The best memories of Judge Daryl Loomis' life took place at Wall Drug.
Sometimes death is the least of your problems.
I have to admit, I'm a big fan of tourist traps and travel spectacles. The giant red cowboy hat atop the miniature Eiffel Tower in Paris, Texas is fun, and the stops for Black Hills Gold in South Dakota are an overpriced garbage paradise. Mostly, I like not knowing what I'm going to find while traveling down the road. Whether it's a guy explaining to his friend his determination in teaching his son to kill at a diner in Wyoming or the Howard Hughes-sponsored cyanide tanks at the Tonopah zinc mine in Nevada, the road is always an adventure. In this entry in the After Dark Horrorfest, director Brian Pulido shows us the other side of that adventure. It's all fun and games until the demons come out of the mine.
Facts of the Case
Meg and Abby Graves (Clare Grant, Black Snake Moan, and Jillian Murray, An American Carol), a pair of hot sisters, love comic books, horror metal, and road trips. The party has to end sometime though, and Meg's about to move to New York, so they go on one last road trip for old time's sake. They head out into the Arizona desert to a place called Skull City Mine. When they arrive, however, they realize that this place is a very different kind of tourist trap.
The Graves is neither the best nor the worst of what you'll find in the catalog of the After Dark Horrorfest. It's nothing special, but it has a certain charm with its humor and quirky characters. We have a fairly painful opening sequence where we get to know the Graves sisters, in which they record their time at the comic book shop (shilling the work of director Pulido, who is generally known as a comic book creator, no less) and at the club. They watch a horror metal band that looks like a team of Stray Cats rejects. Much of this goes on in a first-person style, and I was afraid I would be subjected to more cheap, shaky camerawork. Luckily, most of this stops once they get on the road and it becomes a more conventional looking film.
Outside of that unfortunate opening, Pulido doesn't try a lot of gimmicks and eschews many current genre conventions. There's no doubt that their trip to the mine is a bad deal. We know from moment one who is doing the killing, but we don't know why. We're given enough clues along the way that the result isn't much of a surprise, but like any good road trip, the journey is more important than the destination. In this case, that journey happens to mean running from psychos with blacksmithing hammers and scythes, but the point is the same. The plot has to do with a demon and religious fundamentalism, but none of it really matters. The movie is really about super cool girls, psychos making jokes, and running…lots and lots of running. Pulido uses the Vulture Mine location outside of Wickenburg, Arizona, to the fullest; the sisters run through every nook and cranny of the site.
The performances are solid B-movie camp; nothing great, but funny and silly. Clare Grant and Jillian Murray are beautiful women and a charming, believable pair of sisters. They show a lot of toughness and pluck and it's easy to root for them. The Graves is full of fun supporting performances, including Bill Moseley (The Devil's Rejects) as one of the creeps, Tony Todd (Candyman) as the crazy preacher, and metal band Lamb of God frontman D. Randall Blythe as one of the henchman. Their scene chewing is a campy, funny good time and they help the film move quickly. There's not a lot of point to the whole thing, but if pure giddy entertainment is what you're after, then The Graves should satisfy.
A lot of the discs for the After Dark Horrorfest are bare bones, but The Graves gets the royal treatment. The film was shot on Hi-Def video and the image is extremely sharp. It's bright and the transfer is just about perfect. This clarity, however, accentuates the cheapness of the CG gore effects. There isn't a single splatter that looks real; though obvious or not, I'll never see the point of digital blood. Still, everything else looks great. The sound is even better, with a strong surround mix. The sound of the flies blasts at you through all the channels; it's quite a creepy noise and a cool effect when it swirls around you. The dialog is clear and strong throughout, though your appreciation of that may vary.
The Graves has an unusual amount of extras for a film of its level, though it's certainly quantity over quality. We start with two full commentaries. The first, with Brian Pulido, who describes in fair detail the process of making the film. He never says what the budget for the film really was, but it's shocking to hear him quote vague figures of under a hundred million dollars. If this film comes anywhere near to that dollar value, I really don't understand why they didn't use nicer looking practical effects. It really makes no sense. What makes even less sense is the purpose of separated commentary tracks. The second, with production designer (and director' wife) Francisca Pulido and cinematographer Adam Goldfine repeats much of the information in the first, with different flavor and different voices. Unless they were trying to fill up the capacity of the disc, I have no idea why there are two. Three featurettes give us behind-the-scenes footage, information on the sound design, and the process from storyboard to film. Auditions, a music video, a downloadable script, and a stupid little thing called "Spot the Gnome" rounds it out.
There's nothing really that great about The Graves, but it's a charming little movie. The performances are campy and the story is silly, but the film is fun. I wish the effects were better, but I was entertained, so what more do I want?
Good, cheesy fun. Not guilty.
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