Monday, 1 June 2015


There has been quite the resurgence in horror anthology films in recent years. As well as the big hitters like ABCs of Death and V/H/S, I've seen a host of smaller budget but still impressive indie efforts such as Dreadtime Stories and Tales of Poe.
The latest of these portmanteau tales to come my way is Voices From The Grave, which even features an original tale from Gary Brandner, writer of The Howling.
Is this a flick with a strong voice? Or is it full of grave missteps?
Read on...


Dir: Laurence Holloway, Richard Stoudt
Starring: Bobby Shook, Scarlet Fry, Michelle Green, David Nelson, Sean Ryan McBride, Michael Hanelin, Jonathan Medina, Sarah Masters, Chris Labadie, James Leatherman, Corey Henderson, Maryam Cné

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

In a quiet but well stocked bookshop a man (Shook) asks the shopkeeper (Fry) for advice on some truly terrifying horror fiction. After laughing off her suggestions he browses the shelves, accidentally knocking an ominous black tome on the floor. He picks it up and proceeds to read the book, immersing himself in three increasingly creepy stories.

ALL HALLOW'S EVE — The first story is set at Halloween. Opening at a party thrown by popular young lady Lynda (Green), brothers Robert (Nelson) and Vince have a disagreement. Vince (McBride) has drunk too much and become a liability and Robert refuses to take him home, instead chastising him for ruining the evening and giving him a jack o' lantern to get him home.
However, the night takes a terrible turn for the worse when Vince attempts to drive home and ends up in a fatal car accident.
Three years later Robert is still haunted by that night. He no longer celebrates Halloween, ignoring Lynda's invitations to her party, instead staying in and watching all night monster movie marathons and drinking alone... but this time, he' s going to have some company...

THE INVITATION — Based on Gary Brandner's The Mark of the Loser, this segment follows disgruntled businessman Len (Hanelin) on his last night in the decidedly odd town of Wildwood. Len has just opened a small office for his company and despite his efforts, the locals have been very standoffish. The only friend he's made is  a fellow solo drinker at a nearby bar, Pete (Medina).
However, this evening, upon returning to his hotel room he finds an impressively embossed invitation to a soirée signed with a simple 'W'. Len decides to say goodbye to Wildwood with a bang and heads to the party. There he is greeted by plenty of friendly guests, all of whom know him by name although he doesn't recognise any of them. As if that wasn't strange enough, all through the evening he keeps catching glimpses of an enigmatic blonde woman, clad from head to toe in black (Masters). What is happening? Who invited Len? And will he survive his final night in Wildwood?

RE-POSSESSED — Young Jeff (Labadie) is trying to scrape together enough cash to buy a car. One day he sees a wonderful 1986 Corvette for sale for the bargain price of just $700! Initially suspicious he goes to see the seller Eddie (Leatherman) and takes along his best buddy and mechanic Devin (Henderson).
Eddie is undoubtedly a bit of a weirdo but Devin can find nothing wrong with the car and the price is too good to ignore, so Jeff eagerly buys it.
Delighted with his purchase, Jeff can't wait to drive his girlfriend Kathy (Cné) around town in his sweet new ride. However, it isn't long before he starts to notice some odd quirks with the car... quirks that soon start to become very worrying. It seems the car has a shady past and now Jeff and his friends are marked for a terrifying fate.

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Some horror movies equal good, old-fashioned spooky fun. Voices From The Grave is one such flick, feeling like a cross between classic anthology Creepshow and those wonderful TV series such as Monsters or Tales From The Crypt. The stories are fun new tellings of some familiar horror tropes, and they just feel right. Stoudt and Holloway have focused on oldschool creepiness over disturbing gore and the movie feels kind of timeless for it. Each of the three tales focuses on a vengeful or malicious spirit, and the ghostly goings on in each take a different tack. The first is almost a slasher movie, in which one character is stalked and pursued by a single, relentless and unstoppable assailant. The difference between this and many feature length versions of the story is the impressive characterisation squeezed into such a short timeframe.
The second is the most trippy and mysterious, feeling a little classic David Lynch small town oddness combined with the dreamlike quality of Don Coscarelli's Phantasm. The late great Brandner's story unfolds with excellent pacing, drawing the viewer in, then delivering a cool conclusion with both barrels. 
Finally the last segment plays out like a modern-day Christine. In this story the threat is more insidious, an unexpected and hidden evil that entraps our characters before they can even realise it's happening. It could be a bit daft, but somehow it stands up under scrutiny and even delivers a couple of decent gory moments.
The directors have a good eye for creepy story-telling and, along with cinematographer Roman Aguirre, make sure the movie always looks great. I was genuinely surprised to hear that the budget for the movie was so low (a mere $10,000!) so clearly they did something right!
The film looks good and the stories are strong, but those aren't the only saving graces here. The movie also has a pretty great cast, with plenty of strong acting performances throughout. Standouts include both Hanelin and Masters from The Invitation, both of whom bring very different but equally wonderful takes on their characters. Haneling gives Len a world-weary air and he uses subtle gestures and expressions to build a palpable sense of confusion and mystery. He's clearly a very talented guy and definitely one to watch in the future. Masters is also excellent, she's a delightfully creepy and enigmatic onscreen presence. In a role in which there is barely a line of dialogue her physical acting becomes key. She doesn't just understand this, she nails it. This is very impressive work indeed.
Elsewhere we get some more great work from Nelson in the All Hallow's Eve segment (which is handy as the bulk of this part of the film follows Nelson's Robert). He portrays the character as suitably haunted and is no slouch when it comes to terrified reaction shots, an area that is often decidedly iffy in other low-budget genre flicks.
Also I was very impressed with the likeable and charismatic Henderson in Re-Possessed. He could make for a good leading man in the years ahead and I hope he sticks with the horror genre. I also got a kick from Leatherman's villainous role. He doesn't overplay the creepiness but layers enough menace and oddness over the character to keep his Eddie fascinating. That the character actually has a pretty good motivation just adds that little bit more.
These certainly aren't the only good performances in the movie either — it's quite a rarity for a low budget horror flick to have a universally capable and competent cast but the team behind VFTG have managed to pull this off. Well done, gang!
Finally, as much as I've praised the look of the movie, it really would be remiss to overlook the incredible score. With kick ass music by Robin Hall, THIS is how you do a horror soundtrack. It's atmospheric, evocative and totally matches the eerie mood of the movie. Fantastic.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Well, as much as I praised the work that everybody behind Voices From The Grave did with such a tiny budget, it does still feel a little cheap at times. There are a couple of dodgy moments and it really does feel like a couple of the less convincing effects moments might have been better off excluded. I think it's impressive that so much was done with so little, but if you're used to Michael Bay-esque mega production values you may want to readjust your expectations a little here.

Equally, as awesome as the soundtrack to the movie is, the sound mix leaves a little to be desired at times with some decidedly fuzzy dialogue. Luckily it doesn't hinder the viewer's ability to keep up with the events of the movie, so there's no serious detriment done here.
Finally, I know that I praised the familiar storylines in the movie earlier, but it does come with a hefty downside — there isn't much in the way of surprises here. Each of these stories is pretty predictable (albeit some more so than others) and while I enjoy sitting down with a well-worn, familiar comfortable horror scenario, some of you may find these old-fashioned ghost stories a little unoriginal. I'd argue that these are old stories retold well, but some people may be a little less forgiving. 

THE VERDICT: I loved the old-school, creepy anthology feel that Voices From The Grave delivers. Stoudt and Holloway are clearly fans of the genre and layer their movie with references to classic genre flicks and tonnes of spooky atmosphere. Yes, it's a low budget effort, but it's a fun one and offers more than enough to keep the audience entertained. With some superb storytelling, a strong and reliable cast and a great little gem of a tale from Gary Brandner, this is an easy recommendation for fans of old-fashioned horror who may have grown a little disillusioned with torture p0rn and MTV style quick-cut flashiness. 

Sound like your idea of a good time? Check out the movie's official Facebook page. Give it a like too, these guys deserve some appreciation! You can also buy the dvd at Voices From The Grave's official web site here.

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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