Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Straight from the Horror fest film festival which showed eight previously unreleased films in three days we have the first film from film director Mike Mendez in six years, ‘Grave Dancers’.  His first film is the now semi cult classic ‘The Convent’ which I have yet to see, but will make it point to check it out after seeing ‘Grave Dancers’ since this turned out to be a much better than the average horror movie.

First things first, I don’t like sitting around being scared.  It’s just not something that does it for me.  I’m playing Doom 3 on my PC a year or so ago whenever it was released and after a couple levels it became obvious to me that playing a video game that scares me just isn’t my idea of a good time.  But also, I’m not very easy to scare because I can generally see what’s happening a mile away so I can watch most horror movies without any problem.  As a point of reference, the last time I can actually remember being scared watching a movie would be the last scene of Brian DePalma’s ‘Carrie’ and the whole enchilada of John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’.  I honestly can’t think of a film that has created such a sense of brooding, impending doom as ‘The Thing’ and as such, it is one of my favorite films of all time.  Oh, and when Samara walked through the TV near the end of the American remake of ‘The Ring’ freaked me out as well, though I didn’t care for the movie as a whole.

‘Grave Dancers’ didn’t actually scare me but it did dish out a couple of really good jolts.  Prison Break’s Dominic Purcell is Harris McKay, an up and coming young lawyer attending the funeral of an old classmate with his wife Allison (Claire Kramer), ex girlfriend Kira (Josie Maran) and all around screw-up buddy Sid (Marcus

Thomas).  Actually Sid didn’t make it to the funeral, but showed up for the wake and it’s free food, and managed to convince his friends to head down to the graveyard and have one last drink with their dead buddy.  Wifey Allison bowed out at the wake since she hates the old girlfriend anyway.  So our heroes are drinking it up in the cemetery when Sid finds a gold emblem sealed greeting card on the tombstone.  He cracks it open, which is bad because in the films opening scene we saw something really awful happen to a young woman who was holding that exact same card.  The card has some cryptic poetry which ends with comments advising the reader to dance on the grave or something.  See, this is why I could never be in a horror flick.  First, I would not be drinking, at night, in a cemetery.  Secondly, I ain’t dancing, no matter what time of day, on no grave.  But that’s just me. 

Our heroes dance and then bad things start to happen as our grave dancers are mercilessly haunted by the occupants of the graves they danced on.  As time goes on, it seems the ghouls want more than haunting, they want blood.  Wife Alison is thinking that this is some total B.S. since she was at home sleeping while these lunatics were grave dancing, but for better or worse they say.  They call in a couple of paranormal investigators from the school (Tcheky Karyo and Meghan Perry) who tells them they are pretty much f’d since the ghoulies are only getting stronger and won’t stop until everybody’s dead.  It also didn’t help that these nuts were dancing in the section of the cemetery where the Abby Normal folks were buried.  The only choice they have is just try to survive until the sun rises after the full moon, or some nonsense similar to that, and the curse will be broken.  So it becomes a race to survive until sunrise.  Will our grave dancers make it?  Stay tuned…

Mendez definitely has an eye for horror and sets up the pacing for some serious shocks that are sprinkled throughout the film, though I personally felt it could have used more.  I also felt the atmosphere wasn’t quite right for a horror film as everything seemed a bit too bright and sunny.  With a more creative use of lighting ‘Grave Dancers’ would have had a far more eerie feel to it.  I did like the characters and the acting in the film as the characters behaved pretty much in a way I think people should behave given this completely unreal situation.  Grave dancing aside, of course, which is just plain silly. 

Near the end of ‘Grave Dancers’ it completely goes over-the-top with the low bud CGI effects and a completely ridiculous big ghoul head Hummer chase scene our heroes find themselves in, and as a result, it doesn’t do the film any justice.  But as far as the story arc goes, it seemed that Mendez, with the whole ‘letter you shouldn’t open’ premise was attempting make a Japanese style horror film with an American slant, and from that standpoint ‘Grave Dancers’ was hit and miss.  Though better than most of the tired American remakes of the genre, it doesn’t quite measure up to the best that’s coming in from across the Pacific.  Nonetheless, after witnessing such sour fare as ‘When a Stranger Calls’ and ‘Silent Hill’, Grave Dancers comes up smelling like roses, or at least tainted ones.  Maybe not a must-see, bet definitely worth seeing.

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