In the subgenre of the found footage horror film there is the great (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST), the good (BLAIR WITCH PROJECT), and the not so good (virtually everything else). As always, it’s that last category that far outweighs the other two to the point where the hardened veteran fan of this sort of thing is probably going to roll their eyes at the prospect of yet another one.
But if you like found footage horror then don’t give up just yet. Here’s a really rather good little low budget picture that does enough things right to warrant the discerning horror fan’s attention and appreciation.
GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is the title of one of those ghost hunter-type programmes that seem to make up about a third of the network programming of some of the smaller satellite channels. In the opening prologue the commissioning network’s producer explains that what we are about to see is edited down footage from the sixth episode in the series, all ‘exactly as it happened’ etc etc. So far so we’ve seen all of this sort of thing before. We then cut to the filming of the programme itself in an opening twenty minutes that quickly begins to deliciously reveal overly charismatic and falsely sincere star Lance Preston and his gang of ‘psychic investigators’ to be a bunch of cynics, has-been actors and ratings chasers.
Lance and his team are investigating one of those big old deserted mental hospitals where Terrible Things Were Done To The Patients by the head psychiatrist, Arthur Friedkin (yes I was groaning at that too, but only because we were only ten minutes or so in) back in the 1930s. Various colourful local characters are interviewed before the team is locked in for the night and strange things start to happen.
Thus far the film looks like it’s going to be HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (the remake) set in the Danvers State Asylum. What’s rather good about GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is that it does a very good job of preparing its characters, location and backstory so that while the scares are very subtle at the beginning, gradually increasing in their intensity and outrageousness, you’re with the (not especially likeable) cast all the way. Rather than going for intensely visceral shocks and scares from the outset the film concentrates on weird occurrences. Corridors end in blank concrete where there should be doors, something is wrong with the clocks, and when the sun doesn’t rise when it should the team break through the locked exit doors to find the world beyond isn’t what they were expecting at all. The ghosts and monsters do come eventually but it’s hefty doses of weirdness beforehand that makes their appearance all the more disturbing. The acting is splendid, with the main players getting their characterisations just the right side of insincere. The direction is understated until things need to get going and everything ends in an appropriately macabre way. GRAVE ENCOUNTERS definitely fits into the ‘good’ category of found footage horror movie and is yet another movie that deserves to be better known that it is.