The locally made horror film “Voices From The Grave” premiered last Friday night at the Tempe Pollack Cinema. Despite the lateness of the screening (9:30 pm, w a y past my bedtime), the premiere was well attended and the theatre filled quickly. Directed by Richard Stoudt and Laurence C. Holloway, “Voices From The Grave” is an anthology horror film inspired by such classics as ‘Tales from the Crypt,’ ‘Creepshow,’ ‘Deadtime Stories’ and several others. Following the familiar formula of presenting a trilogy of tales bookended by one introductory story, ‘Grave’ tells three tales of bad behavior followed by haunting, supernatural vengeance and concluding with violent retribution. In the introductory story, horror fiction fan Myles Brandt (Bobby Shook) enters a book store seeking out the ultimate collection of scary tales. Perusing the shelves of standard Stephan King and V.C. Andrews claptrap, nothing really jumps out at him. That is until a book titled “Voices From The Grave” literally jumps off the shelf and lands near him. He grabs the book, finds a quiet corner in the eerily empty, massive bookstore and begins to read.
The first tale is All Hallow’s Eve, Written by Richard Stoudt and Joe Evans. Its 2008 and Halloween night in Mesa, Arizona. Kids race furiously through the streets grabbing as much candy as they can before it melts in the heat. A not-so-happening Halloween party is taking place and big brother Robert (David Nelson) has had enough of his loser little brother Vince (Sean Ryan McBride), who’s been striking out left and right. Drunken little bro needs a ride home and big bro says hell no; he’s having too much fun chatting with Lynda (Michelle Green). Robert gives Vince a Jack-o-lantern for protection and the keys to his van, in order to teach him a lesson (?). Vince wastes no time getting behind the wheel, crashing the van, and dying a gruesome death. Three years later, Robert has been unable to celebrate the true joys of Halloween, so Lynda plans an intervention. She drags him to a costume store to get him into the spirit of things and he wont budge, but he takes a bag of candy from her to ward off any trick-or-treaters. As he watches the 1962 cult classic “Carnival of Souls” (pay attention, this will come up a lot more) on ‘Horrorthon with Guy Marks,’ he is set upon by an endless parade of vicious vandals armed with soap and toilet paper, appeased only after candy is literally thrown at them. After fending off the troublemakers, Robert gets one more angry visitor that night; a ghoul seeking neither trick nor treat, a vengeful spirit who demands his soul!
The second tale is Invitation, based on the short story “Mark of the Loser” by Gary Brandner. Surly businessman Len Krager (Michael Hanelin) is more than happy to be leaving the unfriendly, jerkwater town he’s been stuck in. He has a farewell drink with his only pal (Jonathon Medina) and they both bag on Hicksville. He gets in his car and finds an invitation to a house party on the car seat and heads over for one last bender with the yokels. The creepy house is dimly lit and inside, all of the guests know his name. There’s plenty of booze, chow and heapin’ helpin’s of heebee-jeebies as an angry spirit keeps appearing in the window. The guests don’t mind the bothersome ghost and tell Len the story of mad murderer Mary Grauer (Sarah Masters). Len tries to make time with the lovely-yet-morose Carol (Scarlet O’Neil) but she’s as cryptic and evasive as the rest of the guests. Len pops outdoors for a breather and comes face to face with the mysterious woman in the window, and realizes all too late exactly why he is the guest of honor.
The final tale is Repossessed, written by Richard Stoudt. Poor student Jeff (Chris Labadie) gets chided by his girlfriend Kathie (Maryam Cne) for not having a car and relying on the light rail for transportation. What could be worse than riding the light rail? We’re about to find out. He discovers a Corvette for sale for only seven hundred bucks and meets the weird seller (James Leathrman), who reveals that the car belonged to his dead brother Tom (Stephen Kessen), who’s spirit would not rest if the car was ever sold. Jeff pshaws the poltergeist potential and pounces on the price, zooming home in the shiny Vette and showing off. Kathie takes a few snaps and Jeff gets to washing the car. The car tries to run him over so he calls his mechanicpal Devin (Corey Henderson) and asks him to give his ride the once over twice. Meanwhile Kathie discovers ghostly apparitions in the photos she snapped and tries to warn Jeff. But it’s too late as vengeful spirits have taken over the car and it carelessly races through the streets of Phoenix, seeking out Jeff and his friends. By the looks of the hamburger it leaves of the hapless pedestrians it encounters, this model of Vette must have come with the optional A b a t t oir package; complete with a pulverizer in the grill, and rotating knives in the chassis. The murderous machine will stop at nothing until it is reunited with its rightful owner. Forever! Shutting the book and paying full price for it, Myles hurries out the door and jumps in his car. Sitting on the drivers seat is (gasp!) an invitation!
“Voices From The Grave” is an entertaining, faithful and fun horror film. While clearly inspired by genre films of the past, the directors efficaciously present their adaptations as contemporary, no-budget Arizona indie horror; paying strong tribute to the films that inspired them while creating new twists and techniques with the digital media at their disposal. There are very few swear words and no nudity in ‘Grave,’ and the gore is downplayed for the most part. It is the practical effects and comic book lighting that really make this film work; the party gels have come to party, and the fog machine is working overtime, guzzling gallons of fog juice. Photography is a little rough, but the creativity and originality of several scenes pave the road to forgiveness. The opening wide shot of the trick-or-treaters as they deliberately mill around every available light source was creepy and cleverly composed. I was also inspired by the shots looking down through the spinning blades of the ceiling fan; used very effectively and now done easily with the compact, high definition digital cameras that are available. Sound is noticeably inconsistent, with several scenes featuring one actor providing obvious ADR while everyone else is left to fend for themselves. The story I liked the most and the least was I n vit a tio n . This was a very popular theme in shows like ‘The Twilight Zone’ and ‘Tales From The Crypt’: A lonely tavern/bar/house/etc appears on the highway like a haunted Brigadoon and the hapless traveler enters of their own free will. Once inside, they are trapped in a purgatory and must pay dearly for their past crimes/addiction, behavior/grammar/etc. ‘Graves’ presents this story as an excellent homage to “Carnival of Souls,” complete with melancholy, soulless ghouls at a dour and dreary party, but takes the traditional tale on a twist that left me disappointed.
Directors Stoudt and Holloway have created a fun film with just the right balance of humor, tradition and cheeseball camp to keep you entertained. If you are a fan of Halloween and an even bigger fan of low budget horror, get your hands on a copy of “Voices From The Grave,” a groovy AZ indie film that works very hard to make sure you have a good time at the movies while being scared out of your wits.
Final Take – Supernatural fun for everyone.