Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Graveyard Of Horror (1972)

When I was young, my family used to vacation in Long Beach Island, New Jersey.  For one magical week a year, my world was filled with getting super-cool iron-ons applied to shitty quality tee shirts, buying puffy monster stickers and Slurpees from the 7-11 (a chain we didn’t have anywhere near where I live, then or now) while wearing no shoes (I had astonishingly tough soles; I even unknowingly bent a nail once when I stepped on it, though I also was cursed with grotesquely wide feet which made buying footwear a chore and flat feet which I’m sure will absolutely not come back to haunt me in my coming autumn years), and listening to some of the greatest soft/pop rock songs ever written (most music today sucks in my opinion; there, I said it).  Walking through a five and dime’s toy aisle was a world of discovery ignited by the smell of made-in-Taiwan rubber monsters, only one of which you could afford to take home (decisions, decisions) and subsequently lose while playing with it in the ocean.  Now, I don’t remember if I related this particular story before, but if so, I’m going to tell it again anyway on the off chance there’s someone reading this who’s not one of my five loyal readers (thanks for taking the time out of your day, guys and gals).  

Anyway, one year my family took a little road trip South to Brigantine and wound up at Brigantine Castle.  The castle was a massive building built on a pier, and it was essentially a year-round (or at least summer-round) haunted house.  You may have seen the cool commercial broadcast on one of the New York or New Jersey stations at the time (but you can find it on Youtube these days).  This place even had a guy with no head but whose body was still alive!  As a monster kid from the day I was born, this place was Mecca.  The pier leading to the haunted house’s entrance proper was lined with games of chance like you’d find on any carnival midway.  I want to say (and I’m going to say anyway, because I’m the one telling the story) the night we visited the castle was stormy (“the night was sultry…”), but we inched closer and closer, and soon there it was: the ticket booth.  It was set, if memory serves (and how often does it, actually?), in an alcove where waiting victims could amble around, and behind the booth was a set of steps leading up to (what I was sure in my pre-adolescent mind could only be) the very gates of Hell.  

Sudden trepidation, nay, panic set in.  The impending fulfillment of my every horror-fueled fantasy was rapidly dissolving into a fight or flight scenario.  The tipping point arrived with the sort of abruptness usually reserved for car crashes and the removal of tape from the hairier parts of the human body, but it wasn’t anything I saw that did it.  No horrid latex mask-wearing ghoul or grue-drenched beastie put me over the edge.  No, it was the shuddersome first notes of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata And Fugue In D Minor blaring out over the loudspeaker that did it.  The hair-thin strand of courage remaining in my soul snapped.  Like the proverbial shot in the ass, I took off down the pier and as far away from the castle as I could get.  I don’t know how far I got, but I knew that my siblings went into Brigantine Castle while I sat outside terrified, blubbering, and sulking that I wasn’t in there, too.  Funny enough, we never did return to Brigantine on any subsequent vacations.  To top it all off, everyone who went in refused to tell me any of what they saw.  Bastards.  I love ‘em.

Michael Sherrington (Bill Curran) returns to Binbrook Castle in search of his wife Elizabeth.  He is told that she died while in labor with their stillborn child.  None of Michael’s in-laws want anything to do with the man, nor do they have any intention of helping him out.  Robert, the Earl of Binbrook and “the world’s greatest scientist” has also gone missing.  Mr. Fowles (Víctor Israel), the graveyard caretaker is cantankerous and uncooperative in the extreme, clearly not hiding anything.  Meanwhile, there is a pair of Halloween-masked goons running around snatching people and feeding them to some…thing which is kept buried (alive?) in a decrepit crypt.  Who’s behind it all?  Where’s Robert?  Why are coffins in the cemetery empty?  I guarantee, even if you care enough to have these questions answered, by the time “The End” flashes up onscreen you’ll wish you didn’t.

Miguel Madrid’s (under the pseudonym Michael Skaife) Graveyard Of Horror (aka Necrophagus aka The Butcher Of Binbrook aka Necromaniac; this movie has more pseudonyms than a black ops agent’s safety deposit box) is a Gothic Horror film in the mold of the (rightfully) influential films of Mario Bava.  I will say this: the scenery looks authentically atmospheric.  Outside of that, the film is crap, and worse, it’s incompetent, boring crap.  Before I dig my talons into it too far, though, I find it prudent to remind you readers once more (and myself by proxy) that what we get to see in one country may not be even close to resembling the filmmakers’ original intent or the film’s original form.  According to IMDB, however, there do not appear to be any other cuts of the film extant, so I have to assume that this is how the film was exhibited everywhere it was released.  By that same token, the film was released in America by Independent-International Pictures, and it was often the case that films would be filleted by producers looking to up the exploitable elements of a film for the drive-in crowd.  Nevertheless, Independent-International also released Al Adamson’s joyously execrable Dracula Versus Frankenstein, and that was apparently unmolested (the same of which cannot be said for that film’s audience), so it is entirely possible that they just slapped an English dub on Graveyard Of Horror and sent it on its way.  So, an audience can only view a film in the form(s) it is available.  Is it right to not take into account the production/distribution background of a film?  Maybe a little, but that doesn’t in the slightest change the experience I had watching this specific movie.

And it was painful.  The film adheres a little too stringently to the old screenwriting adage, “get in late, get out early.”  Scenes start and end at a whim, sometimes with absolutely (and literally) nothing happening.  Actions don’t line up in any sort of logical fashion, and many times characters will show up for a single, quick shot and then disappear until they just show up again (I won’t say “until they’re needed,” because so few of these ones are).  The story makes no sense at all, even discounting that quality as a requisite for a good film.  Who we assume is the main character (yes, Michael) goes through some trauma, and then is only depicted for almost the entire rest of the movie as a faceless shape peregrinating around aimlessly (like the plot).  Was Mr. Curran’s price too high to include him in the whole film?  The world holds its breath.  

And speaking of holding one’s breath, no one in the film is capable of doing that.  By this I mean the acting is so overwrought by every performer in this thing, Rudolf Klein-Rogge must be positively spinning in his grave.  The monster is never shown until the very end, and it is so wildly unimpressive the DVD distributors simply slapped its likeness on their cover art.  Madrid uses POV camera techniques throughout in an effort to draw the viewer into the story in some way.  Unfortunately, it only succeeds in killing an already non-existent pace and comes off as shooting for a goal above this film’s station.  This is a dull, vapid, bloodless, sleaze-less black hole of a film.  It is not entertaining as a straight film or from an ironic perspective.  If you put this film on as background viewing at a party, you had damn well better be prepared for a riot, because if anything could singlehandedly piss off a broad spectrum of filmgoers, Graveyard Of Horror is it.

Make Or Break:  The first few scenes of the film set up the muddy storytelling the rest of the film embraces like it’s in a death roll.  The opening scene (which is recycled a very short way into the film) has Michael literally throwing dirt at the camera lens.  Normally, I would applaud taking a risk like that, but here it winds up imparting the impression that this is the filmmakers’ attitude toward the viewer.  I don’t go down this route as a writer often, but fuck this movie.  Now you know why my introduction ate up over half this review.

MVT:  As I said, the rural Spanish backdrop is great to look at, and the castle interiors are wonderful.  They just weren’t filmed or assembled in any sort of satisfying way.

Score:  3/10

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