The Graves is the first movie from any of the After Dark series that I have seen. I cannot say I am in a hurry to visit the rest of them. In fairness, I cannot say I was expecting much from this film. Other than the brief synopsis provided by Redbox, I knew very little of it but I decided against a rational choice to complete last year’s Oscar nominees for this instead.
The Graves focuses on two sisters, Meg and Abby Graves (natch), who like comic books, Hot Topic, and heavy metal as they spend their last few days together before Meg breaks up the duo to go to school halfway across the country. In a pretty lame final hurrah, they set out in search of the world’s largest thermometer and end up in a haunted ghost town somewhere in the middle of Arizona. There they run across a crazy-ass blacksmith, a crazy-ass realtor-looking guy, and a crazy-ass preacher. The story is very flimsy but I figured how hard can it be to screw up a run-of-the-mill horror plot which also features some very attractive ladies?
Well, let’s see. Other than in the initial scenes with the two girls, the semi-goth, comic-book-reading tendencies do not affect the rest of the story. Those seem like character traits established by the graphic novel writer (and writer/director here) Brian Pulido to entice guys like me to watch girls like them in a movie like this. The fact that Meg who starts off as the strong one and Abby who starts as the meek one switch roles throughout the film might normally accompany a character arc of some sort but the shifts seem so abrupt and at random times that it just comes off as sloppy writing. From an acting perspective, Clare Grant and Jillian Murray are mostly pretty good with the awkward story they have been thrust into. There is nothing award-winning by any means but the two had a nice chemistry together which attempted to sell the fact that they are sisters even though they share very little physical characteristics.
The villains of the story fare much, much worse though. It is bad enough that each main adversary has their own dedicated act of the film with absolutely no overlap between them, but all three are just horrendous. Shane Stevens as Jonah the blacksmith has the most compelling part of the story as just a sick, murderous bastard that you might see in countless other movies but his mostly sympathetic turn as a killer who screams at his victims “I don’t like doing this” falls very flat. He would have been much better as a calculating psychopath with little regard to human life. Next up, we meet Bill Moseley as Cookie Atwood in a scene so cliched, I would worry about your movie IQ if you did not guess that he was a killer when the victims flag him down on the highway. Cookie is either mentally challenged or slightly deranged (I would go with the former) as he chases the girls around the ghost town while snorting and squealing and wearing a pig nose. Yep, that is what you see on the poster. Lastly, Tony Todd is simply atrocious as the mad preacher who leads the town in a cult to worship the demon who eats the victims souls (or assuage or something like that). I cannot say I think Todd is a remarkably talented actor anyways but here he is way over the top in his preaching and shouting.
It is clear that this is a low budget movie (although I am sure Tony Todd does not come cheap), but the effects here were pretty bad when things were not off-screen. The aforementioned demon who eats the souls of the dead was in the entire movie, yet we only see the effect once. And that was on the third or fourth kill and then never again in the movie. The finished effects looked bad enough at least the filmmakers could have spread the minimal funds around to make the deaths more consistent without having the sisters feign astonished looks at something that we cannot see for the rest of the dozen or so kills in the movie. The story is so choppy not counting the awkward act breaks for new villains as things occur off-camera that do not make any sense and are never really explained. Perhaps this is a big FU to Romero and his “if it didn’t happen on camera, it didn’t happen” kick from Diary of the Dead? And everything in the final third of the movie is either poorly acted (even from the two leading ladies as they embody ravenous dogs or something) or completely nonsensical (the girls wonder if Tony Todd is dead even though they have not seen the demon eat his soul which they have apparently seen over a dozen times in the movie).
I hear some of the After Dark pictures are pretty good. To be honest though, anything is pretty good compared to this film.