The Hubrisween That Wasn’t: G

This one gave me more difficulty than I generally expect with a consonant that isn’t Q or X.

Original plan was to watch the Empire flick Ghost Town, but had no luck finding my copy in the stacks. Turned up another one I’d never heard of, The Grey Knight, which turns out to be a re-titling of The Killing Box, a fairly interesting Civil War tale concerning voodoo and undead soldiers… though not interesting enough to make it past the halfway point. I still haven’t watched this now-ancient copy of Graveyard Shift, mainly because I find Stephen King adaptations – particularly in that era – hit or miss with a very large percentage landing in the miss box.

So, back to another movie I watched when I was wasn’t writing about them:

Grave Robbers (1989)

Sorry, but I don’t need an “L” movie. Not yet, anyway.

Let’s start with our standard renegade priest (Agustin Bernal) trying to birth the Antichrist by magical (and not-so-magical) means and getting caught by his fellow priests and stretched on the rack. This guy was the Church Executioner and the local Archbishop decides to play the irony card by burying the offending executioner’s axe deep in his chest. But, as is the way with these movies starting in bygone days, this means the priest will curse the Archbishop, saying that one day someone will pull the axe from his chest and then he’ll birth the Antichrist using one of the Archbishop’s descendants. As one does.

Skip to the modern day of 1989, where the Archbishop’s grand-grand-whatever is now the Police Captain (still Fernando Almada, though), who has a beautiful daughter, Olivia (Edna Bolkan), which you just know is going to be significant later.

But never mind that, we’re going to spend the next half hour with a group of teenage hooligans (led by Ernesto Laguardia and Erika Buenfil, who seems to be somewhat psychic) who are trying to strike it rich by, you guessed it, grave robbing. Their psychic leads them to a grave that conceals an entrance to an old catacomb housing a very familiar rack and lots of corpses who were interred with lots of gold and jewelry.

There’s also a heavy slab inscribed with Latin that doubtless says DO NOT OPEN THIS YOU IDIOTS, but our hooligans do not speak Latin, so they open it, find a corpse with an ornate battleax in its chest, so let’s take the axe too, eh? Resulting in a massive storm, both in the catacomb and on the surface.

And, oh, yeah, the corpse of the Executioner getting up and making with the killing spree.

If the plot sounds creaky and a bit generic, well it is, but welcome to the larger body of horror movies in general. A lot of these are like comfort food to the horror fan – the satisfying taste of the familiar along with the hopeful anticipation of something exotic and original in the execution to justify its existence (and the time being spent watching it). Too often, that justification is not found – when it does, though, it is cherished.

Grave Robbers plays like an 80s slasher for most of its running time, but it’s also five years after the first Nightmare on Elm Street, so the Executioner has magical powers, most obviously when he uses a floating dagger and a wind machine to threaten a local priest and a totally outrageous and gory method used to retrieve the amulet necessary for the Antichrist ritual, a kill scene that should rank with Johnny Depp’s in the aforementioned Nightmare.

It makes you wonder why the Executioner even bothers with the Jason Voorhees stuff. but then it’s also cheaper to shoot stuff with an axe that’s had a face-shaped hole cut in its blade than a shot involving a fake human chest and lots of entrails.

As ever, it doesn’t pay to take too close a look at our comfort food. Just enjoy the tension and the gore.

I had originally watched this after a viewing of director Ruben Galindo Jr’s first movie, Cemetery of Terror, and its a big jump in quality and coherence (small wonder, it’s his fourth). Cemetery was fine, if a bit scattered and a little too dependent on things playing out in real time to pad its length, none of which is evident in Grave Robbers. The compression of time still feels a bit out of whack, because this all seems to be happening in the longest night in creation, but hey, horror movie. I do appreciate the very genuine local flavor Galindo injects into the stories. These flicks obviously and unapologetically take place in Mexico, in the cusp between rural and urban areas. That’s enough of a lure for this particular gringo, especially one who spent much of his youth in heavily Latino communities.

Other extraordinary things: Police Captains have extraordinary leeway in doing their jobs, as he decides his department needs an Uzi, so he gets one; Olivia has the longest bout of hysteria in movie history (though holy shit does she have reason). And, there’s that little oddity, that story hiccup  that sticks in my craw with movies like Night of the Lepus and I Drink Your Blood – at the final fadeout, our two lead grave robbers are safe, sound and in possession of the gold they stole, which kicked off the events of the movie that killed all their friends and at least six others. This is supposed to be a heartwarming ending.

Yeah, nobody ever said horror movies were fair, either.

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