Writer/Director Michael Cramer describes Teenage Ghost Punk as a "supernatural punk rock romantic comedy" - a string of adjectives and nouns that make it tough to categorize.
The movie debuted in October at the Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival in Washington, DC. I saw it a month later at its Chicagoland premiere at the School of Rock in Oak Park, IL.
Teenage Ghost Punk tells the story of a family moving into a haunted house. Amanda is a popular high school cheerleader from Spring Lake, MI, whose newly-divorced mother moves the family to suburban Chicago, hoping for a fresh start. Amanda feels out of place in her new home and she is stressed because she misses her cheerleader friends and tall-but-rockhead boyfriend. Things get worse when she begins to hear bumps in the night and family items turn up missing. It turns out that the house is inhabited by the ghost of Brian - a teenager who was struck by lightning while playing guitar on the house's roof during a thunderstorm in the early 1980s. Brian is convinced this is still his house and that Amanda and family are intruding. Only Amanda can see and hear Brian and his ghostly pals. They talk and become close and Amanda decides to invite Brian to the school dance, where she hopes to introduce her friends to her new boyfriend. And then it gets weird.
In 2009, Michael Cramer released his first movie - Dear Mr. Fidrych - about a kid who idolized Detroit Tigers Pitcher Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, then grew up to address his midlife crisis by taking his son across country to meet his boyhood idol Fidrych.
I liked Dear Mr. Fidrych. It reminded me of my own childhood - and not just because Cramer and I grew up together in a Detroit suburb during the 1970's when The Bird had his burst of fame. However, Dear Mr. Fidrych was an independent film created on a shoestring budget and there was no hiding these facts. Technical aspects of the movie were lacking - in particular the sound was inconsistent throughout the film and nearly all the actors were amateurs, with the leading roles going to the director and his immediate family. The story, the energy, and the charm of Dear Mr. Fidrych were enough to more than make up for any technical weaknesses.
Teenage Ghost Punk is far more polished. One could easily believe it was produced and created by a Hollywood studio. The sound is better, the cinematography is better and the acting is better. But the script retains the humor and the humanness of Dear Mr. Fidrych. Even Jack Cramer (son of the director), who plays the title character, has grown into a solid actor. He has an engaging smile that resonates on screen as he charms both Amanda and the audience. I can't think of any aspect of moviemaking that did not improve between Cramer's first movie and this one.
Teenage Ghost Punk is filled with memorable characters. A bumbling Ghostbusters-like team fails to defeat any ghosts but end up being right about their supernatural presence; the neighborhood ghosts spend their days recreating moments from their lives and spend their evenings playing cards; The over-the-top gay neighbors bicker and cuddle shamelessly; Amanda's little brother Adam includes 4-syllable words in nearly every sentences; and Madame Lidnar has little success at her own séances, but relates as well as anyone to the ghosts when she encounters them.
The silliness of the characters adds to the story, rather than distracting from it. The theme of TGP comes together very well at the end. Ultimately, the movie is about letting go of the past and moving on. Most of the characters - living and dead - are unable to do so until the end of the movie. They grew and matured as time passed.
And so did Michael Cramer and his crew.