By Vijay Shah
Like many men growing up in the past 40 years, horror films were a big part of my youth and still hold an important cultural/entertainment influence on me. What better to test your masculinity, bravery and maybe also your film knowledge by jumping onto a suitably large sofa with your mates, and then spending the next 90 minutes perched precariously on the edge of your seat while acting cool and fearless in between slices of pepperoni pizza? While Jigsaw or our old friend Freddie Krueger are busy chopping and dicing up their victims in glorious widescreen, you are trying your level best not to be taken for a scaredy-cat, a pussy, a great big wuss, or worse. Not me of course. I love horror flicks, and always have. It is impressive to actually be scared out of your wits over an ice-cold cola drink and a bucket of tasty chicken wings.
I would not call myself a film buff to the level of the movie geeks at IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes, but I could talk with some authority over horror films and other genres as well. I have been watching them for as long as I can remember. My first good memory of seeing a horror movie must have been when I was around five years old. My parents had the television on late at night and there was playing on the old wooden-surfaced goggle box this 1980’s vampire flick, which I still remember was called ‘Vamp’. I think it was about a voluptuous lady vampire or something. By the time I was in secondary school, it became a tradition in my family home to stay up late on weekends after school homework was done and watch a good finger-biter. We ran the gamut from typical Hollywood slasher movies (the Hallowe’en series, the Nightmares on Elm Street, and the more recent Saw series), through to Hammer productions from 1970’s Britain, twisted Japanese schlock anime, and even a fair helping of B-grade movies and Bollywood horror films (which were usually tame in comparison). We had digital television, then Sky introduced into the household for my family’s viewing pleasure so we sated most of our hunger for horrors on a channel then called Sci-Fi.
Even though I live away from home now, I still prefer to watch horror movies on most film nights (the last film at my place was the seminal 1957 classic, The Blob, starring Steve McQueen). My family has grown larger but we still keep that tradition alive, and we gather every week for a fright-fest. The ladies in the family get to watch EastEnders first, then lights are darkened as we prepare to get the cr*p scared out of ourselves, and boy, can my youngest sister scream!
The latest movie we saw was an US-Canadian production, Grave Encounters, released in 2011 by Twin Engine Films/Digital Interference Productions, and written and directed by the Vicious Brothers. Grave Encounters is an interpretation in the currently popular theme of ‘found footage’ films that were spawned by The Blair Witch Project at the close of last century. These films are inexorably psychological horrors compared to your usual Hollywood movie, have an earthy home-video feel about them. They feature a usually youngish cast who happen to be filming something with a camcorder. Something terrible befalls them as a crazy demonic or ghoulish force is unleashed. The ensuing panic, death and destruction is caught on camera and ‘presented’ to the world.
Grave Encounters focuses on a camera crew and a smooth talking presenter who are sent to investigate paranormal activity at a disused mental institution, the Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital. Armed with cameras fitted with infra-red lighting, they attempt to make contact with the spirits of patients said to have died there. Nothing much happens at first, and it feels like yet another of those US supernatural reality series full of soundbites, cheesy presenting and over-enthusiastic camerawork, without any of the spooky happenings. But things soon get batsh*t crazy, as they say in Hollywood. The crew find themselves unable to leave the hospital and every exit is locked or non-existent. Weird noises and shrieks fill the long-abandoned corridors, doors slam of their own accord, and the creepiness gradually is cranked up a few notches. Sasha, Lance, T.C., Matt and Houston soon find themselves the target of invisible and hate-filled demonic activity. The hospital and its long-dead inhabitants have acquired their newest batch of patients. One-by-one, the team are picked off by unseen entities and devoured by psychosis. They are driven further into the dark, misty world of despair, paranoia and react with torrents of foul language.
They cannot even sleep, as hands sprout out from ceilings and a bath full of fresh blood hides a fatal mistake. In the end, Lance, the hunky, rugged showman, is reduced to a gibbering, tearful wreck. Pursued by a mental patient with a decapitated tongue, Lance flattens rats with metal poles and eats their raw flesh, before he is finally ready to be seen by Dr. Friedkin….for his lobotomy.
Grave Encounters works sound in that it keeps you waiting for the real juicy scenes, and that as the demonic apparitions become more noticeable, you can feel the paranoia descend like a cloudy mist. The ghosts of the deceased hospital inmates the TV crew stumble upon are reminiscent of the Grudge of the Ring movies. At times though they were a little childishly cartoon-like. Much of the movie was shot in the ominous blacks and green of Lance and company’s thermal imaging and it made for a suitably eerie atmosphere, but also made it difficult to maintain a viewer’s attention at times. That and the shuddery filming made Grave Encounters a bit taxing. The characters’ descent into madness was intense and nerve-wracking, as bravado was quickly vanquished by their feelings of hopelessness, and each sealed exit led them closer to their doom. Considering that Grave Encounters was a low-budget film with a kitty of only $500,000, it performs well as a psychological horror.
The idea of reality show staff being trapped in a possessed mental institution had all the hallmarks of a great American horror flick on par with the Paranormal Activity films, but did at times betray a befuddled low-budget feel. Character development was excellent, but occasionally overdramatic and emotionally over-egged. Also I should mention that being a psychological horror, Grave Encounters does not pack in scary moment after moment and if you are looking to be afraid a-mile-a-minute and scream your lungs hoarse, this will not be the film for you. Overall, Grave Encounters is recommended for starting a late night horror marathon, for when you need to start the chills off slow.
GRAVE ENCOUNTERS: The official Website
Click on the ghoul to find out more…..
Many thanks to Yousef, Humera and family for giving me the opportunity to review Grave Encounters and inspiring me to bring you today’s blogpost – and my own family for all those good ‘n’ scary horror moments.
“Grave Encounters” – Wikipedia LINK