Death Cat's Grave Intentions Delightfully Dread-Inducing

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Grave Intentions

It’s been said that anthologies are a tough creative sell to audiences. As movies they offer a quick-hit of variety that’s both the format’s most solid strength and its primary weakness, for while there may be several excellent proffered tales in any individual anthology film, there’s always (at least) one that a viewer may not find to their particular taste. Still, their premise, especially for horror cinema, holds potent storytelling allure. The descendent of the campfire fable of yore, inherited by the classic gothic- and pulp-era short story and sharpened to visceral perfection by EC Comics during the 1950’s, anthologies distill horror to its barest, essential elements: a grimly humorous host announcing a simple set-up, a twist, and (hopefully) a jolt of disquieting terror.

While it may seem television and its naturally constrained running times hijacked them after the popularity of The Twilight Zone, films such as The House That Dripped Blood, Creepshow, Tales from The Darkside: The Movie (and it’s urban-centric next-of-kin Tales from the Hood), Two Evil Eyes, Trick ‘r Treat and the V/H/S series have kept anthologies undead throughout the ‘70’s, ‘80’s, ‘90’s and deep into the new millennium. Now Death Cat Entertainment brings a new entry to the fore with Grave Intentions, a delightfully dread-inducing compilation that provokes thought along with its chills.

The movie’s wraparound segment features New-Age store owner ‘Magical’ Madam Josephine (Joy Vandervort-Cobb), a knowledgeable yet friendly voodoo practitioner who takes pride in teaching about assorted, often misunderstood, occult rituals before introducing each of the five short films. The initial offering unfortunately begins the movie on a weak note with ‘The Bridge Partner’, an unsatisfying yarn that follows weak-spirited middle-aged Mattie (Beth Grant) as she tumbles into possible madness upon meeting the nominal card player (Sharon Lawrence) whom she believes threatened her life after a lost match. There’s more substantial meat on the bones of ‘The Disappearance of Willie Bingham’, an Australian-lensed feature that portrays a tale of crime and very unusual punishment in a future society where convicted prisoners are subjected to periodic, publicized amputations as a lawbreaking deterrent. The following segment, ‘Violent Florence’, is a bloody and shocking depiction of an unstable young homeless woman (Charly Thorn) whose battle with a black cat grows more disturbing each minute it runs and paints a brutally intense portrait of mental illness that boils with upsetting imagery. ‘The Son, The Father’ gives a counter-punch in the form of a twisted family joke that goes horribly awry and ends with an unsettling, if predictable, role reversal between the two title characters. Yet it’s the final segment, the Philippine production ‘Marian’, that lends Grave Intentions lasting heft. A distressing chronicle of abuse and torment, it centers on young orphan Marian (Johanah Basanta), her sadistic, drug-addled aunt (Astarte Abraham), and a grisly ghost that may be her dead mother and involves scenes that will deeply perturb those who consider children off-limits to on-screen violence.

As with any accomplished anthology, diversity is the key element, and the foundation of Grave Intentions is bolstered by an impressive assortment of tones and directorial styles. Each auteur enthusiastically brings their own personal approach; Gabriel Olson (‘The Bridge Partner’) and actor-director Lukas Hassel (‘The Son, The Father’) utilize the backdrop of modern family suburbia as an effective disparity to heighten the horror when it arrives, while Jaime Snyder's ‘Violent Florence’ is a showcase of off-kilter, slapdash visuals that perfectly depict the protagonist’s fractured frame of mind. For sheer moodiness, however, special credit must be handed to directors Matthew Richards (‘The Disappearance of Willie Bingham’), and Brian Patrick Lim (‘Marian’), whose ominous aesthetic choices create cold claustrophobic celluloid dungeons from which the viewer cannot easily escape.

As the wraparound segment suggests, intent, in both life and magical workings, is of utmost importance, an energy unto itself. Films, too, possess intent, and the theme resonates with every individual story, leaving an audience to ponder: What is the filmmakers’ intent? To astonish and alarm? To frighten or elicit sympathy? Or is it simply to entertain? In the end, the answer is most likely All Of The Above, and Grave Intentions pleasantly turns out to be one anthology that does a thorough job of filling the shoes of its cinematic forbearers. It's for that reason that I give it a hardy 4 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale. Highly recommended for Halloween viewing this year.

Grade: 
4.0 / 5.0