2/7/12

Graveyard Disturbance (1986): Lamburto Bava Cracks a High Life with the Low Dead

I was a teenager once. I did lots of stupid things. However, if you base what teens like to do on what their movie counterparts take part in, then its logical to think that there's a point in every one's life where hanging out in a graveyard sounds like an incredible idea. There are so many films that start out with that premise, but I don't think even in an adolescent state any amount of booze, loose women, or desire to prove myself non-chicken would get me to hang out in a cemetery all night. I'm not saying I would expect anything to happen, but there's no reason to tempt fate. Almost as scary as a night in a graveyard is the idea of horror on television. While there have been a number of successes like Masters of Horror and American Horror Story, often horror feels de-fanged on the tube like the series Fear Itself. So when I heard that today's cemetery themed film by Lamburto Bava had been made for an Italian TV series called "Brivido giallo" (literally translated as "Thrilling Yellow"), I wasn't sure what to expect. What I got was a mixture of Bava's Demons, Scooby Doo, and, sadly, much of the reserve you would expect from a television terror.


Are you sure Lonely Planet said this place was great?
Robin (Gregory Lech Thaddeus), Mikki (Beatrice Ring), her brother David (Karl Zinny), brainy Tina (Lea Martino) and driver Johnny (Gianmarco Tognazzi) stage a daring daylight robbery of a store where they steal a few candy bars. Taking off across the city, they run through a police roadblock and disappear into a heavy fog as they escape into the countryside. After getting their van stuck in a river, the kids decide to hike to the nearest town. On their way, they find a rundown church and begin to explore the grounds discovering a tavern built into the side of the ruins (complete with entirely incongruous "Miller High Life" hanging outside). Once inside, the kids are threatened by a glowing eyed bartender (Lino Salemme) with terrifying tales of a cursed crypt under the church. If the gang is brave enough to stay inside for a night, they could win a barrel full of gold and treasures. David takes the barkeep up on the bet, and the others soon join him. Dodging a number of traps, spiders, zombies, vampires, and possibly a werewolf, the gang of petty thieves will even face Death itself before the night is over.

Every so often a car comes along and sets a personal goal
for my life, this is such a car. 
Lamburto Bava has never been able to exist outside of the giant shadow of his father Mario. It's nearly impossible to watch a Lamburto film without thinking about what his dear old Dad would have done or not done with the same material. In the case of Graveyard Disturbance (Original title: Una notte al cimitero [Eng.- A Night in the Cemetery]), there's definitely a bit of both happening. Working with cinematographer Gianlorenzo Battaglia, who Lamburto has already collaborated with four times since 1984's Blade in the Dark, Bava created a visual tone that carried the film a long way past the sketchy premise and stabs at humor. With liberal use of fog and colored gels, the the director gives the sets the maze-like quality they need to carry the film's premise. However, he undercut much of what he was doing with stupid jokes (a male zombie waking up a female zombie by grabbing her boob and getting slapped for his trouble) or visual asides that don't get anywhere (a demon family eating dinner including a youngster in a KISS shirt). Bava also riffs on the garbage compactor scene from Star Wars, fills Graveyard Disturbance with wall to wall glowing eyes, and teases a werewolf but sadly never pays it off. I do have to tip my hat to whoever found or painted the kid's van. With images of Madonna, Argento's Inferno, and much more, it's just incredible.

Seriously, no one mention the puffy shirt. I'm sure he's
heard it before. 
There's not an incredible lot to say about the acting on display in Graveyard Disturbance. If you ever wonder what the Scooby gang would be like if they were populated by a group of Italian hooligans, then this is your chance. Gregory Lech Thaddeus made his one and only film appearance as the heroic looking (and he'd be the first to tell you) Robin. My favorite moment of his performance, when he does push-ups shirtless in a graveyard then has a hissyfit about a missing statue which the classy fellow had written his name upon. When this is the macho leading man, then you know your group is in trouble. Gianmarco Tognazzi provides some of the films funnier moment, and he is still a working actor today. Karl Zinny, who appeared in Demons as Ken, is the best actor among the cast, and his wild eyed performance kept me in the film when it went off the rails. Beatrice Ring looks awful lovely as Micky, but, as with Lea Marino's Tina, she is saddled with a hilariously bad dubbing job. Ring's Micky sounds more like Minnie Mouse by way of a Valley Girl. Tina's voice is not nearly as bad, but Marino's performance was noticeably broad.

The Champagne of Beers, now available in taverns
located atop deconsecrated burial grounds near you!
Now it's going to get a little spoilery here at the end because otherwise it would be hard to talk about where this film really falters. So, fair warning. Graveyard Disturbance really has some things going for it. Some of the jokes work, and the way it swings between horror and comedy often works jarringly well. The creature makeup is enjoyable to look at, and the film's incongruities, such as the tavern's "High Life" sign, give a particular flavor to the proceedings. However, there's no real danger. None at all. While a couple of people take some nasty falls, no one gets hurt, dies, is dismembered, dissolved, or disemboweled. Once I realized that the film was going to be bloodless, I held out hope for a "we're already dead" switch. Which I got. That is until they stabbed the Grim Reaper, escaped from the catacombs, and were promptly arrested for their candy bar crime spree. The ending of this film would have incurred my wrath for being a terrible lame piece of crap, but I've recently seen The Devil Inside so I'm inclined to let it slide this time. What I can't let go is the lack of danger in Graveyard Disturbance. If a horror film lacks the element of danger, then I'm not sure what you're left with unless you go full on comedy which did not seem to be Bava's intention. So the most disturbing thing about this graveyard might be that no one ever moves in. 

Bugg Rating


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