John Bruni reviews The Graves

The Graves 88 min., 2009
Written by Brian Pulido
Directed by Brian Pulido
Language: English
My rating: ★★★

Bill Moseley steals another film.

* * *

[From the Dept. of Full Disclosure: I have been a friend of director Brian Pulido for quite some time. However, anyone who has known me for very long knows that I’ve never favored someone with a good review that they didn’t deserve. I give everyone a fair, objective shake, as this review will prove.]

Brian Pulido, creator of Evil Ernie and Lady Death, has mostly made a name for himself in the comic book industry. He’s also known as a marketing guy, which very rarely makes for good art. Anyone who has seen him speak publicly will attest to this nature. However, unlike many in such a profession, he’s very capable of telling a great story.

THE GRAVES starts out with a very paint-by-numbers beginning for horror movies. Think about it: when horror folks want to keep your attention, they’ll start off their movie by killing people just to give you something to hold onto and to keep watching. This is no exception. Pulido “shows” (and to get the quotation marks, you should watch the movie) a family (man, wife, and baby) getting murdered by our villains, just to keep your attention for the rest of the 88-minute run of this film. Even the soundtrack, done by Jim Casella, conforms to regular horror movie standards.

But that’s the end of conformity for this movie. Remember how Pulido is first and foremost a marketing guy? In the beginning of the movie, he shamelessly plugs LADY DEATH and MISCHIEF NIGHT, two comic books for which he is well known, at Atomic Comics (the leading comic book store in Phoenix). In fact, there’s a wall of his Avatar books behind the main character in a few opening shots. (There is a great moment when Pulido gives himself shit for Lady Death. Some say that the comic book industry is kind of sexist in its portrayal of women. Lady Death has a huge set of knockers, and one character mentions that they would poke out your eyes if they were real. Touche, Mr. Pulido.) To top it all off, in the next scene, Pulido has a cameo, in which he introduces one of his favorite bands, Calabrese.

But never mind such gimmicks. Ordinarily, they’re unforgivable because they have no merit. Here, though, Pulido shines because he has the goods, and he’s not afraid to showcase them.

Meg and Abby Graves are two sisters throwing their last party. You see, Meg has been hired by a New York firm, and she’ll be abandoning her sister. For now, they’re having the time of their lives, partying, drinking, and having a good time. Then, they set off on a cross-country trip which, of course, turns out to be cursed.

They stop off at the Skull City Mine, which is now a tourist attraction featuring more than thirty buildings in a ghost town setting. Unfortunately for the Graves sisters, its run by Mama (Barbara Glover), who is more interested in murdering tourists, and her son Jonah (Shane Stevens), who really enjoys beating people to death with a sledgehammer.

Here’s the cool part about this movie: the heroines do exactly what you would want them to do. Mostly, people in horror movies are stupid. They needlessly put themselves into danger for our amusement. Here, Meg (played expertly by Clare Grant) plays it smart. When they put Jonah down like the dog he is, Abby (Jillian Murray) asks her if he’s dead. Meg replies, “I’m not checking.” And who would, really?

Meg’s such a tough character, she takes Jonah on without a problem. It’s when Jonah’s brother, Caleb (Bill Moseley) arrives that things get fucked up.

For the record, Bill Moseley steals this movie. At first, he shows up as a stranger who plays it so much like a regular guy, it’s easy to buy that he’s not a part of this. It’s only later, when he reveals that he’s Jonah’s brother, that things get really fucked up. Even Meg, as tough and smart as she is, still manages to get caught by Caleb, which leads to one of the most uncomfortable scenes in this movie. However, Caleb is such a consummate professional that he casts aside his shotgun to pursue his victims fairly. What else can you ask from a competent villain?

This movie would be perfect if not for the supernatural elements, which feel shoehorned into the story. Apparently, whenever the Atwood family kills someone, flies suck their souls out. This leads to a ridiculously stupid (and unnatural) ending with Tony Todd as the bullshit reverend of the nearby Arizona town, along with Randy Blythe as his vicious second in command. Things feel so false at this ending that the movie is almost not worth it.

In fact, one could feel safe in watching and enjoying this movie after the sisters escape from Caleb. After that, verisimilitude takes a sharp downward turn. If you continue to watch after this moment, you will be disappointed. Do yourself a favor and turn the movie off at this point. Make up whatever ending you want to. You’ll be much more happier if you do.

Aside from this, the only true gripe is the use of CGI blood. It has never looked good in any movie ever. Directors really need to stop relying on this bullshit thing and start using physical effects again. Fans always know when they’re being fucked with. Do yourself a favor and save yourself from the grief. Use physical effects.

Is THE GRAVES worth it in the end? You bet. The sisters are strong enough to get you to want to cheer for them. They truly are heroines. You want them to win. And you’ll even feel pain when one of them suffers at Caleb’s hands.

SPOILER ALERT: But Pulido really should have had the balls to kill Meg off at that moment. The rest of the movie would have filled viewers with such a sense of peril that it would have been worth it. END OF SPOILERS.

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About John Bruni

John Bruni is the author of AND JESUS CAME BACK (Rooster Republic), DONG OF FRANKENSTEIN (New Kink), POOR BASTARDS AND RICH FUCKS and TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE (StrangeHouse) and STRIP (Riot Forge). His short work has appeared in anthologies like A HACKED-UP HOLIDAY MASSACRE (Pill Hill), ZOMBIE! ZOMBIE! BRAIN BANG! (StrangeHouse) and the critically acclaimed VILE THINGS (Comet). He edited STRANGE SEX 3 for StrangeHouse, and he was the editor and publisher of TABARD INN: TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE. Find out more at www.talesofquestionabletaste.com and www.talesofunspeakabletaste.blogspot.com.
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