Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cemetery of Terror (1985) dir. Rubén Galindo Jr.

Logline: A medical psychiatrist’s demon-possessed patient is finally killed… until a bunch of partying teens read some incantations from an old book in a graveyard and bring him back to life (looking no worse for wear). On Halloween night, no less! Haven’t children learned never to play with dead things?

Cemetery of Terror is a breezy Mexican horror production, equal parts Halloween and Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, and about as fun as that combo sounds (read: quite). It’s sloppy, illogical, a bit confused, but never without a certain sense of the lighthearted spirit of these sort of things. This is a film that features periodic cutaways to identical shots of top-billed star Hugo Stiglitz driving a car while looking extremely concerned and/or drunk just to remind us that he is indeed in this one. It’s a film where one character has an intense struggle with a murderous floating axe, another squints and fails to see for a solid twenty seconds the attacker standing directly in front of him, and yet another curiously eyes a violently shaking door handle before deciding to ignore it. Refusing to accept Cemetery of Terror on its own terms will only leave you bound for disappointment.

The film’s most interesting aspect is its almost total tonal shift in the last 25 minutes. At about that point in the film our initial group of horny “jet set” teenagers have met their respective makers (in quick succession), and so what has been a fairly typical, though breakneck-paced supernatural slasher picture simply halts before veering down a different genre path: the children’s supernatural horror film. We switch our focus from the teens to a group of trick-or-treating children who also decide to make a spooky trip into the cemetery (of Terror). Because the film feels it unnecessary or inappropriate to put these young children in any serious danger, the cemetery starts spewing forth a gaggle of colorful, not-particularly-gruesome zombies to lumber after them, who every few minutes feebly grab a limb or two without serious repercussions (if this were an Italian film, these kids would be fucking dead). This modus operandi is in stark contrast to the gut-ripping attitude of the first half, so might be a turn-off for some (the closest thing to violence that happens here is a tree falling on Stiglitz, almost completely incapacitating him. Full disclosure: it can only be described, being most generous, as a medium-sized shrub. Fullest disclosure: my oatmeal nearly shot out of my nostrils when it happened). Nevertheless, I found this switch-up refreshing—it was interesting to see the children walking through the same house all the teens had been slaughtered in only to find it strangely antiseptic and nonthreatening. The body of one of the teens has been hung up on the wall like a sconce and the group of children fail to notice it as they walk past—it’s a moment that gives the impression that the movie’s two dominant narrative strands exist on entirely different wavelengths, unable to interact.

What else to say? It has a pleasant atmosphere, distinctly autumnal, and is geographically nondescript (is this supposed to be Mexico or the suburban Halloween-ized America it seems to aspire to? Why do these wispy-mustachioed Mexican cops have American flag patches on their uniforms?). I viewed it shortly after waking up in the morning and that hazy, half-conscious state felt like the right one to approach it with. The last note I wrote during my viewing of Cemetery of Terror was “this ending makes no g-d sense.” But, more importantly, the penultimate note reads, “good Halloween fun.” And that it is.

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