MARCH 24, 2010
My original plan to see The Graves in theaters during the theatrical run of this year’s After Dark crop was thwarted by my buddy Mike, who was shooting a short film the same night and needed some extras (my shoulder made it into the final version!). Now that I’ve seen it, I’m glad I waited for home - the screening in question was attended by cast and crew, whereas at home I was free to sigh, laugh at things that weren’t meant to be funny, and yell “Fuck you!” to horrible CGI blood splatters without offending anyone.
That last one really got me. At one point, actress Jillian Murray (from The Fun Park! She’s HMAD’s Girl of the Week, I guess) is hacking away at someone below the camera line, and they STILL use digital blood, which couldn’t possibly have taken less time/resources than having a guy laying on the floor throwing some karo at her. And you’ve seen this moment in a hundred horror movies, so the fact that none of the blood seems to hit her in the face/torso makes the digital-ness even worse. On the commentary, director Brian Pulido says that there wasn’t time to do it “right” on the set, as they would have to re-set and clean up, but at another point on the track he says that they were on schedule every single day. Surely going ten minutes over one day (assuming that there was somehow a way to “screw up” splashing blood on an actress) would have been acceptable if it meant a better moment for the film (and indeed, it’s one of the film’s biggest death scenes, AND a turning point for her character, yet all I can focus on are badly composited red pixels).
I can assume, then, that there wasn’t time for the ridiculously high number of moments that occur off-screen, resulting in confusion. Early on, Murray’s character runs out of frame and lets out a little yelp, and later she’s unconscious on the ground. Was she attacked, or did she fall? Either way, why is she in a seemingly different location entirely? And the climax is filled with off-screen events. The villain literally sucks souls away, but we have to imagine what that looks like most of the time, as it occurs off camera while we look at actresses sort of reacting to it (and a few opaque light filters for good measure). At one point we watch Murray and Clare Grant react to off-screen stuff, stumble around a bit, look for a way to run, and finally run out of frame. THEN they cut to the aftermath of what was happening while we were essentially looking at nothing. One of the film’s biggest problems is a script that has way too much going on for what was obviously a limited budget, so instead of toning the fantastical elements down a bit, they simply leave them up to our imagination, which is a bit difficult when the plot is this convoluted. If you want to keep a simple slashing off-screen, fine. But if your movie’s about a supernatural entity called The Savior who has possessed a group of townsfolk (via smell, I think) into killing tourists so that their souls can be used to resurrect their crops, I think the audience would actually like to SEE some of these things at work, not just be told about them by a hammy Tony Todd while our main characters are screaming and the rest of the extras are chanting.
And it’s strange, because Pulido comes from a comic book background. Surely he (more than anyone else!) would understand the importance of visuals being used to tell a story? And it’s not an occasional thing, it happens over and over throughout the movie - even basic kills are usually presented off-screen.
There is some merit to the batshittedness of it all, however. At one point Murray and Grant (I don’t buy these two as sisters at all, by the way - can’t they at least cast two women with the same hair/eye color or something so there can at least be a BASIC physical similarity?) become possessed by the evil smell and begin hissing and biting at each other, while tied to a chair. Again, the plot developments in this movie are always a bit left of fully coherent, so it seems to come out of nowhere, which makes it even more delightful. And Bill Moseley spends about half of his screen-time wearing a pig nose (at one point he even snorts and squeals). I can’t say much about the movie, but I will say this: it’s never boring.
However, Moseley’s presence just illuminates the biggest problem with the film - it’s derivative of too many other genre films. Our leads are traveling to strange tourist spots while on a cross country trip and they run afoul of Bill Moseley - sound familiar? The climax is largely stolen from Children of the Corn, and the basic beat-for-beat execution is not unlike any dozen “breakdown” movies - finding the room where the villains have kept all of their victims’ belongings, flagging down a car for help only to discover he’s one of the bad guys, trying to get away with the villain’s truck, etc. You, I, and everyone else has seen all of this stuff before, and usually better. Hell, it even brought to mind Machined at one point (Arizona junkyard), though at least it’s better than that.
Sadly, the most original thing Pulido brought to the table is also botched. Our two heroines are introduced as being huge geeks, going to the comic book store and filming their picks of the week (all Pulido titles, by the way - he is the creator of "Evil Ernie" and has worked on several other series). But it’s weird, even though I know that these two girls are indeed a bit on the nerdy side of things in real life (Grant in particular - ever see Saber?), but their geekiness seems a bit forced. “There’s more to life than comics” one says; “There IS?” says the other. It just doesn’t work, and for all the time they spend on painting them as these super-cool girls, it has fuck all to do with their characters once the shit hits the fan. There’s no correlation drawn between the ridiculous stuff that they read (and love) and the ridiculous stuff that actually happens to them, which could have been interesting. Even more interesting - they could have been horror fans too, and thus would be better prepared for all of the clichés they were about to experience (like in Hills Run Red, where the guy is (theoretically) smart enough to bring a gun when camping in the woods).
Bonus points for making a reference to the original Vacation though (“This ain’t Wallyworld”). Even MORE bonus points for not going to the “Not in Kansas” well.
After Dark has made a strong comeback in terms of bonus features, after the bare-bones third series (only Autopsy had significant supplemental material; most didn’t even have a making of featurette). Pulido provides one of two commentaries, and though it starts off shaky (he sounds like he rehearsed the entire thing, and starts off more or less just narrating the movie), he finds his groove and turns in a pretty decent track, pointing out set design details (his wife was the production designer, her and DP Adam Goldfine provide the other track, which I don’t have time for) and heaping praise on Moseley (who was the one to come up with the pig nose), plus the usual sort of nitty-gritty. It seems to be a bit off-sync though, he’s often pointing out things about 5 seconds before we see them. Then there’s a pretty standard making of, trailer, music video, and a “not as funny as they seem to think it is” thing about some lawn gnome that he is “contracted” to put into all of his films. All that stuff you can skip, but definitely check out “Plan To Actual”, which is a sort of storyboard comparison-esque piece in which we see Pulido and a few others acting out certain scenes on location, compared to their final version in the film. I also enjoyed the look at the sound editing, and the brief audition footage, primarily for the fact that Randy Blythe (lead singer of Lamb of God) tried out for Moseley’s role (he ended up playing main villain Todd’s top henchman in the film), so you get to see a different interpretation of the character. Finally, the original script is included (PDF file on the DVD-rom), which is interesting because it seems to be word for word exactly what the film was. Either the actors all followed it to the letter, or it’s actually just a transcript (I lean toward the latter, since it specifies that Moseley sings a certain line, something that Pulido says was an acting choice on Bill’s part and thus probably wouldn’t have been in the script).
The wealth of extras are sort of a double edged sword though. With all of this insight and cooperation, one has no choice but to assume they are happy with the film (in fact, they even say as much on the commentary and making of). Had the film been tossed on a disc sans any sort of input from the creators, I could be persuaded to think that the film’s shortcomings (to sum up - a muddled script that goes from painfully generic to needlessly convoluted, awkward visual storytelling, unbelievable sister dynamic) were the result of the filmmakers fighting with producers (of which this film has several), rewrites, post production editing trouble, etc. But everyone involved is accounted for, and seemingly quite pleased with the outcome. Wish I could have joined them, but sadly this is the weakest ADF entry of the current group so far (5 down, 3 to go!). Better luck next time, folks!
What say you?
P.S. They spelled my boss’ name wrong on the end credits - It’s MISKA, not MISHKA! If he was SAG that woulda cost em 10k.