.

While I am in favor of preserving old films, that doesn’t mean every movie needs to be seen. The Spirit Gallery has an interesting enough premise, and probably could have been something fairly interesting with some script doctoring and a much bigger budget. However, the movie as it stands is less than entertaining and almost painful to watch. So, unless you are a die-hard horror fanatic who wants to watch everything ever made, I’d recommend passing on this movie.

The Spirit Gallery is now available on DVD-R via sovhorror.com.