The Grand Horror Movie Review
Written by Milos Jovanovic
A Dead Lantern Pictures Production
Written and directed by MaT Fisher
2006, 86 minutes, Not rated
T.J. Roe as T.J.
Jeremy Cech as Jeremy
Steve Eaton as Steve
Rhyann Crooks as Rhyann
Robert Kister as Robert
Pam King as Pam
The dead have risen yet again, and the epicentre of apocalypse is this time somewhere in Nebraska. On the run from the undead hordes, T.J., Jeremy, Rhyann and Steve find shelter in an old movie theatre. But, the place they perceive as safe has secrets of its own — as the story goes, long time ago its owner massacred the employees working there, whose ghosts now supposedly haunt the building. That something is wrong becomes obvious once all four of them start seeing and hearing things, and their fears are exacerbated once they're joined by Pam, a teenage girl who claims something murdered her friend Robert while they were hiding in the theatre basement. It seems that the Grand Theatre urban legends aren't only legends, and all of a sudden zombies roaming outside become the least of all worries for our trapped heroes...
Watching independent shot-on-DV-with-shoestring-budget horror films is almost always an interesting experience. As you pop the DVD into your player, the initial reaction is one of horror — not because of the film's gruesome content, but rather due to the fact you're obliged to spend eighty-plus minutes watching something which initially looks so spectacularly inept. And not only that you have to watch it, you also have to review it. Yet, most of the time things improve past the fifteen minute mark, which I assume would be the usual acclimatization period for a seasoned horror fan to get used to shoddy acting and lacking production values. And by the end, you might be even glad you saw it. So once you're used to the whole exhilarating routine of disgust, acceptance and rejoicing, indie horror films might not be all that bad.
The Grand Horror, a firstborn offering from Dead Lantern Pictures, follows exactly the path described above. The way it starts, you sense yet another take at the "zombie mayhem" storyline which is so beaten by now, that a slab of horse meat looks downright lively in comparison. But, as it progresses, it twists, turns and worms itself into a coherent little chiller, ultimately making me classify it as "watchable"...and maybe a bit more.
Writer/director MaT Kisher uses the zombie apocalypse concept only as a plot hook, which is later intertwined with an urban legend. The mixing of those two aspects makes the film stick out positively, as it defies some of the genre conventions and becomes the film's strongest weapon. As I understand, film was shot completely on location at the real "Grand Theatre" in Nebraska, and the crew used its (dis)advantages to their favour; for the better part of the movie, actors spend time rummaging through narrow hallways and exploring ominous looking basement locations.
Which brings us to the actors. The film features four leads and two auxiliary characters, out of which best impressions were left by T.J. Roe and Jeremy Cech. Cech is the most-assured looking actor in the whole film, looking more experienced than he really is, and in some way physically resembling a rather young Lance Henriksen (always a bonus). Roe and Cech aside, the rest of the cast doesn't exactly shine — Rhyann Crooks has her moments, but Steve Eaton and Pam King look like the weakest of the bunch, especially King, who seems incapable of showing emotions when needed (her "breakdown" scene with Robert, the first of the cast to get offed, is supreme unintentional comedy). Credit also goes to the monster design — the ghouls in The Grand Horror look first rate, and are best described as a crossover between classic Dawn of the Dead zombies and Sadako-esque spectres from the J-horror cycle
Sadly, as it often happens with those grade Z productions, the idea and concept outshine the crew capabilities yet again. Fisher's direction is inept at best, and coupled with the choppy editing, which produces a fair amount of jarring cuts throughout the film, works massively against the overall film grade. Also present are sound issues — a lot of static and background noise and inaudible dialogues at times, especially when camera is shooting the action from a distance (I'm guessing there was no external mics used during the shooting), and poor camerawork. A lot of dialogue, if not all, was also ad-libbed, which sometimes works, but most of the time just grates (favourite bit : the "mop" conversation between T.J. and Steve).
Still, one must consider that this is Fisher's first ever stab at directing, and that the crew just lacks experience at any level. Browsing the web, you'll find a few interviews and pages which describe Dead Lantern's trials and tribulations of making this film, and it would be just too harsh to dog the film purely on the behalf of technical inability. After all, I have seen much more capably directed and slick-looking indies which in essence were just garbage, so Fisher and co. are doing something right. The Grand Horror is a good start, a step in right direction, and with this experience under their belt Dead Lantern might yet grow into a promising enterprise.
Audio, video and special features will not be graded as this is a screener.