Grave Mistakes Movie Review
Written by Robert Gold
Written and Directed by Chris LaMartina
2008, Region 0 (NTSC), 85 minutes, Not rated
A grave robber looking to sell his latest items pays a visit to a local shopkeeper, who in turn offers a set of curious objects in trade. The items each come with a history, and before you can say Friday the 13th - The Series, the anthology of shorts is on parade. Grave Mistakes offers a variety of tales featuring ghosts and ghouls, vampires, the undead and more.
The first story "Dead Men Do Tell Tales" introduces a writer (Mark Kilbane) suffering from writer's block. His agent sends him to a seminar that in turn leads him to a graveyard searching for epitaphs. The brisk pace is welcome and the acting competent, although undermined by some editing decisions.
Next up in "I'll Sleep When I'm Undead" we visit a sleep clinic where AJ Hyde and Mike Baldwin (both returning from LaMartina's previous film, Book of Lore) must face vampires. The tone is light and, again, the material moves quickly, but the story seems unfinished.
The third entry, "A Picture is Worth a Thousand Screams" delves into the world of spirit photography. When young journalists steal a photo, they find themselves haunted by local legends.
Lastly, a family squabbles over the estate of their eldest sibling who has made a deal with a demon in "Last Kill and Testament". This episode features Baltimore film legend George Stover as a priest.
The stories successfully invoke the tone of classic EC comics mixed with a healthy dash of TV's Tales from the Darkside. Never taking the material too seriously, the actors are solid in the four short tales. Ryan Thomas is especially effective as the grave robber in the connecting segments.
The highlight of the film — any film, really — is the always-welcome George Stover (a veteran actor of both John Waters and Don Dohler). Stover brings a certain charm to the screen and is perfect in his role. It is always nice to see this great actor, enjoying the opportunity to add to his arsenal of film appearances.
Director Chris LaMartina (Dead Teenagers) returns with an all-new collection of tales to thrill audiences of no-budget horror. His love of the subgenre is apparent in all three of his features, yet each suffers from an under-developed script. This is a problem that many low-budget anthologies face, yet LaMartina is able to showcase his directing strengths and overshadow the shortcomings, allowing him to grow as a filmmaker. This latest film adds composer to his list of talents, as he is credited with scoring multiple segments.
The shorts in Dead Teenagers, LaMartina's first film, settled for simplistic presentation. A hypothetical example would be that of a woman hearing a noise in the bedroom. She investigates to find the sound coming from inside the closet, wherein she discovers… A WITCH! — complete with shocking "boo!" — and the story ends. The End. Simple, but not very effective. Book of Lore expanded the idea into a narrative structure, while inserting a few shorts disguised as anecdotes along the way. The film was a strong step forward, but suffered from problems of pacing and low-budget acting. With Grave Mistakes, LaMartina loosely connects a series of shorts that offer enough variety to satisfy most audiences. The problem this time comes from the large number of camera operators credited, namely in that not all of them have mastered the art of focus.
Shot-on-video horror films came into their own during the late 1980s and maintained a strong presence for the following decade. The low-budget limitations challenged the filmmaker to be more resourceful in the efforts to entertain. During that time CGI was out of reach, so the monsters were often puppets or other hand crafted effects. Chris LaMartina has captured the spirit of that era and his enthusiasm is infectious. Rather than subjecting audiences to introspective art pieces or excessively shoddy torture pictures, his films are all about the fun times of scary movies.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Video, audio and special features will not be reviewed, as this is a screener.
Chris LaMartina is indeed growing as a filmmaker. Once he gets to direct stronger scripts, there may not be a limit to what he is capable of accomplishing. Grave Mistakes may not be the best title in his filmography, but he is clearly having fun making the movies that he wants to see.