Case Number 20589: Small Claims Court

THE GRAVEDANCERS / WICKED LITTLE THINGS (BLU-RAY)

The Gravedancers
Lionsgate // 2006 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Wicked Little Things
Lionsgate // 2006 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ike Oden (Retired) // January 28th, 2011

The Charge

A double feature to die for...

The Case

Gravedancers tells the cautionary tale of a group of old college friends (led by Dominic Purcell, Prison Break) who, reunited by the death of a friend, decide to get drunk in a cemetery and dance on a bunch of graves. Okay, there's more to it than that -- a mysterious poem left on their dead friends grave instructs them to do so. For the desecration, they are subsequently haunted for a month by the ghosts -- a serial sex murderer, a child pyromaniac, and an axe murdering widow -- out for revenge.

Wicked Little Things are what grieving widow Karen (Lori Heuring, Mulholland Drive) and daughters Sarah (Scout-Taylor Compton, Halloween (2008)) and Emma (Chloe Moretz, Kick-Ass) encounter upon inheriting a spooky turn-of-the-century farm house. See, the house is situated right next to an old mine where about ten child laborers were trapped in a horrible accident. Naturally, the kids choose to haunt the area around the house, making it pretty awkward for Karen when Emma decides to befriend one of them. It doesn't help matters much when the family finds out these undead kids have a penchant for devouring human flesh. Zombie child domestic drama ensues...

Let it be known that I am not a big fan of the After Dark Horrorfest line of films. I appreciate the company's intentions in pumping out a pretty varied range of indie horror films year after year, but most of the ones I've seen just aren't very good. Yet, like a sap, I keep returning to the brand name year after year because I have to know if there is a good film among them. I have the same problem with indie horror studios like Full Moon and Troma, but at least there I know exactly what I'm getting (bad puppet horror and sex jokes, respectively). Unlike said studios, After Dark Horrorfest is just inconsistent, an apt description of the Blu-ray double feature reissue of The Gravedancers/Wicked Little Things.

The Gravedancers has a lot of potential -- a decent cast, atmospheric sets, and, despite an utterly ludicrous premise, a promising set-up. All the film really had to do was deliver what Sam Raimi (Drag Me To Hell) would call "spook-a-blast" scares (i.e., old fashioned ghost-y set pieces) and it would acquit itself nicely.

Instead, the film is weighed down by bad casting, over-stylized prosthetic effects (the ghosts look like something out of Disney's Haunted Mansion), flat direction, and about a zillion and one script problems. Seriously, I've never seen a horror movie with a more ludicrous premise take its story so seriously, desperately trying to take bland characters knocked off of The Big Chill and planted in a movie along the lines of Poltergeist. Poor character melodrama detracts from the scares, making you want these annoying, poorly acted characters to die in the most hideous ways possible. Instead, they drag themselves and the viewers from one predictable plot point to another. And don't get me going about the ever-so-convenient team of paranormal investigators that magically appear toward the end of act two -- Lewis Tulley makes a more convincing ghost expert.

Wicked Little Things, thankfully, is a far better movie, albeit one with its share of story problems. The script is littered with clichés, from the malevolent imaginary friend that only the child sees to your requisite horny, unlikable teenager who befriends the older daughter and couldn't possibly find themselves fodder for zombie children.

Nonetheless, Wicked Little Things has style to spare. Directed by J.S. Cardone (The Forsaken), the film's visuals have more in common with Val Lewton than Lucio Fulci. Yes, the final act devolves into a Night of the Living Dead style zombie siege, but Cardone manages to fuse it with a Southern gothic atmosphere that is utterly unique and thoroughly engrossing. In this way, Wicked Little Things delivers the goods, giving us some fine scares, plentiful gore and characters who are likeable and well acted.

The disc is cheaply priced and if you don't own either of the films on DVD already, this Blu-ray is easily recommended. If you have bought these once, I'd refrain on the double dip -- the specs just aren't impressive enough to warrant an upgrade.

The Gravedancers has one of the lesser transfers I've seen on the format, littered with grain, dull colors and a flat picture that smacks of a rushed 1080p upgrade. The DTS audio track is equally poor, boasting low, mumbling dialogue and overaggressive, overproduced sound effects that had me futzing with the volume button throughout the film's 96 minute running time. The extras ported over from the original DVD are plentiful: a commentary track with director Mike Mendez and composer Josh Bishara, "A Grave Undertaking" making-of featurette (with optional commentary), "Making the Ghosts" effects featurette, storyboard galleries, and the original trailer (with optional commentary).

Wicked Little Things boasts slightly more impressive technical specs than its predecessor, but less impressive extras. The 1080p transfer is solid, with strong black levels, a noticeable amount of detail and only a smattering of grain. The 5.1 DTS-HD mix is a step-up, too, with strong dialogue channels and some solid audio direction (especially during stabbing/slashing/bludgeoning scenes). By the same token, the rampant musical stings go a little too crazy for my tastes, inducing cringes and stepping on a lot of the scares. The extras ported from the original release are slim -- only a commentary track by Cardone and star Heuring are provided.

The Verdict

Guilty of being an uneven double feature.

Review content copyright © 2011 Ike Oden; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, The Gravedancers
Judgment: 60

Perp Profile, The Gravedancers
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, The Gravedancers
* Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Featurettes
* Storyboards

Scales of Justice, Wicked Little Things
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, Wicked Little Things
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Wicked Little Things
* Commentary

Accomplices
* IMDb: The Gravedancers
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0435653/combined

* IMDb: Wicked Little Things
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0470000/combined