Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Devil’s Gravestone – review

Director: Jay Mackenzie Roach

Release Date: 2010

Contains spoilers

This was one of those frustrating films that, for everything it did right, it managed to make a mistake also. Probably unavoidable, to some degree, when you are making a low budget movie but some of the issues were avoidable.

Let us take the location of the film – Roach City. Creating your own city for the location offers a freedom next to a real world location in that you can design the city as you want it and not have to worry that someone who knows the location will know that the locations are fictional. On the other hand, calling it Roach City makes the viewer start – it makes you wonder who would call a city that, even when you realise the director used his own name.

opening scene
The film starts with a voice over, from main character Jaq (Elle LaMont, who is the new Satanica Pandemonia in From Dusk till Dawn the Series), as she talks about no longer seeing the sun. It’s a little play with expectations. We see a woman, with dried blood at her mouth, and will soon discover this isn’t Jaq. Jaq says that she does not have the disease that goes through *their* veins. She follows their patterns because she is a hunter and it is a male vampire she has come for.

fanged and bloodied
She shoots him twice with a shotgun but then he overpowers her and starts to choke her with a belt as her fingers grasp a nail gun – a nail in the temple and three in the side is followed by a pickaxe (the filmmakers choosing, wisely, not to tackle that effect and so we see the swing). Realising that the vampire was lonely, rather than hungry, she turns on the victim who has been infected. The implication as we move to title screen being that Jaq has killed her.

attacked in the stall
We get a sequence that that is treated to add wear lines into the film and give the impression of a Grindhouse flick, whilst we hear Jaq’s thoughts about “the Scarlet Stalker” (Reece Rios , After Sundown) a serial killer (who she knows is a vampire). We also see black talons being cut and false, human normal nails being applied. This was clever but never actually followed up. We see him on the hunt, a forgettable, normal looking guy – he follows a woman into a bathroom, removes his clothes and then rips the stall door off and attacks. Outside Jaq sets up a high powered sniper rifle down an alleyway and, after speaking to him on the phone, puts a couple of bullets in him. She then gets up close and personal and eventually does overpower him but is stabbed for her trouble also.

Elle LaMont as Jaq
She tortures him to try and get information (overlooking how she managed to get the vampire back and chained down, especially with her injury). He was created by a vampire called Catherine (Mila Moravec), a vampire who lived to turn men into monsters. Jaq has previously disposed of her and it is one of creations she is after, Jaq’s erstwhile husband Cale (Niko Red Star). As the film progresses we discover that his first victim was their young son (Connor Hill). When the injured Jaq gets home we see her shooting up drugs, fixing the stab wound with superglue and setting up a homemade IV as she tries to get through the next day.

Maggie Alone
When she awakens a cop, Dick (Joe Nemmers), is sat there and he brings her into his world. He has watched her for years (he was on the crime scene, when Cale killed the kid) but things have gone strange. We have seen a woman, Maggie (Kristin Sutton), in a wedding dress and she is alone and upset, as well as Cale, in a tux, committing suicide before a church; both scenes in snippets explicitly without referencing. It turns out that Maggie was just married to Cale (not knowing he was a vampire) and he vanished off after the ceremony. Then she was attacked and raped by something, though there was no physical evidence of anyone else there. Three days later and she is in a coma and heavily pregnant.

experimentation
Dick has taken her to an abandoned building where his friend, Doc (Grant James), experiments on vampires – we see one which is missing everything below the abdomen, chained to a table. Interestingly none of the primary “good” characters see anything wrong in this. The film then takes us down two lore routes. Doc’s experiments have shown that the vampires are stronger and heal fast because their systems are on overdrive – heart rate, immune system, muscles and tendons are all beyond human normal. This burns blood off as fuel and so the body has adapted, linking the digestive system and circulatory system. The appendix becomes a conduit between the systems (one wonders whether that means vampires who have had appendectomies will die – there is a sideswipe comment from Jaq about this). Jaq had already told us that the way to kill a vampire is either massive blood loss, or major trauma to the heart or brain.

Cale's sacrifice
The above is interesting, if a little bit technobabblish. The other lore line goes on about the church, the True Covenant of Christ, which believes that Jesus was Lucifer (in other words the bible is the biggest con job of all time) and a prophecy that a vampire will father a second son (having eaten the first), who will be God’s Shadow. Vampires are sterile, it appears, and the act before the church was Cale’s self-sacrifice to the devil – he does get a body back later. This was also interesting but suffered for two reasons. Firstly there wasn’t the budget that would allow a full representation of this (for instance the invisible sexual assault is not particularly shown), Secondly the film was gritty and down to earth, with a viral/disease explanation and an attempt to draw science into the feeding cycle and the two sides sat uncomfortably with each other.

Doc and Dick
That said, it was ambitious for such a low budget film. The acting was hit and miss all the way through. Jaq’s film noir voice overs worked and you began to get a feel for her and Dick as characters, especially after you let the noir aspect of the film take hold. Grant James offered an idiosyncratic performance that grew on you. Nico Red Star didn’t work for me as Cale, however. There were aspects that made me startle that I won’t reveal due to them being a spoiler too far but brought a serious story faux pas to light. The effects weren’t bad for a low budget film, but the 70s-esque filming hid a lot of issues. The story didn’t flow in places but ultimately kept my attention. I did like the fact that the good characters were absolutely fundamentally flawed.

Cale turned
So, not bad for an indie effort, but it had issues. Some of those were budget based (the range of the storyline somewhat outstripped the budget on hand, though they did a lot with little). Some were down to expectation – the in-half vampire I expected to have some form of role, other than showing the main characters’ absolutely degenerated level of morality. Some could have been solved by the filmmakers – such as the poorer end of acting. All in all it probably deserves 5 out of 10, but with a caveat that it is worth seeing as an indie offering. The IMDb page is here.

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