“You just can’t find good paranormal help, these days.”
Runtime: 1 hour, 35 min
Genre: Horror, Thriller
MPAA Rating: R
Starring: Dominic Purcell, Josie Maran, Clare Kramer, Marcus Thomas, Tchéky Karyo , Megahn Perry
Amazon Link: The Gravedancers
SYNOPSIS: Three twenty-somethings learn the hard way about proper cemetery behavior in this independent horror film by Mike Mendez. Harris (Dominic Purcell), Sid (Marcus Thomas), and Kira (Josie Maran) are three longtime friends reunited when their college pal, Devin, dies in an auto accident. After attending Devin’s funeral, the three stage an impromptu, graveside wake. Before long, the revelers are singing and dancing around the cemetery, trampling nearby graves. Later, the friends discover they’ve made a serious mistake; they’ve awakened very angry spirits.
After watching several films from 2006’s Horrorfest, I was really beginning to doubt that there was anything redeeming about the group. For the most part the collection is a compendium of artless, cheap rip-offs, studio hybrids, and needless remakes, none of which demonstrate much success in scaring audiences. The sole exception so far has been Mendez’s The Gravedancers, a breath of competently fresh air. From the brutally shocking opening scene through to the Evil Dead-esque CGI finale, this is indie sports scares the likes of which we seldom see. The script is fresh and somewhat clever, the performances are for the most part solid (Marcus Thomas would be the sole exception), the production values are good, and the score is great – particularly for an indie production.
The film’s story is fairly simple: Dominic Purcell (of Prison Break and Blade: Trinity) plays Harris McKay, a successful lawyer who lives with his wife Allison (Clare Kramer) in wedded bliss. But when an old friend dies in a car crash and Harris is reunited with his old college pals Kira (Josie Maran) and Sid (Marcus Thomas), their lives go from paradisiacal to paranormal. Kira, Harris, and Sid visit their pal’s grave in the middle of the night, drink and reminisce, and find a strange card with an oddly apropos poem; caught up in the moment, the group read and dances in tribute to their friend. Little do they know the words on the black card were not harmless; they’ve accidentally activated an ancient “gravedancing curse” that will make their lives a living hell.
There are many horror movie no-nos such as don’t go in the dark basement, and stuff like that. Here is another one: If you find a strange card in a graveyard, don’t read it aloud. This brings me to one of the few problems I have with the film. These people are obviously not teens, what we’re dealing with here are supposedly young adults. You would think these people… who seem to be in their mid 20s, wouldn’t even be taking part in shenanigans like these. Who goes to a cemetery for a freaking nightcap? If one of your friends suggests such a thing… maybe it’s time to seek out some new friends.
From that point, things start quietly enough, with a few strange sounds here and there and the tendency of doors to open and close on their own. Soon there’s someone playing the piano when no one’s in the living room and a strange, female nutjob appears in Harris’ bedroom vanishing into thin air. When Harris and Allison contact the others, they find that Kira has been beaten and sexually assaulted, and Sid has a team of paranormal scientists in his apartment investigating a series of spontaneous fires.
The paranormal experts explain that the three have disturbed the spirits upon whose graves they danced, and those ghosts (a jealous woman with an axe, ten-year-old boy who burned to death in a fire he started, and a psychotic rapist) have one lunar cycle to exact their revenge. As the attacks become more frequent and more violent, the bonds between the three friends give way to old jealousies and petty rivalry.
Second complaint: Although the ghost/creature designs are rather chilling and off the wall, the ghosts from House on Haunted Hill (1999) and 13 Ghosts were far more aggressive and dangerous than these three phantoms. You would expect them to be making these peoples lives a living hell. Instead, they seem more content with screwing with their heads. This is explained away later on in the film when Karyo’s character Vincent tells the group that the ghosts will become more violent as the curse’s cycle nears it’s end.
The paranormal experts might have a way to reverse the curse – but will they complete the ritual in time, and will it even work? As things get more desperate and the spirits get stronger, things get far more complicated than expected – soon enough there are explosions, crashes, flying objects, possessions, and enough assorted spectral misconduct to put Hell House to shame.
The Gravedancers has many things going for it. For one, it’s a “grown-up” horror movie that trades in sex-crazed emo teens for slightly older, more fleshed-out characters. They’re also more complex and likeable than your standard horror victims. The characters go through a number of harrowing events and for the most part, their reactions to the increasingly bizarre things happening to them are believably realistic. There’s a nice balance of sensible curiosity and legitimate panic that rings true on numerous levels. Purcell is a grounding force as the somewhat inexpressive, stubborn Harris (his character was the first to settle down), and the more colorful characters play off him nicely.
As Horrorfest’s rose among several thorns, The Gravedancers, is a solid addition to the haunting subgenre. Fans of spooky classics like Poltergeist, Legend of Hell House, and even The Entity will find this film right up their alley.
Goozlepipe Rating:Really Liked It
“I thought you of all people would appreciate efforts to deconstruct the colonialist paternalistic agrarian hierarchy that disenfranchises the Tanga te Whenua and erodes the natural resources of Aotearoa.”
Runtime: 1 hour, 27 min
Genre: Horror, Comedy
MPAA Rating: R
Starring: Nathan Meister, Danielle Mason, Peter Feeney, Tammy Davis, Glenis Levestam, Tandi Wright, Oliver Driver, Matthew Chamberlain
Amazon Link: Black Sheep
SYNOPSIS: An experiment gone horribly wrong turns flocks of docile sheep into zombie sheep in this black comedy by Jonathan King. When the death of his father and probataphobia, fear of sheep, brings him to the verge of a nervous breakdown, skilled farmer, Henry Oldfield (Nathan Meister), leaves the family farm. Fifteen years later, Henry discovers that his brother, Angus (Peter Feeney), has been performing genetic experiments on the sheep. Unfortunately for both the brothers and everyone else, the experiments have produced a strain of sheep that crave human flesh and will stop at nothing to satisfy their hunger.
In New Zealand, there are more 10 sheep for every person. Therefore, it can be assumed that it was only a matter of time before someone from that part of the world made a movie about the sheep. That person is Jonathan King. And as far black comedies go, King’s zombie sheep flick reminds viewers a great of deal of Edgar Wright’s zom com, Shaun of the Dead.
The Oldfield farm has been in the family for a hundred years but when dad dies, younger brother Henry moves away with a vicious phobia of sheep leaving older, evil brother Angus to mind the farm. Unfortunately, Angus has no interest in traditional farming and has adopts a genetic program to create a better sheep: the Oldfield.
When a pair of well-intentioned animal rights activists accidentally release one of the mutant sheep, they unwittingly trigger an ovine massacre. One bite from one of these genetic freaks has the power to turn regular sheep into rampaging bloodthirsty beasts Humans bitten are transformed into a monstrous were-sheep.
Now Henry has to overcome more than his phobia as he faces flesh-eating sheep with blood-soaked muzzles. He gets some help from the local farmhand Tucker (Tammy Davis) and a cute vegan named Experience (Danielle Mason).
Black Sheep is a horror-comedy, light on the horror (not the gore) and heavy on the comedy. Director Jonathan King wastes no time plunging in full-scale: The blood is hot and copious, the wool white and fluffy, and the dialogue and situations every bit as silly as you might expect. Black Sheep is more of a gross-out black comedy than a smartly crafted take on the zombie genre. But the film definitely has many hilarious moments. I give King credit for a clever twist on the zombie/gore formula; however, this isn’t the first time that warm and fuzzy creatures have turned lethal. There’s the killer rabbit from Monty Python’s Holy Grail and the unforgettable Night of the Lepus. Nonetheless, Black Sheep does deserve kudos for taking the genre to a nasty yet grossly funny extreme: Its a film that’s not sheepish about gore or the violence of the lambs. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.