Starring Jillian Murray, Claire Grant, Tony Todd, Bill Moseley
"I'll try to make this painless."
The thing about trying too hard is that everybody knows you're trying too hard. And there's nothing nerdier than trying too hard. Within the first fifteen minutes of The Graves, we are treated to: faux-goth fashions (on decidedly non-goth actresses), a comic book store scene (with gratuitous Lady Death reference - the director wrote a 2004 animated LD film), a live Calabrese performance (because, you know, what's edgier than a Misfits rip-off?), a Hot Topic reference, a visit to a retro-styled diner, a Tony Todd appearance, and a detour to "Skull City". Oh boy. It's the cinematic equivalent of some kid with braces and bifocals trying to talk his way into a seat at the cool kid's table.
Luckily, all that goofy jazz ends abruptly once the story proper starts.
Part of the last After Dark Horrorfest - an increasingly obscure annual horror-flick theatrical gang-bang that haunts a few empty theaters around the country for a week in January before the 8 selected "Films to die for" get dumped on DVD - The Graves is a desert-bound bloodletter about two suburban hipster sisters, Abby (American High School's Jillian Murray) and Megan (Clare Grant, the future Mrs. Seth Green) Graves, who ditch their hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona, for one last roadtrip before Megan flies away to New York or LA or somesuch place to make something of herself.
Megan wants to see the world's largest thermometer, which is out in the desert somewhere, so off they go. However, after a chat with a frazzled waitress at the aforementioned retro diner - the same diner where Tony Todd appears as a sinister minister - the two black-clad girlies decide to check out Skull City, an abandoned mine/town in the proverbial middle of nowhere.
Three minutes into their self-guided tour through the ghost town, some fat cowboy with a hammer shows up and starts bashing people's brains in. Megan manages to rip his testicles off with a crowbar, killing him. But no sooner do the girls escape the dead fat cowboy when they run into his brother - Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2's Bill Moseley. He wears a pig nose. And he loves hunting girls.
The usual cat and mouse survival-horror clichés ensue, with a bonus, Children of the Corn-y religious hysteria twist.
And that's pretty much it. Except for the seven-minute (!) end-credits.
Both of the lead actresses are exceptionally pretty, and like the director, they are clearly trying as hard as they can to make this thing work. However, it's all been done so many times before that it feels more like a very banal case of Deja-vu than any kind of productive movie-watching experience. With a more defined vision, The Graves could have worked as 70's style downer-horror - the stellar poster implies as much - but the story, pacing, and production design are all too pedestrian for their own good. An hour in, I started to wish the girls would just go back to the comic book shop. At least I could do some window-shopping during those scenes.
In summation: Highly skippable. Although the sequel is already in the works, so maybe it's just me. Your call.
- Ken McIntyre