STUDIO: Lions Gate Entertainment
MSRP: $19.98
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes
Behind the scenes featurette with optional commentary
Deleted scenes with optional commentary
Feature length commentary by director Mike Mendez
Original theatrical trailer with optional commentary
Special effects featurette
Storyboard sequence

The Pitch

The dead hate the living, especially their terrible dancing.

The Humans

Dominic Purcell, Josie Maran, Clare Kramer, Marcus Thomas and Tchéky Karyo

The Nutshell

Sid, Harris and Kira are old college chums that have drifted apart since graduation. They meet again for the first time in years when one of their mutual friends kicks the bucket. A night of drunken revelry eventually leads to visiting their dead friend’s grave at the cemetery.

Once there, Sid discovers a mysterious envelope on a gravestone. No, it’s not a page from the Darkhold, it’s a poem that encourages the reader to celebrate life by dancing on the graves of the dead. In their inebriated state, the gang figures it’s a fun thing to do and they start doing the cabbage patch and tootsie roll throughout the cemetery.

It’s no fecal Jesus, but it’s still some pretty radical art.

Apparently the departed don’t like being served and take offense at this act. Ghosts begin haunting all three of the friends in retaliation for the insult. The group consults two parapsychology experts who inform them that the haunting will be over once the new moon rises. Unfortunately for the friends, no one who has ever been haunted like this ever survives that long.

The Lowdown

The Gravedancers is a fun movie. It’s also a pretty stupid movie. Whether or not you’ll get any enjoyment out of it depends on if you’re willing to just throw your hands in the air and go wherever the movie sees fit to take you. It’s a spook show with rubber masks, killer coffins and flaming footsteps. There’s also spectral molestation, defenestration and axe cleaving! It’s a crowd pleaser of a movie that will willingly throw narrative structure and character development out the window if it can just inspire the tiniest reaction from the viewing audience.

The Gravedancers is a manic depressive movie that shifts tone at the drop of a hat. One minute a character is getting raped and bitten by the ghost of a sadomasochistic judge and the next minute they’re joking about it. It doesn’t help that a romantic triangle subplot feels ham-fisted and forced into the movie. Listening to Mendez’s commentary makes it seem like this is exactly the case. The film never really has time to find its footing and get on the right track until the end when the only thing left to do is kill off characters and deliver the gore, which is where it truly shines.

Dominic is introduced to the magical world of online Prison Break slash fan fiction.

Among the people who saw it theatrically, the ending of the film has been a point of much contention. There’s no huge twist ending or big reveal, just a ghostly head chasing after the heroes and a man being dragged away by a gigantic hand. Some people find the ending to be too silly or insane for a film like this, but it’s pretty much par for the course with the way this movie works.

The entire movie steadily escalates over the duration and it was the director’s intention to take the madness to its absolute apex when the climax came. If you can’t get enjoyment out of seeing a rear projected rubber head chasing after two people as they speed off in a Hummer, then the joy of movies is lost on you. Who hasn’t secretly wished for a gigantic spectral hand to grab Dominic Purcell and pull him down into hell at least once or twice?

The Package

Mike Mendez is completely frank when it comes to his film. He doesn’t hesitate to call a special effect a piece of shit or tear into the studio executives who tried to force relationship drama into his film about ghosts. He’s very candid when it comes to discussing all the hoops he needed to jump through in order to get the very meager funding he received for the movie and his disappointment that it didn’t make more money in the end. Mendez talks about the potential movie trilogy he concocted around a certain character in this film, but is quite resigned to the fact that it will never materialize given this film’s box office take.

The final Lockhorns strip delivers big laughs.

His commentary isn’t just bitching and moaning about the film’s treatment though. He heaps plenty of praise upon everyone involved in the creation of the film and his love of the horror genre. He even defends the much derided ending of the film which many people find cheesy and overboard. According to Mendez, if he had a bigger budget he would have made an even more over the top ending.

In a rarely seen feature, director’s commentary is also available for the original theatrical trailer and the behind the scenes featurettes. The original trailer is particularly interesting because it was merely a three minute mock-up created before the movie was made in order to get investors interested. The lead in the trailer version of the film is played by David Moscow, also known as the little kid from Big. It’s hard to imagine just how different the final product would be if Moscow had starred instead of Dominic Purcell. According to Mendez, that’s just one of those decisions that was mandated by the money men.

The deleted scenes are generally nothing more but bland character development and tiny establishing shots. The only enjoyment one can gleam from them comes with Mendez’s commentary when he talks with utter disgust over how certain things turned out or were forced upon him. His commentary over the behind the scenes featurette is only of interest if you’d like to know about the experience of filming a horror movie in Greensboro, North Carolina. If you’re familiar with the area, you can even play the fun little game of trying to recognize shooting locations and wonder how the filmmakers escaped unscathed in some of the rougher parts of town.

Julian Beck likes ‘em stacked.

The storyboard sequence is your standard feature where the storyboards are screened at the same time as the finished footage and you get to compare the two. Since Mendez seems to have a sense of humor in regards to the critical reaction to the film’s ending, he naturally selects the floating head finale as the segment to feature here. The storyboarded floating head looks a little less ridiculous than the finished product, but it still looks like something straight out of a Splatterhouse game.

7.0 out of 10