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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There can be no surer sign that a horror movie is hitting its mark when
your friend whispers that the film's going to give him a heart attack.
Such was the case during the screening of Mike Mendez's The
Gravedancers at the 2006 edition of Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival.
Starring Prison Break's Dominic Purcell and Clare Kramer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) the story revolves around the couple whose lives, along with those of their friends, are invaded by a trio of hostile ghosts after they engage in a drunken bout of gravedancing during a wake for an old chum.
The movie is chalk full of horror delights which, while blatant clichés, work wonderfully under Director Mendez's remarkably talented hand.
Drawing on influences such as The Entity, The Haunting of Hell House, and Poltergeist, The Gravedancers hits the pavement running with a gripping opening scene. Mendez quickly slows things down enough to build plot and characters, only to have the film pick up steam in the second act and never look back.
Mendez doesn't take long to ratchet up the atmospheric tension as things literally start to go bump in the night. Doors creek open by unseen hands. Pianos begin playing by themselves, disembodied voices are heard, shadows flit by, all to great effect. As explained by a pair of paranormal investigators (French actor Tchéky Karyo and Dawson Creek's Megahn Perry), the malevolent ghosts have one lunar cycle to extract their revenge for being pulled back to this dimension, and will grow stronger and more violent with each passing night.
I was particularly impressed by the film's makeup effects, which are some of the most horrific I've seen in decades. Mendez deployed an old-school approach by eschewing CGI (with the exception of one scene) in favor of makeup, prosthetics, and green screen matting effects, all of which render an impressively scary result.
Sure the movie isn't without its flaws. For one thing, I found the ending a bit over the top and in need of restraint. However Mendez did such a great job getting me to that point that I can easily forgive him. It's hard to make a perfect movie, and in comparison to others, the flaws in The Gravedancers are comparably minor.
If you're a horror fan, keep an eye out for this title. It's too early to tell if the studio will give it a cinematic release, or if it will go directly to DVD, but either way, you won't go wrong plunking your butt down for this one. Just make sure you're wearing clean undies.
"The Gravedancers", one of the 8 Films To Die For at the After Dark
Horrorfest, is a surprisingly original little supernatural horror
movie. The film centers around three long-time friends - Kira, Sid, and
Harris. After their close friend dies, Kira and Harris show up for the
funeral, and later meet up with Sid, who decided not to attend it.
Wanting to say goodbye, Sid convinces them to go out to the graveyard
with him, where things get out of hand after the three have been
drinking, and they ultimately end up dancing around the cemetery on
some graves. Unfortunately for them, they danced upon the graves of
just about the worst people possible - and soon find themselves haunted
by the ghosts of a child pyromaniac, a woman who killed her lover with
an axe, and a sadistic sexual murderer who was the town judge. They
decide to seek help in two parapsychologists, and try and survive until
the curse ends - but can they?
Definitely one of the better films to be part of the After Dark Horror Fest, "The Gravedancers" is a pretty original movie that captures the style of '70s and '80s supernatural horror films. Storywise, I thought it was pretty unique. The entire idea of desecrating someone's grave and having the spirit come back to haunt you is unique, and the first time I've seen something like it done in the genre. The writing is pretty good here, and the movie was entertaining and significantly thrilling at times. It plods a bit in areas, but during the last thirty minutes things really kick in. There are a few typical scare moments in the movie though (and there are some clichés that abound), but for the most part I thought this film at least tried to avoid most of the clichéd horror set-ups, which was a real benefit here. There is actually some really scary substance here, and I was genuinely spooked by some scenes in this film. The director took good advantage of those "things that go bump in the night" kind of scares, and they are effectively used and really creepy.
As far as the acting goes, it isn't bad. Could have been more convincing I suppose, but I thought everyone gave competent performances. Dominic Purcell (of TV's "Prison Break") is our main lead, and Clare Kramer ("Bring It On" and TV's "Buffy The Vampire Slayer") plays his wife. The acting isn't bad, it's a little bit lacking on some occasions, but overall good enough. The only real complaint I have is the special effects used in the film. The strange thing about this is that they are really good in some scenes, but in others just not. The incarnations of the ghosts are leaning on the corny side, mainly because of the facial makeup (grinning teeth, large eyes - something that almost looks like a Halloween mask). I think a more subtle make up would have been more realistic. And the CGI blowout during the last ten minutes of the film was a little overdone I felt, but I'm not going to complain too much, I'd rather just take this movie for what it is.
Overall, "The Gravedancers" is a horror movie that is worth watching. It delivers a fairly original story and some really nice scares, which are always welcome. In some respects it's a bit corny (mostly with it's special effects usage), but the film is done in a style that is reminiscent of past horror films, so these things are forgivable considering that it's a throwback-type of movie. I'm assuming the budget for this film was pretty modest as well, and taking that into consideration, this movie was pretty well done. Worth a look for horror fans. 7/10.
Back to old school horror. Scares were simple and effective. We were lucky enough to catch Gravedancers and were very excited when we left the theatre. The ghosts were genius with the simple effects stimulating. Dominic Purcell seemed to reel things in with his acting whenever the story seemed like it could of gotten ridiculous. He asks the questions you have as the audience to almost eliminate any disbelief. An excellent return to the "old school" zombie figures that have scared in the past. Hopefully scare movies will take from this movie the return to figures instead of little children crawling out of TV's or walking across the room. I hope a big response from viewers is heard and this movie releases nationally. Great flick and good fun.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The name "The Gravedancers" sounds way too much like something coming
out from the 80s low budget b-movie horror era. With its absurd plot
and not so strong characters. But it still succeeds in creating some
nice scenes where the viewer feels at least a bit unease.
The story is about a group of childhood friends who reunite after several years for the funeral of one of their pals. After a night of drinking they return to the cemetery in order to pay proper respect to their dead friend. On his grave they find a weird letter, written to sound as a "celebration of life". Our unlucky heroes while under the effects of alcohol naturally decide to begin chanting and dancing (on the graves) thus unleashing a trio of ghosts that begin terrorizing their lives.
There are several problems with the script. Besides the corny outline. There is the problem regarding the characters, more specifically there are several situations throughout the film that feel underdeveloped and possibly left unexplained. Such as for example, the presence of one of the leads wife. With her being out of danger, why did her husband still kept her around thus putting her at risk of being killed? This lack of providing solid reason is one that becomes very familiar in the movie. The characters themselves are nothing new we haven't seen before, their lines are monotonous and boring but not horribly acted. Indeed the performances are fairly decent and the actors could've done even better had they had a better script to work with.
The one thing this movie does good comes in terms of setting up an atmosphere and creating some nice jumping moments. For once instead of just remaking it, an western director has decided to employ a similar style to that of the more commercial successful Asian horror movies (Ringu, Dark Water etc. etc.). There are some very nice scenes that keep the viewer on the edge. The effects are nothing to brag about but still reasonably well done considering the not so high budget. Keeping to its corny name the ending looks like something out of a cheesy over the top horror movie, but by this point the final conclusions are already made so it doesn't really ruin the experience.
"The Gravedancers" is unlikely to cause any shift on the current direction of American horror movies but it is still a nice change from the never ending wave of remakes and weak teen slashers that over-flood our screens.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Gravedancers 2005 (Theatrical "R", After Dark Horrorfest)
Directed by Mike Mendez
After a solemn funeral, 3 friends, Harris, Kira, and Sid, decide to visit the graveyard, read a curse from a card on a tombstone, and then dance on 3 graves. The 3 ghosts then come back to torture their respective dancers for a month after which they will be "put to rest".
Where to start? This film is an odd mixture of clichéd ghost scares and laugh out loud bizarre scenes, while also supplying one of the scariest images I have seen in years. The plot, characters, and dialogue are wildly uneven and rarely make any sense. The haunting starts off slow and boring with the run of the mill scares such as loud plumbing, strange voices, and a piano that plays by itself. But just when I was about to nod off, they come at me with one of the scariest ghosts I have ever seen. (It was this image in the trailer that made this my must-see pick for the Horrorfest).
The 3 friends decide to meet up with paranormal experts who then figure out that they desecrated burial grounds, unleashed a curse, and must find a way to reverse it. Each of the 3 friends is stalked by their own ghost from the "Condemned" lot of the graveyard. Harris & wife Allison are stalked by the ghost of a woman who axe murdered her lover and his wife. Friend Sid is stalked by a child pyromaniac. And Kira, the unluckiest of the bunch, is stalked by a serial murderer/rapist/torturer.
What really makes this film worthwhile is the final showdown in the house with all 3 ghosts attacking at once. Again, the axe murdering ghost gives a horrific performance that had me pressed hard against my seat and clutching my jacket tight. I recommend seeing the film just for this part alone.
The film then culminates into one of the goofiest resolutions ever put on celluloid. The audience was howling with laughter. A hummer driving through 5 walls in a building? Check. A gigantic head chasing people? Check. Throwing skulls like footballs? Double Check.
Overall, the SFX varied at times. In some spots, the blood and bruises looked realistic, but there were some unbelievable CGI moments. Also, I noticed the wire spots where the ghost was hanging from in some scenes.
Favorite Quote: When a woman gets her throat slit open, squirts blood, and dies, the woman next to her says, "I think she's losing too much blood."
Bottom Line: Great scares, great laughs. Not to be taken too seriously, but you will have a blast.
Molly Celaschi www.HorrorYearbook.com MySpace.com/HorrorYearbook
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Three old college friends -- mature Harris (Dominic Purcell), happy-go-lucky Sid (Marcus Thomas) and sultry Kira (the lovely Josie Maran) -- are reunited at the funeral of a fellow college chum. After the funeral they all sneak into a cemetery at night, get drunk, read a sinister incantation poem, and dance on several graves. The trio unwittingly resurrect the deadly spirits of a lethal axe murderess, a deranged child pyromaniac and a vicious, depraved rapist who proceed to haunt them for an entire month. If the ghosts aren't laid back to rest right away, they will grow increasingly stronger and more dangerous as the month progresses. Director Mike Mendez gradually develops a truly creepy and unnerving atmosphere with great skill and conviction prior to pulling out all the stirring stops in the rousing and hair-raising final third. The three leads all give fine and appealing performances; they receive bang-up support from Clare Kramer as Harris' sweet wife Allison, Tcheky Karyo as eccentric paranormal investigator Vincent and Megahn Perry as Vincent's cute spunky assistant Culpepper. The cadaverous skull-faced ghouls are genuinely freaky and frightening. David A. Armstrong's smooth, gloomy cinematography, the admirably serious and sincere tone, Joseph Bishara's eerie score, the well-drawn and engaging main characters, and the excellent special effects further enhance the overall sound quality of this very solid and satisfying supernatural horror shocker.
Let me first state that this had a amateur feel to it. However, keeping
in mind that it is a horror movie, it much better than 90% of the
direct to video garbage out there.
The movie uses a combo to makeup effects and CGI to create the most out of the obvious limited budget. I appreciated the makeup effects more than the CGI gone mad conclusion of the movie.
The acting was tolerable and the side story about the friends honestly didn't bring much to the table. The fact that the ghost story actually had some creepy moments as well as funny moments.
I gave the movie 6 out of 10 which is high for me for this type of production. The bottom line is while the movie has the drawbacks that I listed above, it is still a entertaining horror flick. If you like horror or supernatural thrillers then you could do much worse.
Well, this film is often regarded as one of the better entries in the
'Eight Films to Die For' sets; but I wasn't very impressed with it.
Sure, it has a handful of good points; but unfortunately the film is
not particularly original or interesting and that ultimately condemns
it. The film does feature a starring role for Dominic Purcell; who
apparently is a star of a TV program called Prison Break, which I've
never watched. So I guess that a lot of Prison Break fans have given
this film a high rating. Anyway, the plot focuses on three people that
used to be friends and have reunited for the funeral of another friend,
who died (obviously). Anyway, the three of them go out and get drunk
and then decide (as you do) to go to a graveyard, where they read an
incantation from one of the gravestones and then proceed to dance on
the graves. This might not have been such a bad idea if it wasn't for
the fact that they were in the 'psycho section'. Anyway, it turns out
that the dead don't appreciate having their graves danced on; and the
three are terrorised by vengeful spirits.
Credit where credit is due; and it's due in the case of whoever designed the ghosts. Like most people, I'm tired of the Japanese style watery black haired ghosts, and the common smoke-like spectres that have featured all too often. For this film, the ghosts look more like something out of The Evil Dead (and possibly took some influence from the final chapter of the Mario Bava masterpiece Black Sabbath) and they really do look horrific. They're mostly well used too, and while the film goes way over the top on many occasions; it does feature a few jump scares that work well. However, the simple fact is that the story and characters just aren't interesting enough and the reason behind what is happening to the central characters lacks imagination. I have to admit that I didn't really care about anything that went on with the plot of this film and things only got less interesting when the whole ghost hunter plot was introduced. It all boils down to a silly ending and overall, while I really did like the special effects, this is a disappointing horror film and I do not recommend it.
Mike Mendez's follow up to his kick butt movie The Convent is a mixed bag of tricks. some work, some don't. Gravedancers tells the creative and original story of a group of friends reunited by a funeral. On the night of the occasion they get drunk and accidentally dance on some graves releasing the evil spirits in the wrong side of the cemetery. The spirits of a rapist/murderer, a pyre maniac and another murderer. The friends are haunted by these ghosts according to the curse for a month. And as the month comes to a close the paranormal attacks become stronger and stronger as the ghosts try to take the people with them. It's an intriguing concept and much fun is to be had with it. The performances are all decent, the story is creative and the movie is a little slow at the start but is wildly inventive and macabre once it gets going. Everything in the film is done with a winking eye so you can appreciate the film without feeling to guilty about it. The makeup is cartooned and freaky while the cgi is a little fake looking but an understandable necessity with a low budget especially in a film of this caliber. My main gripes however don't come with the film, it's more with the way it was released. You know i didn't mind shelling out 9.50 for this movie but I'm mad as heck that the film's sound transfer was messed up and sounded mono, and the film quality was amateur looking. It wasn't even fine tuned or polished by After Dark. what could've been delightfully freakish come across humorously because of the films lighting. It's dreadfully bright which kind of kills the suspense of a horror flick. The film looks like a rough cut and should have been really touched up before getting a theatrical release. Because they had a good product but ruined it with no effort at all. This doesn't bode well for their film company or the continuing success of a festival of this sorts. But in conclusion I would just like to say although not on the par of a worthy theatrical release this is definitely worth a look on DVD.
It was unbelievable how much I enjoyed this movie! As the plot summary
already reveals, it's basically about ghosts, but those ghosts are
about the scariest looking things I've ever seen! Too bad they aren't
shown for longer. That's my one major gripe about this film: the ghosts
needed more scream... oops, sorry... screen time! Another small gripe
is that the filmmakers kind of dropped the ball there at the end with
some sloppy special effects, but the entertainment factor for
Gravedancers is off the charts, which totally made up for that! Don't
miss it! I saw this one at Horrorfest and am already drooling over the
possibilities of being able to purchase a complete 2006 Horrorfest DVD
box set. I don't know how they're planning to market the DVDs, but
anything less than a box set would not do all the awesome entries to
this great event justice, plus I'm sure a lot of us didn't get the
chance to see all of them at our local theaters.
And please keep supporting R-RATED HORROR MOVIES with your patronage! It actually looks like the movie producers and directors out there are listening to us. The year 2006 was a great year for ADULT horror, and I'm sure that this year it'll just keep getting better!
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