There’s no conceivable way The Graves could have been made well, so you might as well enjoy it for how bad it is. There isn’t a brain a work in any of its eighty-eight minutes, but it goes through them so cheerfully that I actually found myself enjoying the experience. I shouldn’t be recommending it, but unfortunately, I have a terrible tendency to like movies that clearly aren’t any good (I may be the only person to have given a passing grade to 10,000 B.C.). Scoff all you want – the cast and crew were obviously having fun while making this movie. And why not? It gave them license to indulge not only in silliness, but also in cheap gimmicks, not the least of which is a relentlessly contrived plot and that most reliable of horror movie clichés: A small town populated by religious fanatics.
It’s called Unity, and it’s located somewhere in the deserts of Arizona. This is where we find sisters and comic book fans Megan and Abby Graves (Clare Grant and Jillian Murray), who wanted nothing more than to spend their last weekend together (Megan is moving to New York to pursue a career in marketing). They stumble onto Skull City, now a roadside attraction but once a thriving gold mine; behind its tacky, ramshackle façade of wood and rock lies a secret, one that, the sisters soon discover, brings death and apparent damnation to unsuspecting tourists. Roaming the site is a blacksmith (Shane Stevens), who at one point actually tries to calm his victim: “I take no pleasure in this,” he says while clutching a bloody hammer. “I answer to a higher power!”
The sisters then run into Caleb Atwood, who says that his friends call him Cookie. We know he can’t possibly be sane. Why? Because he’s played by Bill Moseley, the go-to guy for maniacal horror movie weirdoes. Sure enough, his character dons a plastic pig snout before grabbing a sickle and chasing after Megan, apparently because he prefers his women young and plucky. He also flaunts an unusually strong sense of smell, as if he were part bloodhound. This may account for the snout, although I tend to doubt it; for all I know, it’s a throwback to Moseley’s involvement with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, where he played the brother of the mask-wearing Leatherface.
Another part of the story involves the residents of Unity, all under the thumb of Reverend Abraham Stockton. He’s played by Tony Todd, also a horror celebrity, as an overly pious caricature, with mannerisms so exaggerated and dialogue so inane that he’s actually more funny than frightening. Was that the intended effect? I honestly don’t know. Still, you’ve got to hand it to him – he hams it up really well. You watch him perform and can tell he was genuinely having a good time. I especially enjoyed his sermon near the end of the film: “By all that’s holy, what have we wrought? Say Jesus!” he says before slitting someone’s throat, not out of anger, but out of duty to the Savior. Only then does Megan calmly whisper to Abby, “This is crazy,” apparently unaware of the fact that statements this obvious are inherently funny.
Regardless, there’s no denying that they believe what they’re saying, and that should count as some kind of compliment to Grant and Murray. I will not go so far as to say that their performances are good, but within the context of a silly supernatural fright fest, they are doing the best they can possibly do. Their characters are established almost generically; they do, after all, have the notorious distinction of being young women in a horror story. But as the film progresses, we find that, in its own hilariously twisted way, it’s aiming to be a parable about maturity, especially for Abby, always the more timid, less motivated half of the pair. I can’t promise you will actually be inspired by anything this movie depicts, but then again, maybe you will be – I’m sure there are those among us for whom It’s a Wonderful Life simply will not do.
In conclusion, if you’re thinking to yourself, “This movie sounds stupid,” let me assure you that it is. It’s so stupid, in fact, that I’m convinced it was intentionally made that way. I’m reminded of the 2007 horror film Hatchet, which was so aggressive in its efforts to be campy that it was actually kind of amusing. It inhabited its badness with conviction, which is more than I can say for the many, many bad horror movies that try to pass themselves off as serious work. At an artistic level, The Graves is about as upscale as gift shop keychain, and is even less lasting than smoke in a windstorm. All the same, it was infectious, and by the end, I had to admit to myself that I had fun watching it. It seems my standards aren’t as high as I thought they were.