Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ratman

Ratman
Original Title: Quella villa in fondo al parco
Directed by: Guiliano Carnimeo
Italy, 1988
Horror, 82min
Distributed by: Shamless Films


Guliano Carnemo – perhaps most known for the magnificent Giallo Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpe di Jennifer? (The Strange Case of the Bloody Iris) 1972, get’s to work with Italian Genre cinema royalty, David Warbeck, Janet Agren - well kinda – a sultry Eva Grimaldi, and Nelson de la Rosa, who at the time was the smallest man in the world.
A photo model, is savagely killed by an unknown creature – at least within the movie’s universe, the audience know what it is – leading her sister Terry [Janet Agren] to venture to the same remote island so she can identify the corpse. At the airport trying to grab a cab, she meet’s Fred Williams [David Warbeck], a somewhat assertive writer of mystery novels, who tags along for the ride. At the morgue it turns out that it’s not Terry’s sister Marilyn on the slab after all, she’s taken off to the deep jungle with photographer Mark [Werner Pochath]. So Terry starts to search for her sister with the aid of Fred, but deep in the jungle lurks the Ratman!
The introduction of the tiny antagonist, is shot in a “documentary style” giving a scientific tone to the rats and the rat boy “Mousey” in his cage on the corner of the cellar  … moments later the camera spins around and crash zooms on the now, bust and empty cage. The threat has been set and the creature is on the prowl. But don’t worry, the serious tone is wrecked straight after the credits with a really sappy photo shoot where Eva Grimaldi strikes a few silly poses and flashes some skin for the audience before setting us up for the second shocker of the first act… after all this is an exploitation flick and what better to follow up a deliberate accidental nip slip with the discovery of bloodied skeleton! Ratman does have a kind of cheesy but delightful playfulness to it where it goes from one extreme to the next within the same scene. But it’s what we come for and that’s what makes this movie such a good time.
The narrative lurks on, setting up as something of an investigation plot where Agren several times is lured to the morgue to see the cold flesh of some unfortunate woman who’s fallen victim to the Ratman. Slowly, slowly, the two - who actually have pretty small parts in the movie compared to Grimaldi – start closing in on Marilyn who is out there in the jungle with the littlest, but deadliest threat of them all…
Despite being in the middle of he jungle, Marilyn and photographer Mark manage to find a shack, belonging to Dr Olman [Pepito Guerra], who observant viewers will notice being the doctor from the opening, and possibly keeper of Mousey. Where Marilyn obviously gets her kit off and takes a shower. It’s ironically bang in the middle of the film and in the off-screen space, an eye peeps upon the naked Marilyn…  

Part Island of Dr. Moreau, part Frankenstein, the movie plays along the familiar “don’t play god, or you will pay” device. “Mousey” – which is revealed to be a hybrid of Simian and rodent with a lethal poison without an antidote – is a marvellously paradoxical antagonist, but Nelson de la Rosa does what he can, and at the end of the day, it’s the cult value of Ratman which makes it all work. As per usual, the mad scientist, Dr Olman that is, refuses to let his creature be destroyed – as he believes he’s to be awarded a Noble Prize for his research! Don’t you just love mad scientists – and eventually, as in every good “Modern Prometheus” tale man playing god is often slain by his creation.
Ratman is a charming oddity, and a fine piece of late eighties Italian trash cinema. There’s some scares, there’s some nudity, there’s a pretty original and interesting monster and there’s some great Italian style effects in the shape of grubby gore and cheap puppetry – you just check out Monique’s [Anna Silvia Grullon] death scene, it’s brilliant with the small puppet Mousey hands that claw their way out of the bog. A magic moment to say the least.
Compared to the other classics they penned, I wouldn’t say that Ratman was the best piece of work legendary screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti, and the un-credited Elisia Briganti wrote. But despite being something of a straight up horror movie with a classic monster narrative, there are also a couple of Gialli traits spread throughout the movie. The monster being seen on a photograph early on, if the photographer only had taken the time to blow up the image, we’d have had a full blown homage to Antonioni’s Blow-Up. Gialli aesthetics are noted when Peggy [Louisa Menon] hides away from an unseen assailant grinding a big knife against the wall in an intimidating way as he stalks her. Large areas of the screen are kept in the dark, and flashes of light reflect off the knife. Warbeck, being a “crime novelist” takes on the role of amateur sleuth, and can pinpoint the exact series of events leading up to the first characters death (not counting the peeping tom in the jungle, during the first photo shoot.) I like this playing with other genre traits and it’s a good trick to get the ball rolling before going back into full horror mode.

Although I find it curious as to why the movie is set up with Eva Grimaldi’s Marilyn, the monster is introduced, and then a load of time is wasted on Agren and Warbeck, before returning to a huge portion of the plot focusing on Grimaldi. Agren and Warbeck never really come to any use in the movie, and I would have liked to see them do a lot more than merely bee filler material, then again, Warbeck plays if for real. Never mind what he was playing, Warbeck always played for keeps, and I can never get enough of that.
The movie really takes off after Grimaldi’s exploitation film trait, the obligatory pleasurable shower scene, and the nightmare she endures during the last half of the movie is pure horror, one by one everyone around her is killed by mousey and eventually she has to take him on all by herself. Fred and Terry eventually find Eva and the movie comes to a pretty anticlimactic closure, which leads to a rather cheap and silly last twist, but it will leave you with a smile on your face.
Edited by Fulci regular, Vincenzo Tomassi, and produced by Fabrizio De Angelis – who hadn’t produced a horror flick since Fulci’s Manhattan Baby 1982, and then only ever returned twice again after Ratman - the Sacchetti/Briganti scripted movie has plot holes the size of Mousey. But at the same time this is a movie that is filled with some great images and delightful scenes that will stay with you forever. As the above mentioned toilet attack, you will never forget the freezer scare or the scene where Nelson de la Rosa chases Grimaldi. Wildly psychotronic stuff, the stuff cult legend is made of
Rare titles like this are what make it all worthwhile - if only someone could release Gianfranco Giagni's Il nido del ragno (Spider Labyrinth) 1988 now, that'd be great! Credit has to be given to Shameless Films, not only for carrying a hard to find anywhere else title, but also for the painstaking restoration they have given Ratman. A variation of sources have been used to make this the most complete version of Ratman available, and unlike other hybrid releases, Ratman never looses that much in quality when going from one source material to another, and Warbeck speaks english all the way through, although there's one scene where it's an obvious american dub. Ratman definitely is a testament to the last breathes of the Italian exploitation genres, and one you shouldn’t be missing out on any more!



Sunday, May 27, 2012

Shadow



Shadow
Directed by: Federico Zampaglione
Italy, 2009
Horror, 77min


A movie claimed to be the return to Italian horror, has a lot to live up to. Federico Zampaglione’s Shadow has some great moments, and definitely comes with some heavy anticipation tied tightly to its pulpy pale flesh. Yes, it get’s the job done, but at the end of the day, I don’t think we should be hailing anyone before we really know what we are hailing.
 
An Iraqi war veteran, David finally takes the biking trip in Europe that’s been keeping him alive. He also meet’s his dream woman, Angeline, who saves him one night when his tent blows over a cliff. The two hit it off wonderfully until the two bastards they insulted in a local pub the day before finally find them, and start to hunt them. But that’s only the beginning of his ordeal, as David, Angeline and their hunters soon find themselves running right into the chamber of depravity where a skinny antagonist instantly starts the torture sessions…
There’s something about Shadow that I liked. It’s all in the atmosphere, and the build up of the movie that makes it work, the dedication to the storytelling as it unravels. I also enjoyed a few sudden scares, despite them being classic tricks. Yes, there’s some generic conventions used in Shadow that make me squirm with unease. I won’t list them here, but one would be randomly meeting a stunningly beauty in the middle of nowhere and the chance of her letting David, a complete stranger spend the night in her tent. There’s a shock twist at the end, which I’m sure few will see coming, I didn’t, but then again when it did I instantly thought of two classics that go out on the same note. But we’ll leave it at that, because there’s still enough in Shadow to make it a decent watch.
 
Bringing David [Jake Muxworthy, who also starred in Zev Berman’s Borderland 2007] into the world of “mortis” is done with ease. Backstory is intelligently retold as he rides his mountain bike up and down hillsides in what at times feels like extreme sport porn. The initial antagonist – kinda stereotype, Buck [Chris Coppola] and Fred [Ottaviano Blitch] – are introduced, and we get a pretty firm idea of what kind of blokes they are. Being everything but Rambo, David steps in when Buck and Fred start hassling the gorgeous Angeline [Karina Testa, who was magnificent in Xavier Gens Frontier(s) 2007] who’s in all simplicity sat drinking a cup of tea in the small village bar they all have ended up being in. So with all characters established it all takes off. Pretty traditionally done and not much more. There’ is although an interesting little glitch that implies “something else” when the barman, stops Fred and Buck from trying to fight with David in the bar, indicating that he has some form of authority over them – and says “No not here, No hunting in here!” It adds something, an external threat, which when one comes to the final act, can read as a metaphor for dangers ahead on the journey David is about to make.
This kind of metaphorical approach returns on several moments, such as when David fails to raise his tent in the strong winds blowing through the landscape, sending his tent off a cliff end down towards trees below which resemble sharp pointed objects which would mean certain death if fell upon.
The mishap with the tent leads to David spending the night in Angeline’s tent, and she establishes the treat of the secondary antagonist – not Fred and Buck that is -, the ghosts that live in the dark parts of the forest. Ghosts that have just like the story David tells Angeline, been born through the atrocities of war.
Inevitably the couple, and their adversaries, Fred and Buck end up captives of he strange figure called “Mortis” [Nuot Arquint]. All “monsters” or intriguing antagonists need to come off mean and intimidating.  Zampaglione does it with ease with the old show and then tell. First has Mortis torture the men, and then retreat to his chambers, were it becomes apparent that Mortis is some kind of surviving Nazi with a strange fixation for human taxidermy. OK the picture is pretty clear. Later he digs deeper into the psyche of his antagonist when David see’s reels of celluloid film Mortis is projecting on the walls. 8mm, 16mm even 35mm prints of past and recent wars, act of terrorism and other atrocities Vietnam, The German concentration camps, Srebrenica and even a September 11th reel… Mortis is obviously a sadist and a Mondo fan!
The big problem I have with the movie is that this is Italian and I’m expecting to see a salty Italian production where shit hits the fan and I get to see everything in all it’s glory! I don’t want off-screen torture, cutaway reactions, or suggestive weaponry rose into frame. I want to see what’s going on, and I want it to be in that Italian way showing no mercy, because I can’t help feeling that Shadow is trying too hard to mimic the already made entries into this already tediously formatted to shit blocks niche known as Torture Porn, way to hard.  That not saying that the movie doesn’t have some really effective scare moments that even had an old dog like me jumping on the couch.
 
Karina Testa is critically underused in this film, here she’s reduced to just a pretty face in a stereotype gender role, and damn shame that is. Again, her return in the climax is rather unsatisfying, and as said, there are several movies that already have a similar ending to the one of Shadow, and unfortunately they are better too. Yes, this one works and I’m sure some viewers will be shocked by it… perhaps I’ve just been watching too many movies over too many years and know the tricks of the trade. Then there’s the issue of wandering right into a genre that the Yanks already have laid claim to. How this film can be lumped in with other entries in that niche when it’s pretty tame compared to others. Sure, some fine atmosphere, but torture wise, rather low, and porn, well nothing. If we are going to insist on calling it Torture Porn, then I want cameras to gloat on every gooey detail, just like I mentioned above.
For newcomers to genre cinema this is should be an interesting entry, which I’m sure will scared you, surprised you, and entertained you. I enjoyed it and I really wanted it to work for me, although found it to be lacking in certain areas to qualify for the genre and type of movie it’s being proclaimed as being. But that’s only my opinion, which shouldn’t inhibit you from seeing it; it holds a very high standard and is visually a great looking movie. Considering the obvious love for genre that Zampaglione has brought to this movie, his forthcoming Giallo inspired Tulpa – which I suggest you google up ASAP If you haven’t seen any of the online images - seems to be an impressive ride which just may actually be that one movie to put Italian genre cinema back in the spotlight. 

So Good luck Federico Zampaglione, and welcome back when Tulpa is complete.

Shadow is soon to be released by primo numero uno Swedish distributor NjutaFilms.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Abnormis

Abnormis
Directed by: Maik Ude
Horror, Splatter, 106min.
Germany, 2011

Ok, so I’ve had Maik Ude’s Abnormis safely stashed away in my pile of trash to watch at a better time since I picked it up from the man himself at the Bottrop Weekend of Horrors 2011. Along with the dedicated, signed two disc Absurd Uncut Version, (as every German release, restricted to a limited number of issues, this one 333, the other 333 with alternative cover art) I received a lighter and a t-shirt and that’s about as far as I got before my mates started hassling me for my lack of judgement and poor taste in films… oh the suffering.
Eva [Andrea Mohr] is pregnant with Chris’ [Darkun] child, but after spotting him being unfaithful with her best friend Kathrin [Divina Buran], she rushes to her car and drives out of the town at a high speed. Chris follows her in his car to give some lame excuse and try to patch things together, or at least explain himself. But, before he can catch up with Eva’s car, she’s stopped by a maniac [Sven Spannagel], the obligatory overweight semi-retard who lives out in the woods and just happens to slaughter everyone who comes along, who kidnaps her and takes her to his damp dark underground torture chamber. So you can check that one off the list of required niche traits too. Blissfully unaware, Chris turns up, knocks on the door, is yanked into the dark damp torture chamber by The Killer and the young couple’s suffering get’s under way. Back in civilization Kathrin, now missing friends, contacts private eye, Marc Blaschke [Marco Kruse] to help her find them. With the assistance of Marc, and two uninvited thugs who Marc owes large amounts of money on their tail, the bunch travel right to the mansion where not only The Killer awaits, but also a mysterious Demon with a grudge against mankind…
Basically Abnormis is a classic schoolbook example of German splatter. Cheap, gritty and to the point, in a catch them and kill them kind of way. Catch them and kill them, with that dark comedic approach which only the German Splatter niche can deliver. Andrea Mohr at times gives the impression of being bored out of her mind, instead of being scared of dying, and there’s plenty of dialogue where the word “Schlampe” is used, giving it a quirky tone. Not intentionally, but “Schlampe” was the main gag my mates and I returned to all the time after watching Violent Shit back in the day. But there’s also that dark German nihilism, which I’ve in earlier texts pointed out, is a vital ingredient in German splatter flicks.
It would be too easy to trash the fuck out of cheap low-budget horror films, especially amateur made horror films if I was to take the easy way out. Instead, I like challenging myself to find the positive within the movie, tap into the filmmakers enthusiasm and get a feel for what they where trying to do. Again, it would be way to easy to crush a film like this, and that’s why every amateur film critic tends to trash above praising. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from Abnormis, I though it would be cheesy, have dodgy effects, suffer from bad pacing and poor acting… and you know what it is rather cheesy, has dodgy effects, suffers from bad pacing and is pretty much filled with actors who couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag, but that’s also part of the game: It’s amateur horror, this is where you find the crazy shit, see how creative devotees make do with what they have and this is where enthusiasm takes first seat. Complaining about these things would be like watching amateur porn and complaining about sock marks, pale skin, bad lighting and drunk overweight wannabe actors who couldn’t stop looking into the camera.
Cannibalism, sodomy, chunky murderers, foetus yanking, well fed chicks getting naked and screaming demons all come with the unique German Niche, but what I wasn’t prepared for, was that the movie would surprised me with small, but effective beats, where I have to give credit to Ude as they result in some pretty interesting twists and turns.

The tension of setting a pregnant woman – in her vulnerable state – in the hands of a sadistic maniac is great. It undoubtedly builds up an extreme tension that you know will only end in one way. But this is where the beauty of German Nihilism and Dark Comedy come to a splendid combination – After her harrowing ordeal Eva starts to give Chris a bollocking for being such a weak man! Yeah, she compares him and his unfaithfulness to the violence of the maniac, “One broke my Heart, one broke my Baby!" and then swears that she’ll have her revenge. Oh the passion of dark German splatter, it’s a beauty isn’t it.
As you may have guessed, Eva’s revenge does come in all it’s glory when she’s comes back to haunt all who enter the mansion as the Demon, that great iconic image printed on t-shirts and DVD covers. The Demon, second only to the chubby carnage bringer, is the most featured antagonist in German splatter flicks. Hell hath no fury as a mutilated woman who’s had her baby yanked out of her womb! In some fucked up way, Eva becomes the character we empathise with, and her vengeance is ours too. Oh, and that’s when the Swat team arrive to search the house… Told you, this is where the crazy shit happens.

I really like the private eye subplot. It’s not only a way for Maik to cast himself in a small part, but also a pretty smart way to increase the number of victims at the mansion, up the body count and get some more gore effects in there. God knows we’ve all seen professional movies where people pop up out of nowhere just to be offed in the next scene. At least Ude builds some kind of credibility for his victims.
A favourite moment is when Tito the thug [Boris Klemkow] pulls his gun on Marc and shouts that he’s going to kill him for pulling him into this “shit” (read nightmare). Marc coldly screams back "Go on then, shoot me, that will leave you all alone out here with this maniac!”  

Forty minutes into the piece the “iconic” Abnormis face of the Demon is presented, and from here on the movie really takes off, bringing an investigation plot into play, but also moving from splatter and gore into a more supernatural realm too. There’s a bit of everything in here and the last ten minutes really venture into nightmarish bad trip territory, bringing the movie full circle.

I dig that Ude goes with full coverage horror and not the usual insulting “oh shit no coverage my cell phone is completely useless here” gimmick, instead, he goes all in, Chris send’s text messages to Kathrin, and even sends her an MMS from the torture dungeon.

Finally I do kind of like the score and black metal songs that Darkun and his band The Dark Unspoken  (as well as Territion) have supplied for the movie, it sure beats the usual cheap synthesiser drone and plastic orchestral tripe that comes with German Splatter films.

So yeah, Abnormis is all about cheap gore, has some fun twists, and an amateur enthusiasm that really makes this a film I enjoyed. I’d easily take a look at whatever Ude comes up with next.
Just for the record, I love my Abnormis t-shirt with Andrea Mohr’s demonic face screen-printed on it. It looks like a black metal shirt and I always get asked about it when I wear it. It’s one of my favourite t-shirts, and I’ll happily promote Ude’s film by wearing it, as that’s what drew me to their sales desk at the horror fair to start with. See, no matter whom you are, an impressive promotional image goes a long way.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

PIECES with Brian Harris and ME!


Oh, Yeah!
A few weeks back I was honored to be a guest on Brian Harris, mastermind of Wildside Cinema and co-editor of Weng's Chop, a paper print fanzine (oh damn do we love the old school retro) and many other things, radio show PIECES, where we shot shit about anything that came along, where confronted by a German on-set demon and I compared A Serbian Film to Lars Von Trier...

You can listen to the archived show HERE.

Wake Wood

Wake Wood [QuickFix]
Directed by: David Keating.
Ireland/UK, 2011
Horror/Drama, 90min


A middle-aged couple that tragically lost their young daughter Alice [Ella Connolly] in a freak accident, have relocated themselves to the rural village Wake Wood. Patrick [Aidan Gillen] works as a country vet, and Louise [Eva Birthistle] runs the village chemists. Their relationship has grown cold and they are further away from each other than they have ever been. Although Patrick refuses to let go, Louise mournful state has shattered any chance of their relationship to go further. One night, after Louise has declared that she’s leaving Patrick, their car breaks down in the middle of the woods. The couple walk over to Arthur’s [Timothy Spall] farm to ask for some help, but instead Louise witnesses a strange ritual where a recently deceased man comes back from the dead. When confronted by Arthur, about the ritual they saw, he offers them the chance to have their daughter back. An offer they emotionally can’t refuse…


It’s the resurrected HAMMER, you don’t need more reasons to watch this… Honestly, you don’t! Looking at the series of movies that have come out of the resurrected studio this one – apart from the obvious James Watkins The Woman in Black 2012, which I still have to see – Wake Wood really taps into the grand old Hammer tradition of paganism, old school wiccan rituals and the dark forces of the occult.

There are a lot of really smart things going on here. First off, anything with a kid in peril, or a threat to a kid, won’t get to me, but as soon as you have parents going about their everyday lives and their kid being a victim of force majeure, then you grab me by the throat. I can watch monsters and unworldly stuff attack children but when it’s the stuff that I can relate to and worry about in the real world, then it gets to me. Hence, Wake Wood grabbing me firmly in its manipulative grasp when the opening titles over Patrick and Louise’s move to Wake Wood are crosscut with the backstory of how they lost Alice. It’s a deliberate and brilliant move as I totally empathise with them when they get that offer to “see her again!” I know that I’d jump at an opportunity like that in an instance if it were one of my kids.

The story kind of plays along classic ground, somewhat Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery and Robin Hardy’s Wickerman in tone, which set’s a great anticipation as we all know what happens when humans try to play god – shit hit’s the fan and it all goes to hell! There’s always a price to pay and now it’s just a build up to revealing what and who has to pay.
I’m a sucker for a stern set of rules, and Wake Wood has rules to hit the spot: She can only return for three days, you must not travel outside village boundaries with her during these three days, you will be bound to Wakewood for the rest of your lives and the most important: death must have been less than a year ago.

There’s a great build of curiosity when one of the ritual performers and village elders’ starts questioning the bringing back of Alice as she has a sensation that something’s wrong. This combined with the fact that we keep getting hint’s that Patrick and Louise are keeping something from Arthur, and the audience, also adds to that ever-growing bud of curiosity. Along with our familiarity with genre, and the prediction of trouble at bay, this all adds to elevating the movie to a very tense and engaging narrative. After all, the questions it poses are, at least for parents, pretty heavy ones. Movies like this all use the emotional recognition that the audience feels with the main characters to work their way under our skin, and at times into our heads. What would you do if you where given the chance to bring back a loved one for three days?

Obviously there’s a lie at the bottom of the barrel, and when mankind tries to pull a fast one on the old gods, they have to pay. Alice is not the same soft, gentle child she once was, and now it’s up to the people that brought her back to also put her back in the ground. Again, a hard and devastating punishment, but in a harsh way fair, after all you can’t unleash an animal mutilating, villager slaughtering little runt out on the countryside without taking your responsibility now can you!

A suggestive ending gives a great climax which will leave you with a uneasy smile on your face. You know where it's going to go, but Keating leaves the imagery up to the viewer, which definitely is much more effective than anything else that could have been put on screen. I really like endings that send you off with an uncomfortable feeling in your gut over the closed case all is fine again endings. This way the movie lives on in our head after the credits have played.

It’s also a delight to see my old mate Magnus Paulson as co-producer (and Film i Skåne) being part of this film as this only makes me like it even more. Go Sweden, and thank you for being part of a great movie! This just goes to show that we need to stop all these tedious, repetitive Police-Action-Bullshit flicks that drown the audiences here and get working with the one thing we really utilize the best, human angst. Mix that up with some good old school horror and we’ll be onto something.



Wake Wood get’s a 5 out of 6 because this was a good and solid movie. Moving, disturbing, emotional, creepy and perhaps most important, a damned fine horror flick with believable characters, creepy villagers, pagan rituals, and some great gore effects. I may have missed the hell out of Hammer movies, but now I’m thriving on their return, and actually find the assortment of genre pieces they have released in the few years back on the scene, to be stern proof that they are serous players who, just like the icon who built the house of hammer, have undoubtedly risen from the dead.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Porto dos Mortos


Beyond the Grave
Original Title: Porto dos Mortos
Directed by: Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro
Brazil, 2010
Thriller/Horror, 89min.

Brazilian horror! You don’t see too much of that these days, do you? Perhaps a Coffin Joe movie here or there, or possibly Tiago Belotti’s A Capitol dos Mortos 2008, but the titles are few and far apart – at least in this part of the world...  Well now you can add Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro’s Porto dos Mortos (Beyond the Grave) 2010 to the small, but slowly increasing number of genre titles from Brazil. Low budget, independent, intriguing… Beyond the Grave may come out of an underdog corner, but it still manages to pack a pretty fascinating sting.
The basic set up would be something along these lines: In a world overrun by the living dead, known here as Returners, a Police Officer [Rafael Tombini] is on the hunt for the serial killer known as The Dark Rider. His quest takes him on a road trip through the country, and sees him teaming up with several groupings of people he encounters along the way.

The initial part of the movie is used to establish the Police Officer’s quest. To put his character on the map, giving us the reason why we should give a damn about his task at hand. After an initial shootout to establish genre traits, Officer is confronted by a sword swinging Asian and seems to be facing a certain death. But by chance he survives the attack and rises to come out victorious from the fight. This says three things about Officer. He’s not invincible; he’s mortal as you and me as he could pay for his quest with his life. At times the gods smile upon him and give him a free pass to get out of seemingly impossible situations. The last one is that he’s a man of action, fully intent on succeeding with his task, at whatever cost.
After the opening credits we see Officer confront two kids apparently breaking into a store. Officer questions them, and we come to the insight that Officer is a man of morale ground. This is also where the antagonists of the piece are introduced – the living dead, or that’s at least what we think so far. Within this first group of companions we find the mute girl. A character I found to be one of the most fascinating in the whole movie. She carries a typewriter along with her, writes notes for her young friend, and being mute she has to play out a zombie stomp to explain to Officer that there are living dead in the area. I would have enjoyed seeing more of this character.

This is where something interesting happens. The ordinary world has been established – a world where the living must fight the undead for survival. Despite the many warm sunny images, it’s a dark and dystopian world. When this is established, Pinheiro explains the quest at hand - The Officer’s pursuit of serial killer The Dark Rider. An interesting move, as this brings something else to the movie.
The Dark Rider has been eluding him since before the “dead started to walk”, and Pinheiro brings a interesting twist to the story when it turns out that the undead, or returners as they are called here, are drawn to the Dark Rider.  Naturally the Dark Rider ‘s co-horts are meaner and grimmer the nearer the Officer get’s to finding him, and encounters become more sadistic and violent for each step closer, sometimes taking a shocking toll on the constellations the officer find himself part of.

I dig when movies stop and take a turn outside of the usual convention. Beyond the Grave does so by revealing the backstory of Officer and the Dark Rider at the midpoint of the movie. Exactly when we need to know more about The Dark Rider and the mysticism that surrounds his character. The Dark Rider has the powers to change his appearance when his life form is taken, and move to a new body of choice. The Dark Rider is much more than The Officer bargained for.

I don’t necessary demand fast paced, wham-bam, gun’s a blazin’, gut’s a spillin’ action in my horror. At times a more meditative approach can be the exact right thing. It’s almost like watching an Alex Cox flick, that slow moving but simultaneously underlying unease that one finds in his movie. Sometimes it could be the delicate build up of Sergio Leone or the winding mysticism of Richard Stanley – I’m sure Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro is paying homage to his heroes as certain images and visuals are definitely referring to those directors and their characters. I also get a strong The Walking Dead vibe from the movie as Officer shifts and changes friends and foes along the way, putting morale and loyalty to question. The old “don’t trust anyone” paranoia of the Zombie genre is evident.
The plot is an noteworthy approach – take the Searchers, mix it with the aesthetics of Spaghetti Westerns, the lack of destination found in the really good Road Movies, fuse it with vigilante tough guy movies and place it all in a horror setting. Using the Investigation plot makes for an interesting drive forth in the narrative. Ok, it takes a while before I’m actually on the train, but when I know what Officer is after, then I’m along for the ride, and it is an intriguing ride.
There are a lot of things I really like with Beyond the Grave, especially the suggestive ending, which offers a deeper perspective to the movie than I think a lot of genre fans will give it... I love mind fucks, and Beyond the Grave ends with one. For a low budget indie horror it has some wonderfully composed and great looking shots, at times it has spot on editing and a noteworthy narrative that builds off an investigation plot. Yeah, I find Beyond the Grave to be something more than the common horror/thriller flick, it seeks ground further beyond the classic conventions. Despite using several familiar plot devices and narrative traits, Beyond the Grave manages to stick the odd twist and spin on the genre and convention as well. Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro has come up with a movie that manages to hit marks and beats that others out there don’t. Beyond the Grave is an impressive, original and cautious movie that deserves your attention. After all, innovative horror from Brazil may rise once again.