Written by: Brad Keene and Chris Skinner
Directed by: Mike Mendez
Reviewed by: Brett G.
In 2006, After Dark Films announced Horrorfest, an 8 film horror movie festival that would take place in select American cities in November of that year. Dubbed “Eight Films to Die For,” the festival essentially gave eight independent horror films a chance to shine in theaters. Essentially, these were selected by After Dark as the best of the best when it comes to independent horror. Naturally, I was skeptical of the flicks, as they’re essentially direct-to-video material that just happened to play in theaters for a couple of days. However, I couldn’t resist picking up the flicks when they went on sale for $5 apiece late last year, and I’m just now getting around to them.
After the first two films in the After Dark series (Wicked Little Things and Dark Ride) were standard, straightforward offerings, The Gravedancers seemed to offer something a little different as far as the plot is considered. The film opens with a young woman being attacked by an unseen killer, who beats and drags her around the room before she drops a black envelope. The film then flashes ahead where we meet our principal characters: Sid, Kira, and Harris. The group of friends has reunited for the funeral of a friend, and, after a night of debauchery, decide to visit the friend’s grave. While there, Sid finds a black envelope that includes a cryptic message informing the group that their friend should not be mourned; instead, he should be celebrated. This causes the group to unwittingly dance on the surrounding graves before each heads home for the night.
Of course, this behavior is not going to go unchecked, as each of the friends begins to experience strange, paranormal activity. Harris and his wife especially are haunted by a strange old lady, while Kira disappears for weeks until she’s discovered with a battered and bruised body. Sid’s experience with the paranormal leads him to hire a couple of ghost hunters in an effort to discover the truth behind the haunting. As it turns out, the eponymous grave dancing woke the spirits of the dead and has given them the ability to terrorize the dancers until the end of the month. Thus, the film becomes a race against time, as Harris, Sid, and Kira must discover away to vanquish the malevolent spirits.
As I mentioned earlier, I was expecting something a bit different from The Gravedancers, but, in the end, it’s pretty much your standard ghost story. This sub-genre of horror has seen a revival in recent years (mostly in the form of American remakes of Japanese films), and this one doesn’t really offer anything that you haven’t seen before, which means it falls in line with its After Dark brethren to this point. While the film does try to attribute different personalities to each ghost, it really ends up falling flat because the film eventually turns into a mish-mash of character drama and action that doesn’t blend well with what comes before it. Whereas the film begins with an understated and creepy vibe, it roars to bombastic, yet clichéd action-filled conclusion.
The earlier part of the film does work well, however, as director Mike Mendez puts together some competent work behind the camera. There are some nice, creepy sequences strewn throughout the film’s slow build up, and it would have been nice if the film remained as such. As far as the characters go, there’s not much to write home about. Each actor gives a competent performance, but the characters themselves are fairly generic: the level-headed guy and his wife, the sarcastic girl, and the comedic guy, all pretty much staples of the horror genre. I’d like to say that I care about these characters, but the ending got so out of hand that I just couldn’t wait for it to end. It would have been nice to see some more of the actual ghosts themselves, as well, as you almost forget their distinct personalities at some points. The film is nothing special in the gore department, either. While the red stuff spills freely at some points along with some grotesque designs, there are no signature moments here that will stick with you after you watch it.
Ultimately, The Gravedancers is nothing special, as it’s essentially a film with a few nice moments that occur while the plot develops; however, so much goes down in so little time during the conclusion, and the film suffers as a result. If you’re starved for some creepy ghost action, then it’s probably worth a look. However, it’s not going to stand toe-to-toe with genre staples like Ghost Story or The Fog. As I said earlier, these flicks would most likely be relegated to the direct-to-video bin if not for After Dark. While Wicked Little Things and Dark Ride managed to satisfy me, this one did not. If you’re very desperate, the DVD isn’t lacking in terms of presentation, as it has a nice, clean film transfer and a great, aggressive soundtrack that really contributes to some of the scenes’ effectiveness. On the whole, however, I have to separate it from its After Dark cohorts by advising you to Trash it!
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