Monday, May 29, 2017

"Anything Is Possible in a Cemetery" - Graveyard Disturbance (1987)

Here at Senseless Cinema, if there is one subgenre of the horror film that is beloved it is the bigfoot film. If there is another, it is the spending-the-night-in-a-cemetery subgenre; see Death Screams and Cemetery of Terror for examples.

But even this beloved subgenre is mistakenly lambasted by some of your universe's less perceptive critics. For example, HumanoidOfFlesh, on IMDB, writes, "pretty lame....the mediocre, the acting is pretty bad and gore is nonexistent." Also on IMDB, Michael_Elliott writes, "in the end there's no real reason to watch this unless you have to see every horror film released in Italy." Woodyanders informs us that Lamberto Bava "hits his profoundly putrid nadir with this hideously botched would-be horror flick parody."

As always, the only way to dispel these atrocious indignities is to recount the excellent narrative elements of Lamberto Bava's Graveyard Disturbance (1987).

The opening images set the tone of the film, or one of the tones: aggressive, horrific heavy metal paintings on the side of a van, accompanied by a pleasant, middle of the road rock song. The van has a single occupant, a young man listening to said pleasant song, and it soon becomes clear he is the getaway driver as his friends are stealing chips and soda from a convenience store.

The young people grin broadly as they escape the convenience store owner. "Fantastic! It was out of this world! We gotta do it again!"

Clearly, the five twentysomethings--three boys and two girls--are not hardened criminals, which makes them charming.

In order to avoid a police roadblock, which they mistakenly think involves them, the ne'er-do-wells take a wrong turn and drive straight through a cemetery.

The road winds through a forest and the miscreants soon realize they are lost. In the fog, they see a horse-drawn funeral carriage approaching their van.

They are disturbed that there is no one at the reins of the carriage. "Like something out of an old vampire movie," one of the boys says.

A bell tolls. A wolf howls. The hooligans drive on through the foggy forest, but they find their path blocked by a river.

"Looks like something out of Apocalypse Now," one of the boys says incongruously. (I am not familiar with this "Apocalypse Now," but if it includes a scene wherein a van is blocked by a shallow stream, then the boy's comment is indeed appropriate.)

Another quips that it reminds him of his trip to the Mediterranean, on odd comment given the various Italian signs we have seen setting this adventure squarely in Italy, so not far from the Mediterranean.

The youths decide not to let a few centimeters of water stop them, so they simply drive the van through the river, easily traversing it.

They are surprised, however, when they reach a second creek, attempt to cross it, and get stranded in the middle.

"Rivers lead the ways to towns, villages, where you can usually find people," they reason. They take their sleeping bags and follow a clearly well trodden path along the side of the river.

Soon they hear a loud scream or growl, somewhat reminiscent of Godzilla's. They also find giant footprints in the sand.

Eventually, as the sun starts setting, the reprobates find a ruined house on a hill.

It takes them until the middle of the night to reach the structure, which resembles a crypt more than a house.

As would anyone in their situation, the malingerers climb into their sleeping bags and try to sleep. David, lying next to curly-haired Tina, says, "I have a hard time closing my eyes when I'm next to a girl like you."

She says either, "Romantic" or "Lunatic."

Unbeknownst to the group, they are being watched by a man with galoshes, a rain hat, and glowing red eyes.

Awaking in the middle of the night and seeing a light, all of the blackguards get up and investigate. They find that they have in fact been sleeping on top of a tavern with a neon Miller High Life sign.

When they enter the tavern, they find it foggy and dreamlike, but they do not act suspicious. They sit at a table, where they are waited on by Emmet "Doc" Brown, if he were played by Klaus Kinski and David Carradine at the same time.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the door opened," says one girl, "and in came a werewolf."

This stops all movement in the tavern, though there was very little movement previously.

"She was only kidding," says her friend, defending her. "Hey, you know the movie, American Werewolf in London?"

"We never go to the movies here," says one of the locals, an armless man with a pencil-thin mustache. "And there are some things you don't joke about."

It turns out the locals actually do joke about werewolves, but they don't joke about gambling, which they take very seriously. Doc Brown, more loquacious than expected, explains that there is a treasure housed in the tavern that will go to anyone who spends one full night in a desecrated underground crypt.

Needless to say, challenge accepted. Our gang of rapscallions formulates a plan in which David will go to the crypt, and then the others will meet him there. (It is not explained why this will be more successful than the entire group explicitly taking on the challenge, or even in fact why this can be labeled a "plan" at all.)

Doc Brown shows David the way to the catacombs, the path to which is conveniently lighted with candles.

In a clever nod to Doc Brown's last words in the first Back to the Future film, in response to David's question about using a lamp, the Klaus Kinski Doc Brown says, "You won't need it where you're going."

Eventually, at the halfway point of the film, the gang descends to the crypt, which is accessible through a series of manufactured iron ladders. "Do these steps ever end?" asks one of the boys, though there are no steps, only ladder rungs.

The crypt itself is a marvel of set design, well lighted and gothically designed.

The first supernatural occurrence begins when the scoundrels knock over a sarcophagus and some kind of bat mummy emerges.

Instead of attacking the kids, the creature stumbles through the crypt looking for something. They climb down to a lower level in the catacombs.

Humorously, it becomes clear that the creature is searching for a female bat mummy zombie. When he finds one, he starts groping her, and she slaps him.

Different creatures chase the scalawags through the surprisingly well-lit catacombs.

Robin, the blond boy who resembles a young Reb Brown, falls into a well and is menaced by a tiny eyeball creature, but the creature only grabs his boot. After retrieving the boot, Robin climbs to safety.

Next, the good-for-nothings stumble upon a monster feast, with various undead creatures sitting around a well laid table and sprinkling worms on their food.


When they see the kids, the monsters scatter in terror and return to their caskets.

Eventually, they find a ladder reaching upward. Their suspicions are not aroused by the strange glowing light that surrounds it, or by the skeletons nearby.

The rascals debate climbing to the surface vs. waiting another 20 minutes to win the bet. Despite the fact that nothing dangerous--or scarier than the displays of an average amusement park haunted house--has happened to them all night, they all decide to take the escape route and forego the treasure.

But when they climb back up to the surface, they find they haven't really gone anywhere. They are just I n another chamber of a crypt. "Anything is possible in a cemetery," Johnny says. He mentions M.C. Escher and suggests that they have to go down to go up.

With this new strategy, plus Mickie's heretofore unmentioned capacity for ESP, the wastrels head back in the direction they came. This leads to further wandering in cobweb-shrouded, brightly lit underground corridors until they find another ladder. This one leads to the first chamber in which they found themselves.

"The only thing you can't get out of," says Mickie, "is death."

At this pronouncement, the film cuts to the forest in the daytime. Two policemen are searching for something. They find it: the wrecked van of our gang of rascals.

The film cuts back to the catacombs, where Mickie leads the others back down the ladder.

"Down there? You're mad," says Johnny, who only minutes ago had suggested going down to go up.

They eventually find a vertical shaft above them that leads to daylight. They try climbing the shaft, to no avail. Then they stumble upon yet another ladder, at the top of which Doc Brown says, "Come on up and get your prize!"

It is here that the film plays its most brilliant card. While the mischief-makers are plundering the treasure, 90% of which consists of pearl necklaces, Doc Brown pulls off his mask and reveals his true self.

He is a decaying corpse, most likely representing Death itself.

"I'm here to welcome you," he says, laughing. "Don't tell me you haven't figured this out yet." A scythe appears from nowhere.

"I get it. It's all a dream, huh? A dumb nightmare," says Johnny. "There is no other explanation."

"What if we're all dead?" asks Tina.

Death just laughs.

However, the film has even more twists in store. Death says, "I am the grim reaper," but Johnny stabs Death with a small dagger. This has the effect of killing death, so the kids run away.

Outside, police cars pull up to the wrecked van. The shopkeeper from whom the kids stole is with the police for unexplained reasons. He tells the police at this point that the kids took two bars of chocolate.

"Those poor, petty larcenous stupid kids," says the police captain.

They find the van mysteriously empty.

However, a few seconds later, the kids emerge from a cave.

In the final stinger, the kids are apprehended by the police for theft, arrested, and driven away in police cars to serve their time.

Parody is difficult, but in Graveyard Disturbance, Lamberto Bava proves himself a master. The fact that it is unclear what Bava is parodying makes the film even more masterful. At times the film clearly parodies Scooby-Doo, with the ne'er-do-wells displaying distinct personalities as they investigate the tunnels. At other times the film is parodying The Twilight Zone and ghost stories that rely on twists for their entertainment value. Near the beginning of the film, one of the characters theorizes that the group of hooligans is all dead, though the theory goes unremarked upon. In the end, the characters are revealed to be dead, but in a twist on a twist Death himself is easily killed and hence the kids are alive, though they are soon apprehended for petty theft. The twists and turns are delicious as Bava ridicules not only the audience's expectations, but, it might be said, the audience itself. For a horror film made for Italian television, Graveyard Disturbance truly explores the outer limits of metaphysical twists, which is what makes it such a masterful piece of cinema.