Book Of Lore / Grave Mistakes:
I think I waited over a week to review this disc in order to avoid gushing like Roger Ebert or Stephen King. Fact is, writer/ director Chris LaMartina (Dead Teenagers) and co-writer/ producer Jimmy George really know what they're doing. Like: give these guys some real money knowing. Maybe studio interference would have a damaging effect on their work, but from where I sit these two are among the most promising low-budget horror filmmakers working today. Both features on this disc are a little goofy, too, so if you can't stand your horror with the ha-ha, be warned. But if you want to be in the hands of fellows who know the horror audience like the backs of their hands, this is the place to start.
Book Of Lore:
Rick (AJ Hyde) discovers his small-town girlfriend murdered in hideous manner, as things begin morbidly heating up. Murders seem to ape decades-old cases thought put to rest, and soon Rick and his friend are thinking a revenant's come back to finish his work. Of course no one much believes them, so they're forced to investigate on their own, using the newly discovered Book Of Lore, a scribbled tome that seems to predict the murders.
As there's nothing new under the horrific sun, it's nice to see the level of originality mustered by this script, one that lavishes tons of respectful love on some familiar ideas. LaMartina never tries pretending the viewer is unfamiliar with what he's selling, instead he lets us know we're walking down this road together, and he's going to be the best damn tour guide he can be. The basics are all here and done right; solid camera-work, editing and anything else that usually trips up other low-budget filmmakers. And even though none of the on-screen talent are what you'd call seasoned pros, their earnest performances lean towards fun rather than faulty.
A little gore and a little fear never hurt a horror movie, and again, LaMartina squeezes the most out of what he's got, creating some startling effects and atmosphere on the cheap. Where this movie really outshines others of its ilk is in its wit and wiles. This movie is so intelligent and well paced it's simply a pleasure to watch. Whenever things settle into a groove, some form of off-the-wall humor, (such as the town bully uttering "back off, Bob Ross," to an artistic type) or homage to another movie, or odd, subtle twist crops up to keep you on your toes. LaMartina's encyclopedic knowledge of and respect for the conventions of horror, plus his seemingly unerring ability to smoothly keep up the pace, make Book Of Lore a fantastic, frugal fear find.
Horror Anthologies make for easy viewing: they're easily sold, too, but like short horror fiction, they're not as easy to make as you might think. Grave Mistakes, however, looks like it was a whole lot of fun to make, maybe as much fun as it is to watch. You heard it right, this slight, sometimes silly low-budget horror anthology pretty much scratches all your short-form horror itches, even if it's a bit light on the sex and gore. But then sex and gore aren't the only things that low budget horror is all about, and considering that this full-length feature, (complete with Audio Commentary and a Making-Of Featurette) is included as a bonus feature with Book Of Lore, Grave Mistakes is a hard concoction to resist.
With a substantial wraparound segment, Mistakes represents five sturdy short horror tales, all of which are told with the same intelligence, style, wit and reverence as found in Book Of Lore. Mistakes gets the anthology formula right, from the punning titles on down: Dead Men Do Tell Tales, Sleep When You're Undead, A Picture's Worth A Thousand Screams, and (best of all) Last Kill And Testament. Again, these aren't the most original of tales - a nasty author with writer's block earns ironic comeuppance, a teen is tormented by vampires, more teens investigate spirit photography, and a demon attempts to be the executor of a will. The joy comes from how these stories are told, with the same gee-whiz brio from the actors and expansive love for the genre from the filmmakers. While each bit comes with substantial doses of camp - as in the most-fun examples of other horror anthologies - enough attention is paid to atmosphere to actually render fairly creepy such stories such as A Picture's Worth A Thousand Screams. The filmmakers take every chance to excel, going above and beyond on a tiny budget - the demon design from Last Kill And Testament being just one example of how to do things right.
You can't claim that these movies are going to scare the hell out of you, or wow you with gory effects, but a few short minutes watching LaMartina and George in action will convince you that these guys know exactly what they're doing, and they do it extremely well. Any horror fan will have a blast with Book Of Lore and Grave Mistakes.
Both features come in a 1.85:1 widescreen ratio, and they both look relatively decent. With two features and a few extras crammed onto one disc, compression is going to take a little toll, mostly in the form of minor posterizing and low levels of background detail. Since these are micro-budget pictures, one can assume that cameras used weren't high-end - at least the image doesn't look that way, at times seeming a little soft and grainy, while at other times sporting a video-crisp quality. Colors are generally decent, but black levels aren't terribly deep. Overall, it's not a DVD image that will wow you, but it's pretty good, considering.
Stereo Audio tracks are unremarkable but well executed; good balance between elements, no distortion or inability to discern dialog, appropriate volume levels, etc. As above, these tracks are mostly functional rather than fantastic, but fine nonetheless.
Displaying further knowledge of 'what the people want', LaMartina and George, in their Commentary Tracks for both features, are kind enough to, during the credits sequence, go so far as running down the type of camera equipment they used. It's this type of thoughtfulness that shows these guys really understand their audience. Both commentaries are quite entertaining, while delivering much information to those curious about independent filmmaking. An eight-minute Radio Interview/ Stills sequence is light but fun, as is a five-minute CineMaryland Segment about the filmmakers and Book Of Lore (think local morning infotainment show). Also included are plenty of Camp Motion Pictures Trailers, the Book Trailer and an easy to find Easter Egg.
Grave Mistakes (in addition to the Commentary Track) has a 12-minute Making-Of featurette, that follows suit with everything else here, it's smart and easygoing.
The low-budget genre filmmaking team of Chris LaMartina and Jimmy George know their stuff inside and out, and it really shows. The two features on this standard DVD aren't the scariest, goriest things you've seen - they're mostly for fun. That said, chills and laughs are provided aplenty. These smart, stylish features are so nicely paced, with so many subtle twists thrown in at all the right places, that they almost seem to read your mind. Fans of humble, low-budget horror will find these righteously fun features Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com