Directed by Mike Mendez
Produced by Lawrence Elmer Fuhrman, Jr., Bill McCutchen
Written by Brad Keene, Chris Skinner
Director of Photograpy David A. Armstrong
Music by Joseph Bishara
Cast: Clare Kramer, Dominic Purcell, Josie Maran, Marcus Thomas, Tcheky Karyo
2006/964 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
1.78:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from Lionsgate Home Entertainment DVD
Every movie must start somewhere. I'm not talking about how a film gets made, I'm speaking of an event in the narrative which gets the story going. This can be something as simple as a shark staking his claim on the waters off of a resort island, or as complex as a spaceship landing on an alien planet. Hopefully, the event is believable and fits the story. THE GRAVEDANCERS is a fairly good low-budget horror film...that is if you can get past the ludicrous framing device.
As THE GRAVEDANCERS opens, two old friends, Harris McKay (Dominic Purcell) and Kira Hastings (Josie Maran), along with Harris' wife, Allison (Clare Kramer), attend the funeral of an old friend. Sid Vance (Marcus Thomas), who completes a trio with Harris and Kira, couldn't bring himself to attend the funeral, but after several drinks, he decides that he wants to visit the gravesite. So, Harris, Kira, and Sid travel to the ceremony. Once there, they find a mysterious card which contains a poem about dancing on graves. In their inebriated state, this sounds like a good idea, so...they dance on graves.
A few weeks later, Allison begins to notice weird noises around the house, while Harris hears the piano being played when no one else is home. When they go to check on Kira, they find her injured and nearly catatonic. A visit to Sid's finds the young man meeting with two parapsychologists, Vincent (Tcheky Karyo) and Culpepper (Megahn Perry). Sid answered their newspaper ad due to the fact that small fires keep starting in his apartment. When confronted by Vincent and Culpepper, Harris and Sid tell the story of their gravedancing. Following some research, Culpepper tells the group that dancing on graves is offensive to restless spirits, and they are now being haunted by the ghosts upon whose graves they danced. The good news is that the curse will only last until the next full moon. The bad news is that the ghosts will try harder and harder to kill those who desecrated their graves. Even with the help of two experts, how can the friends stop three vengeful ghosts?
I'm a sucker for a ghost story and it's been a while since I've seen a decent one, so I was ready and willing to be scared by THE GRAVEDANCERS. But, any hope that I had quickly faltered once the film began. The idea defiling graves and pissing off ghosts is nothing new and this notion has been used quite well in the past (with POLTERGEIST being the best example). But the concept of drunk people dancing on graves and upsetting those interred within simply struck me as silly. And the way in which the scene plays doesn't help. The inebriated mourners find a card which suggests that they should dance on the graves...and they do. I was ready to write this one of following this scene.
But, then the movie took a turn for the better. While I wasn't crazy about director Mike Mendez's previous film THE CONVENT, I did admire some of the visuals in that movie. Mendez is able to continue that trend here, as he creates some genuinely creepy moments in the movie. The film's story never really gets off of the ground -- we learn more about the ghosts and the hauntings, but these fall within very stereotypical parameters -- but Mendez creates some nice set-pieces which keep the movie moving along.
Whereas THE CONVENT is filled with over-the-top kinetic action, THE GRAVEDANCERS is a much quieter film which goes for a more gothic and spooky feel. Thus, some of the movie is somewhat slow and talky, especially in the scenes where the hauntings are discussed. But, there are definitely some shots where Mendez is able to milk atmosphere from the film. There's a scene involving a gurney and another scene where a character levitates which were quite effective. But, this atmosphere is somewhat tainted once the ghosts appear. The spirits have large eyes and huge grins (influenced by EVIL DEAD II) and they look silly. The bizarre appearance of these creatures really pulled me out of the movie. And I don't know what to say about the ludicrous green-screen effect at the end. I can only imagine that someone wanted to tip their hats towards one of the most effective moments in POLTERGEIST, but the result is laughable.
In a world where we don't see nearly enough semi-serious ghost stories, THE GRAVEDANCERS is worth a look. The movie suffers from several problems, including pacing and special effects, but once it got going, I dug the haunting scenes. Yes, the initial idea is dumb and it nearly ruins the movie, but I've certainly seen worse. And, I hate to sound like Kim Dubuisson, but I'll watch Clare Kramer in anything.
THE GRAVEDANCERS pirouettes onto DVD courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. (According to IMDB.com, the original aspect ratio for the film is 1.85:1.) The transfer looks good, as the image is fairly sharp and clear. There is some mild on-screen grain at times, but the transfer is free from defects from the source material. The image is somewhat dark at times, but the action is easily viewed in most scenes. The colors are fine and artifacting is kept to a minimum. The DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track sounds very good. The track provides clear dialogue with no hissing or distortion. The stereo and surround sound effects truly come to life (no pun intended) when the ghosts are about. There is a nice amount of subwoofer action as well.
THE GRAVEDANCERS DVD offers a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from director Mike Mendez and composer Joseph Bishara. This is a fun talk, as Mendez speaks very honestly and frankly about the film's production, kicking off with the fact that he didn't direct the opening scene and didn't want it in the film. From there, the duo goes on to describe the film's production and the ways in which they worked around the low budget. "A Grave Undertaking" (14 minutes) is a making-of featurette which explores the development of the film and the casting. The cast then talk about their favorite scenes. (This featurette can be viewed with an optional audio commentary from producer Lawrence Elmer Fuhrmann, Jr.) In order to raise funds for the film, Mendez shot a 3-minute ORIGINAL TRAILER, which is included here. Note the different actors used. (Can be viewed with commentary from Mendez.) The DVD contains 11 DELETED SCENES which run about 11 minutes. Most are brief, but there were some nice haunting moments cut from the movie. (Can be viewed with Mendez commentary.) Mendez also lends his voice to "Making the Ghosts" (12 minutes) where we are treated to behind-the-scenes footage and production art which illustrates the creation of the film's ghosts. The extras are finished off by STORYBOARD GALLERIES (3 minutes).
This Film Features:
Review by Kim Dubuisson. All Right Reserved. 2007. ©
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