Whilst it may sound like just another hillbilly horror, “The Graves” does at least have one point of interest in having Brian Pulido at the helm, better known as the creator of Chaos Comics, and the writer of such classics as “Lady Death” and “Evil Ernie”. The film also stands out somewhat from the increasingly crowded subgenre playing field thanks to a promising cast of fan favourites, including Bill Mosley, Tony Todd, and even Amanda Wyss, who older viewers may remember from way back in 1984 as the unfortunate Tina from the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. Having gone down well at LA’s After Dark Horrorfest in 2010, the film now arrives on region 2 DVD via Anchor Bay, coming complete with a number of extras, including audio commentary from Pulido and various behind the scenes featurettes and blooper reels.
The plot might politely be described as nothing new – the busty, tight top wearing Grant plays a self styled ass kicker of a chick from Phoenix, who having accepted a job in New York decides to take her wimpier young goth sister on a desert road trip. Unsurprisingly, they discover that the nowheresville hamlet Skull City lives up to its name, with its supposedly haunted mine hiding a sinister evil, and with the creepy Church of the Devout Ascension being a less than holy bunch. Stalked by killers and menaced by a terrifying evil presence, the two girls soon realise that….THERE ARE FAR WORSE THINGS TO FEAR THAN DEATH.
During its first half, “The Graves” certainly is a fairly close copy of “House of 1000 Corpses”, as the two sisters trawl around in search of wacky roadside attractions and fall foul of a weird family of maniacs. Although Mosley does put a slight spin on his usual psycho performance, his presence, along with that of the decidedly unrestrained Tony Todd, gives the film a rather familiar feel. Pulido’s script shows a comic book like simplicity, and this does mark the film as being unambitious, as it never really strays too far from its killer redneck roots.
The supernatural twist which is later introduced never really works, taking the film almost into “Children of the Corn” style territory, though without any real conviction. Worse still, the film lacks any real sense of mythology, or even the kind of engaging or threatening demonic villain required to hold the interest – come back He Who Walks Behind the Rows, all is forgiven. Almost as if aware of this, Pulido does give the proceedings a half hearted comic book feel, though this never really amounts to more then a few pointless scenes at the start which identify the girls as fans and manage to work in a shameless “Lady Death” plug.
Such criticisms aside, “The Graves” really isn’t so bad, and makes for intermittently fun viewing. Grant and Murray make for likeable enough heroines, even if Pulido seems to be hoping that the former will spill out of her top, which sadly she never quite does. Though never stepping out of their usual personas, the cast of horror veterans are all on amusing form, and this does lift the film up a couple of notches from the direct to DVD doldrums. Pulido acquits himself reasonably well in the director’s chair, and though his style is fairly anonymous and devoid of any of the kind of visual flourishes that might be expected from a man in his line of work, he at least has the courtesy to keep things moving along at a good pace. The film does feature a decent amount of action, most of it well handled and energetic, and this helps keep the viewer entertained, if not exactly on the edge of the seat. Oddly, and disappointingly, the film is relatively blood free, and shies away from ever really delivering the gore goods aside from a few lame splashes of obviously CGI splatter. This is actually quite a serious shortcoming, as with the right amount of liberally applied flying viscera, the film would have been a far more enjoyable and indeed rock and roll affair.
To be fair, “The Graves” is still entertaining enough in its own, modest way, and is just about worth catching for undemanding or completist genre fans. Although nothing special, the film is a slightly above average example of its kind, and while this may be damning with faint praise, it does at least suggest that whilst Pulido may well shape up to be a helmer of some vague interest, he might be best not to quit his day job just yet.
Brian Pulido (director) / Brian Pulido (screenplay)
CAST: Tony Todd … Reverend Abraham
Bill Moseley … Caleb
Clare Grant … Megan Graves
Amanda Wyss … Darlene
Jillian Murray … Abby Graves
Cathy Rankin … Valerie Mills
Patti Tindall … Becka Crane
Brian Pulido … M. Mischief