The Graves (After Dark HorrorFest 4)

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Summary: Two sisters are out trying to find corny tourists traps when they come across Skull Mine and the city of Unity. Bad things happen. That really does just about sum it up. Bonus: Tony Todd, Bill Moseley playing something like a cross between an Evil Mike Rowe and an Evil Ernest, and you get to see Clare Grant run around a lot and that is almost worth it...almost.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

(16:41:57 CDT)

The Graves (After Dark HorrorFest 4)

The Graves is about Abby and Meg Graves, on their last summer fling together. Ostensibly some mix of goth, nerd, and rocker chick (I think they were going for something like the sisters from Ginger Snaps but missed); they are purposefully looking for the "World's Largest Thermometer". After a helpful tip for a waitress (thanks!) they end up at Skull Mine, where they are chased and cut and watch people get the stabbings of their life. Two hot lead characters? Check. Miles from nowhere? Check. Creepy and cheap to shoot on locale? Sort of check. Weird natives? Check. Some gore? Check. Obligatory horror jabs at the patriarchal system while simultaneously reestablishing the females as the best sort of victims? You're damned right.

There are four rough reasons to see The Graves outside of you being a Horrorfest purist who catches every flick with the label applied (and God help you, if you are), in reverse order: getting to see Calabrese (the world's greatest horror punk band (!) according to the movie) perform, Tony Todd's epileptic overacting, Bill Moseley playing something that's a mix of Evil Ernest and Evil Mike Rowe and is all Blue Collar Comedy Tour gone bad (unfortunately most of his scenes have him in something like a bubble and the timing between the others never quite syncs up), and Clare Grant [Doug's note: see trailer below to see all four in action]. More specifically, her running in a black tank top as things bounce around. The bouncing is nice. That's a pretty piggish thing to say, sure, but this is a fairly piggish movie. Something about watching a popped collar college boy, a milquetoast dad, and a bevy of busty ladies be on the whipping end of a bunch of salt-of-the-earth types leaves you with either an assault on Red-Staters, an assault on non-salt-of-the-earths, or something like both (the answer, in this case, seems to be both). By the time the girls at the core of the movie really start fighting back, you have already seen them broken and reborn a couple of times. You could even divide the movie into three sections and during each of those sections you are going to see a Grave sister either turn bad ass and then get beaten or get beaten and then turn bad ass. I'm not saying its exploitative, I'm saying that if it were made in the 70s and set in a women's prison, it would have a name like "Hard Lass".

This is somewhat picking, though, since I feel Brian Pulido is actually trying to make the sister's into heroines with a backbone. It is just that his "women with a backbone" tend to look like this:

Lady Death Comic, large-breasted pale woman with sword in front of her

Really, though, we are dealing with low budget horror, here; a genre that vacillates between critiquing horror as a form and reveling in its nadir. You sometimes get both shout outs to feminism and joyous abuses heaped upon women as comedy (see, say, Teeth, which I do recommend). In the context that this movie cost less to make than Zach Braff's average haircut on Scrubs, I can only really condemn it for four functional failures. First, this is an hour long movie stretched to an hour and a half. Where a more able story-writer would have incorporated asides and flashbacks, or perhaps made the build up longer, or at least the payoff more expansive, Pulido jumps quickly into the action and then ends up with too much time on his hand for what roughly breaks down as three chase scenes on foot with a couple of moments of being captured in between. Second, CG blood. Squibs cost dollars and fake blood can be made for pennies. Using CG Blood shatters whatever small illusion was built up. Third, several scenes are needless composed of quick cuts between two sets of events and never in a way that really satisfies the scene outside of creating a false sense of tension that is not once paid off except, maybe, the first time. Finally, Pulido is terrified of silence to his detriment. Towards the end, there is a scene with three women limping slowly up a moonlit stretch of scrub. It takes minutes, and the whole thing is cut with inane chatter that, after serving its purpose of providing what scant back-story it does, simply dissolves into tedium and repetition.

You are left mostly caring about the sisters because they are sisters, which almost works enough to make it through, but the whole thing is weighed down a blandness of set and inconstant acting (and the four cardinal sins, above). And an evil that is neither explained nor left sufficiently mysterious. Lovecraft has shown us that ancient evils work best when there is a sense of breaking through the mundane into something else. You either have to crack it open, or you have to leave it sealed shut. Never leave it in the middle. It simply becomes another creature in another feature, which tends to work best when you absolutely delight in your creature rather than hide it away.

I am left giving it a score of Blech (-1.9), but I am game to trust something else put out by the team. A little tightening, and this could have been a good movie.

UPDATE: Just wanted to point out all the awesome things in the trailer: we get a couple shots of bounce (say no more), CG blood, The Reverend Tony Toddy, Bill in a pig's nose, yellowed teeth, more CG blood, and the vast majority of major plot points. By the way, choking the woman in the street, that is Randy Blythe for all of you Lamb of God fans (I'll leave it up to your guess how well he does from that scene).

Si Vales, Valeo


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