Tuesday, June 19, 2007

THE GRAVEDANCERS (2006) Movie Review


Three friends, Harris, Kira and Sid, are reunited after several years of lapse communication for a friend's funeral. That evening, they return to the cemetery to say goodbye one last time. While heavily drinking, the trio begin to dance around the graves at the behest of a strange letter left on the tombstone calling for the living to live in the moment. But their midnight reveling takes a frightening turn, when all three begin to experience paranormal activity in their home. A local paranormal investigator begins an investigation, and soon discover that the three friends, along with Harris' wife Allison, have become cursed by three vengeful spirits who have been brought back to the land of the living due to final resting places being desecrated. A clue hidden within the poem, The Gravedancers' Lament, tells that the ghosts have one lunar cycle to lay their victim's to rest. The group, who are now dealing with more severe hauntings every night, make a desperate attempt to stop the spirits in their tracks, but will it work?

In an modern age of supernatural skepticism, TV shows dealing with paranormal communicating, ghost hunting, and of course long-haired spirits from the Far East haunting cinema screens, it was bound to happen that a new successfully done and truly frightening American ghost story would materialize before us. Mike Mendez, along with first-time writers Brade Keene and Chris Skinner, conjure up such a story. Along for the ride are Dominic Purcell (TV's Prison Break), Josie Maran (VAN HELSING), Clare Kramer (of TV's Buffy The Vampire Slayer) and the second coolest imported Frenchman, Tcheky Karyo.

Scribes Keene and Skinner show their weaknesses early on in the film, as they set up the characters' relationships and attempt to draw sympathy from the viewers. Their somewhat flat dialog, fails to fully enrapture the audience into caring for the main characters, but fortunately it is almost entirely dropped once the hauntings begin, save for a few down moments toward the end of the film. Within the story, the newly freed spirits grow in strength every day. So early on in the film, they are but invisible apparitions, and set up some of the best spook scenes of the movie. Doors creak open, water pipes make awful sounds and pianos play themselves. This is the stuff of classic haunted houses, and Mendez gives us several great setups to get the mood and atmosphere flowing.

As the ghosts grow more powerful, so do their abilities to frighten and attempt to murder the cursed trio. In turn, Mendez amps up the atmosphere, and sets up some new chills, which builds and leads to the final showdown in the mansion of the investigator. It is here that the ghosts finally have the strength to materialize and show themselves. These ghosts are twisted and evil, and their appearance is more so. Mendez opts for classic prosthetic make-up, and introduces his eternally lipless smiling apparitions from the dark corners of the halls. Of the three, the most time is spent on the female ghost, Emma, who floats just above the ground, dragging her toes, wielding an ax and starts whittling down the survivors. The other two, a sadistic and inhumanly strong old man, and a pint-sized pyromaniac terror, help to give some added and varied frights to the ax-swinging madwoman. The ending, which all-but eliminates that atmospheric shadows and reality-warping spectres, turns into some hybrid-spawn of EVIL DEAD II and POLTERGEIST, that goes for some cheap amusements rather than a truly diabolical stand-off it should be.

This was released in the theatres, and is now on DVD, as part of the 8 Films To Die For fright fest. There is nothing truly unique or new here, but still the energy and wave-length that everyone is on provide a solid production with great chilling and fun atmosphere perfect for a big bowl of popcorn and dim lighting. You'll forget all about 1999's pair of letdowns THE HAUNTING and HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL if they still linger in your memory when the first bars of Chopin start floating through the air.


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