Keep My Grave Open (1976)

APRIL 8, 2011


Strange coincidences always tickle me, partly because I’m big on tradition. For example, the only reason I watch End of Days every year on Thanksgiving is because a friend wanted to watch it on Thanksgiving of 2000, not knowing that I had seen it on Thanksgiving (in theaters) in 1999. So I made it a tradition, and it’s actually one of my favorite things about the holiday – there’s a sort of comfort in knowing what I’m going to be doing right around 6-7pm. So I was particularly delighted to find not one but TWO strange coincidences in my viewing of Keep My Grave Open (aka The House Where Hell Froze Over).

The first is definitely specific to me, because it happened to be the first movie I watched on my new budget pack from Mill Creek (this one’s called Pure Terror). I had earlier noted that the set seemed to be a good successor to Chilling Classics, which is the first and still my favorite of all the MC sets I’ve bought, as both sets seem to be filled mostly with 60s, 70s, and 80s horror films, which are of course my favorites (I could probably go the rest of my life without seeing another poverty row 1940s horror movie, which is what makes up the bulk of the other sets). But based solely on the title, I couldn’t have known that Grave was incredibly similar to Haunts, which was the first movie I saw on the Chilling Classics set!

To wit: both films are “sorta slashers” set in isolated towns, featuring a killer who only uses one weapon (scissors in Haunts, a sword here). But both films are more about the gradual mental breakdown of the main female character, and both can pinpoint the start of their problems (which include sexual hang-ups in both cases) to a childhood incident involving an older family member (an aunt here, an uncle there). They were also produced around the same time, and (for kicks) both have terrible transfers even by Mill Creek standards; the clip below, for the record, is far superior and thus must be from a different source.

And like that movie, this caused me to not understand certain plot points due to not being able to decipher the dialogue. I had to rewind and use context clues on more than one occasion to figure out a potentially important line or exchange, and even then I’m still kind of hazy on certain aspects. I even considered that the transfer was also missing footage, but the runtime seems to be 79 minutes no matter where I look. I also found other folks who were baffled by some of the movie’s plot turns, so I guess even crystal clear dialogue wouldn’t help.

See, basically we’re dealing with an inverse Psycho-type deal here, with our heroine putting on a man-like outfit and killing folks, while talking to an off-screen family member (her brother) that we all assume is either dead or completely imaginary. But the final moments of the film seem to suggest that the brother is actually real/still alive, and if that wasn’t confusing enough (where was he throughout the movie?), we then see HIM talking to an off-screen party, and we know it’s not her because (spoiler!) she’s dead! So who is he talking to? The aforementioned aunt? A third sibling? Did she not die? Then who is in the grave he visits? You can’t even assume that they buried one of the victims in her grave, because the last line of the movie refers to her not bothering to bury any of them and now he has to do it.

Anyway, the brother is played by character actor Chelcie Ross (misspelled Chelsea in the credits), which leads us to its other coincidence, as it’s not only his debut film but also that of fellow great character actor Stephen Tobolowsky. How is this a coincidence? Both men appear in Basic Instinct, which is ALSO a movie about a murderous woman with severe sexual issues! Now, maybe we can assume Paul Verhoeven was a fan of this movie and cast them intentionally, but that is a giant stretch. I’m pretty sure it’s just a quirky little coincidence. Either way, it’s a delight to see these two in their first roles, particularly Tobolowsky, who isn’t easily recognizable from his face (he has a full head of hair for one thing), but as soon as he speaks, you know it’s good ol’ Warner Brandis. His voice is his passport.

As for the actual movie, it’s OK. I prefer Haunts, which was just as slow but a bit more melancholy. Lead actress Camilla Carr is pretty good, but the movie never gives her a chance to be “normal”, so I never felt the sympathy I did for the girl in Haunts. Also it’s a bit TOO slow, despite only being 80 minutes long it drags a lot, particularly in Tobolowsky’s early scenes where he is caring for Carr’s horse (Carr herself grooms/feeds the horse in montage later – who the hell cares?!?). He also has a girlfriend, which seems unnecessary but then again her death scene is probably the highlight of the film for horror fans. It almost feels like something out of a Giallo as the killer terrorizes her from outside of the barn that she is trapped in, tapping his sword menacingly and running in circles before finally impaling her from the other side of the wall. The opening one is pretty good too, though like most of the movie the scene before it drags on too long, as a nameless drifter wanders around town, stumbles on their property, breaks in, roots through the fridge... it’s like, you know this guy’s a goner as soon as they introduce him, why bother stretching it out for so long? This is time that could be spent with Carr doing something normal before she starts going cuckoo.

And yes, Repulsion seems to be an influence here, but obviously we’re dealing with a completely different level of quality. Director S.F. Brownrigg (who directed the superior Don’t Look In The Basement) isn’t exactly Polanski, but it’s a fairly competent film all the same; it’s really only the shockingly poor transfer to blame for the muddled audio and washed out imagery (it’s hard to even read the title at the top of the film). He gets good performances out of his actors and for the most part the movie isn’t being slow because he failed to hire a good editor – I can see he’s trying to draw us in at a deliberate pace (like Polanski), but the obvious twist (and subsequent confusing revising of said twist) keeps it from being as successful.

However this movie only cost me 26 cents (well, a bit more if you factor in tax and the fact that I already own at least 14 movies on the set from other budget packs), so who the hell am I to complain about anything? As long as they are actual movies I’m happy.

What say you?


  1. I have a copy of this on a 2-movie disc in a grindhouse presents type of series and was quite impressed by the film as a whole and surprised by the twist ending. Certainly better than I was expecting.

  2. I got this film in a 50 horror movie set pretty good

  3. Instead of Repulsion, think The Tenant - esp. for the final scene. Also, I kind of appreciated the slowness - made it very hypnotic.


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