Mike Mendez’s “The Gravedancers” was selected to be part of 2006’s After Dark Horrorfest. I missed it when it was in theaters, but finally caught it on DVD.
When I first heard about “The Gravedancers” at the Fangoria Weekend of Horror’s Mendez was talking a lot about early 80’s ghost stories, frequently name checking “Poltergeist” as an inspiration for this film. True to his word, “The Gravedancers” is an awesome throwback to the way ghost stories used to play out. It’s almost scary that it took so long for someone to get this genre right again.
Harris, Allison, and Kira gather for the funeral of an old friend. They end up later that evening at the cemetery and spend the night drinking, and reminiscing by their friends grave. Next to his grave they find a card with a seemingly life-affirming message on it, encouraging them to dance on graves in the cemetery. Everything seems fine, until a few days later, when Harris’ wife notices something spooky around the house. The spirits of the people whose grave they danced on aren’t taking things so well and they won’t rest until……
This was a great ghost movie, and it does something we haven’t seen in a ghost movie in years. It takes it’s time, it’s waits. Before you ever see a ghost in “The Gravedancers” you’ve already felt their presence. Pipes that rattle, cats that won’t go into the house, strange noises, music coming from an empty room. This stuff all still works when it’s done well, and it helps build up tension and suspense so that the first time you see one of the malevolent spirits in full-form it’s truly unexpected and very scary. Each ghost is a little something different: An insanely jealous female spirit, a old man who’s attacks mimic something out of “The Entity”, and a ghost that’s get a little too happy when playing with matches. Each of these spirits attack and haunt in their own way. The effects in the film are largely practical, and the ghost effects are accomplished with a mix of makeup and puppetry, and very effective. Nice to see that kind of thing. “The Gravedancers” does go a little off towards the end when Harris, Allison and Kira have holed up in the home of some paranormal investigators. Not that it gets bad, I towards the end the ghosts just went a little beyond what I felt the could really be capable of.
If Mendez may have been looking back to old-school films like “Poltergeist” for inspiration, but “The Gravedancers” manages to stand on it’s own as more than just an “80’s throwback”. I’d love to see a spooky sequel sometime with some more of his pet ghosts.