Rachel (Cherish Lee) is an attractive young woman who works nights as an exotic dancer at a strip club somewhere in the bowels of a big, nameless city. She leaves work and calls her boyfriend, Liam (Benjamin Pitts), to let him know she's on her way home and they squabble a little bit. It seems he's heading off to his internship for medical school soon and wants to spend some quality time with her before he leaves. Unfortunately, she's working too much, claiming that his school is going to bury them in debt and that she has no choice. After she gets off the phone, she's suddenly struck by a cab. A strange man tells her to stay in the light, and she wakes up in a bizarre hospital.
After seeing the cab driver who struck her wheeled in on a stretcher, Rachel meets one of the nurses (Alice Ensor) and shortly after spots a massive, hulking, hooded creature (Adam Fortrin) killing the cabbie with a scythe. She flips out but the nurse assures her that she hasn't seen anything, that it's all in her head. Soon, Rachel meets Dr. Brown (Brent Fidler) who introduces her to a few of the other patients in this strange hospital where she's been confined – each of them may or may not have had a near death experience similar to her own. When the hooded figure begins to reappear, Rachel soon figures that it's the grim reaper out to get her, to take back the soul he feels is rightfully his – it seems she should have died and it was only because of the outside interference that she survived.
Meanwhile, Liam is running around trying to find Rachel. He starts at the bar where she works and wants to talk to Bubba (J. D. Head), Rachel's boss, but he's not there. With Rachel's whereabouts unknown and her cell phone going to voice mail all the time, Liam is starting to get seriously concerned and so he sets out to solve the mystery of what happened to her before it's too late.
Grim Reaper starts off so puzzlingly that it takes a good fifteen to twenty minutes to figure out just what exactly is going on in the movie. While sometimes it's effective to keep the audience guessing (this is certainly a tried and true method when it comes to creating suspense) here the filmmakers just confuse us, denying us much of a pay off. Quite honestly, it's a chore to sit through this opening third of the film and once we pass that mark and the film starts making a little more sense, it's even more of a chore to actually care. While some interesting symbolism is worked into the movie here and there (Rachel dances in a white 'sexy angel' outfit in an underground club that may or may not represent Hell), any mood that is created is quickly shot to pieces by some uniformly bad acting all the way across the board (to Cherish Lee's credit, she does have moments where she shines but the dialogue is painfully bad, and as such it's hard to buy her character).
Adding insult to injury is the Grim Reaper character himself. You'd think that, seeing as he's the living embodiment of death itself, he would be scary. Instead, he kind of shambles around making low end, guttural noises and pops up to knock someone off with his scythe now and then – the problem is, he's so slow and so lumbering that you can't imagine anyone under the age of seventy years having any difficulty getting away from him. The Grim Reaper in this movie is about as frightening as The Grim Reaper in The Family Guy, and almost as obnoxious. Unfortunately, he's not nearly as funny.
Grim Reaper does have some nice cinematography and it plays around with a few interesting ideas. The director might have been influenced by Jacob's Ladder or even Jean Rollin's Night Of The Hunted as the three films share the same kind of 'weird hospital' setting and play with the central characters conceptions quite a bit. Sadly it doesn't capture the atmosphere or satisfactory conclusions that those two far more interesting pictures had working in their favor. Instead, the ending here feels tacked on and forced, and it makes a bad film even worse.
Grim Reaper comes to DVD in a nice 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with nice color reproduction and fairly consistent black levels. There is some shimmering and some ringing in a few scenes but for the most part things look pretty good here. Flesh tones look lifelike and natural and color reproduction is quite strong. Some of the fine detail does go missing in the darker scenes, of which there are a few, but this isn't all the time, it's just occasional. Compression artifacts and edge enhancement are kept to a minimum, and overall this transfer does fine with the material at hand.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround track on this DVD isn't bad, but when the lower end kicks in it does sort of bottom out a bit in that you'll hear some reverb every time the Grim Reaper strikes. It's a rather odd sound effect, one that doesn't do the movie any good. Aside from that, the score is fine and the levels are properly balanced. The dialogue is clean and clear and easy enough to follow. An English language closed captioning option is provided as are optional subtitles in both English and Spanish.
Aside from a static menu and a chapter selection menu, the only supplements that Lion's Gate have slapped onto this turkey is a collection of trailers for other genre releases available on DVD.
While the DVD from Lion's Gate looks and sounds decent enough, the lack of extras doesn't help an already wretched feature presentation at all. Grim Reaper is a disjointed mess of a film plagued by mediocre acting, bad writing, and very pedestrian direction. A couple of mediocre kill scenes attempt to provide some entertainment value, but they can't save this one. Skip it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.