Monday, May 20, 2019

Snake Eyes

We don’t think of the early 2000s as being any major movement in the horror genre. Following the glossy late ‘90s trend of attractive WB Network stars posed in V-shapes, segueing into the post-millennium boom of J-horror’s American takeover, it was only a matter of time before horror tapped into a meaner, grislier bone (or used a rusty saw blade to grind it off). Torture porn moved mainstream horror cinema into a different direction, which helped to shape the straight-to-video fare like today’s Open Graves.

Filmed in 2006, dropped on the SyFy channel in 2009, and pooped out on DVD by Lionsgate another year later, Open Graves is one of those perfectly ridiculous movies that combines wonky CGI with hot young people in a gloriously terrible way.

Also, it’s basically Jumanji with an occasional boob.

Quick Plot: A pre-credits sequence piles on a messy montage of random torture during the Spanish Inquisition, where Mamba the witch is put to death with her body being turned into a board game (we could only wish to be so lucky). Note that the level of quick-cut violence and nudity collaged together is never really seen again the rest of the film’s running time, leading overthinking horror fans like me to wonder if this sequence was added in post to better fit the style of its time.

A couple of centuries later, a group of hot young twentysomethings are wandering the streets of Spain when Jason (Grind’s Mike Vogel, and sure, he’s done other movies that aren’t Grind, but more importantly, he did Grind) ends up in a mysterious antiques shop. The legless proprietor gives him a familiar looking board game free of charge, which is exactly how you want to spend your drunken nights on the Spanish coast.

Jason, hot and smart surfer Erica (Eliza Dushku, aka Faith the Vampire Slayer), ladies’ man Tomas, and Tomas’s hot girl calendar crew begin the game, which basically just involves rolling dice and reading sepia colored playing cards. The cards either let you roll again or knock you out of the game via ominous poetry. Naturally, said poems prove to be prophetic in early 21st century CGI-filled gore.

Eventually, Jason, Erica, and Tomas figure out that the game itself is haunted. Whoever makes it to the end may have the chance to undo the damage with a winning wish, but there are a lot of venomous snakes, advance age-stinging bees, man-eating crabs, and crazy obsessive Spanish detectives to deal with first. 

Directed by Alvaro de Arminan from a script by Roderick Taylor and Bruce Taylor, Open Graves is a goofy tale that takes itself extremely seriously, which is exactly what you want from a movie like this. Character development stops at “surfer,” “love triangle,” and “lives in a cool lighthouse.” The Spanish coast is a living postcard and everyone is attractive, at least until some outdated computer animation tears their body apart. This movie is no The Sand, but it scratches a similar itch.

High Points
Who can argue with the creativity of deaths on display? Crabbings, snakings, flayings, and intense advanced aging? I’ll take it

Low Points
I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s incredibly unsatisfying for everyone, including the evil deep demon voiced angel/demon apparition of Eliza Dushku who, I guess, has to go through this rather ridiculous process time and time again 

Lessons Learned
Crabs are honest creatures, which I guess makes CGI crabs some kind of hole in the universe?

Unlike their American male counterparts, female Spanish morticians trade sandwiches for shameless flirting

The English translation of “vae victis” is “losers weepers”

16th century Spanish priests had incredible foresight into the 20th century board game market, anticipating its American popularity and wisely printing its instructions and playing cards in English

Riddle Me This
I’ve seen Labyrinth enough times over the course of 30+ years that I can quote the entire screenplay backwards and forwards (it’s a great coping trick for surviving root canals) and yet I STILL do not understand the riddle of the two doors. Well, Open Graves, which focuses on some very dumb characters who prove to make constant dumb decisions throughout these 87 minutes, uses the SAME riddle and somehow, these pretty idiots nail it. Humbled, I am.

If you love a good dumb straight-to-DVD-when-that’s’-how-we-watched-dumb-horror-movies, you will indeed have a fun time with Open Graves. Not surprisingly, it’s streaming on Amazon Prime. Sometimes, this world is a balanced place after all.

No comments:

Post a Comment