Written by: Paul Matthews
Directed by: Paul Matthews
Starring: Emmanuel Xuereb, Jack Chancer, Kadamba Simmons
A lot of people have horror stories about their mom walking in on them badgering the witness. Y'know, roughing up the suspect, flogging the bishop, taking target practice with the pump-action yogurt cannon. Oh, good grief, do I really have to spell it out for you? I'm talking about masturbation. Subtlety just doesn't work with some people. Anyway, I thankfully managed to avoid that particular adolescent horror, but my mom did have a knack for walking in on things of a questionable nature in my youth: gore scenes. I wasn't allowed to rent R-rated movies until I was 12, and really the only thing that tipped the scales in my favor then was the release of Carnosaur. I can't remember if the original age I was told it would be was 13 or 16. Regardless, an exception was made because of my love of dinosaurs, and after a bit of research it was deduced that violent scenes of dinosaurs eating people was the reason for the R rating and my delicate eyes were safe from seeing any filthy, soul-withering boobies. That's not to say that, like every other young boy ever, I didn't just watch the things during sleepovers with friends possessed of more permissive parents than mine, but 12 was the age when, with a few restrictions still in place, I could stop sneaking around about watching monster movies produced after the 1960's.
Of course, nearly every time I sat down to watch one of these things, mom would walk by the TV room with a load of laundry or on the way to the office to do some bookwork and glance in at the screen, which would, with an inevitability usually reserved for things like death and taxes, be displaying one of the movie's foremost money shots. And of course, she would invariably shake her head and ask me why I wanted to watch such filth, say some classic parental phrase like, “Garbage in, garbage out”, and question whether she'd let me watch these things anymore. I can't remember how many times this happened, but it was rather a lot. Still, three particular instances stick out in my mind. One was actually dad instead of mom, and it wasn't even an R-rated movie. He popped in during the scene in Critters where the alien bounty hunter is taking on the visage of Ug the rock star, and just thought the reverse-melting skull was too weird. Of course, he and I have watched countless action movies together, featuring hundreds of violent deaths-by-gunfire, so I guess the only time violence is unacceptable is when it's completely unrealistic. Figure that one out. The other two are both classic mom examples, the first being Bruce Campbell chopping his possessed hand off with a chainsaw while screaming, “WHO'S LAUGHING NOW!?” (she wasn't convinced by my argument that it was meant to be funny, even though it's totally fucking hilarious), and the second comes from tonight's movie, even though it's actually one of the more bloodless deaths in the flick. One of the secondary characters gets caught by the monster, and it slams his head up against the rock wall of the cave and pushes until his skull collapses like an egg shell.
Fangoria magazine has (or maybe had, I don't know if they still do, haven't read it for a while) a coming-soon-to-video section, and I remember reading about this movie there. I was pretty excited when it finally came out. At the time (when you're 13, your standards are lower, although in my case they haven't been raised much since then) I remember digging the hell out of this flick. Has it withstood the test of time? Probably more than it would have had I not seen it during the formative years of my horror fandom. At least the monster is cool.
Character development? What's that? We're thrown right into the middle of a séance featuring what is undoubtedly the saddest-looking Ouija board in the history of film. One of the girls, Katie, has a brief spell of post-production video effect glowing eyes and pitch-shifted devil voice after the board mysteriously spells out G-R-I-M, and the other couple runs off while Katie's boyfriend makes a half-assed attempt to calm her down. Unknown to them, the séance has awakened something entombed in a pillar of stone hidden in a cave not far from their house. Or shed, or cabin, or wherever the hell this séance is supposed to be taking place.
Next we meet Rob and Penny, a couple of spelunkers, or mine inspectors, or engineers, or I don't know what. Like I said, character development, what's that? There has been a rash of disappearances and animal mutilations and strange subsidences in the earth around the small mining town in “Virginia” (the movie was filmed in Clearwell Caves and around Gloucestershire, England, and never looks like anything but), and they intend to head down into the caves and see if the things could possibly be related. I don't know about you, but if I was heading into an extensive cave system expecting to find something that could explain subsidence in otherwise stable ground, disappearances, and mutilations, I would be expecting to meet graboids and would be loaded for giant mutant bear and would be glad for the help that inexplicably shows up. I guess it makes sense that Katie and her boyfriend Steve would want to go. After all, by this time they have pieced together that her episodic possession is linked with whatever has been terrorizing the town and they want to go meet it face to face. But then Katie's sister shows up, and some other people who really don't matter because they're clearly just along to be monster bait, and you just shrug and say to yourself, “At least they're not shy about showing off the monster”.
And as I said before, it's a pretty nifty monster for such a low-budget flick. The credits say that Neill Gorton, the guy who has been building most of the practical monster effects for Doctor Who since its 2005 relaunch, was responsible for its creation, but IMDB omits his name from the movie's credits and the movie from his resume. I can't see any reason he'd want to keep it a secret these days. It's sort of like Rawhead Rex's slightly more human-looking cousin. And he carries a big-ass grim reaper scythe, because why not?
The rest of the flick is spent wandering around the caves, and the whole padding-the-film vibe and extremely well-lit caverns reminded me a lot of Alien 2: Sulla Terra. At one point, Steve pulls out this pentagram amulet with which he intends to...I don't know really. I don't think he does either. Either kill Grim or cure Katie of her possession, or maybe form an alliance with the monster? Hard to say. All it really succeeds in doing is getting himself possessed instead, but Grim is no kinder to his minions than he is to any of the other humans who wind up in his larder. Which is where we find the movie's only interesting performance, in a woman Grim kidnapped earlier in the flick and keeps chained in his abattoir. I assume he's just keeping his meat fresh, but you never know, he could go in for a little inter-species erotica from time to time. Being imprisoned by a man-eating troll and having to watch him butcher your boyfriend's carcass would definitely have some deleterious effects on your sanity, and she's as crazy as a shithouse rat by the time a couple of our...erm...heroes, I guess, wind up in a cage next to her. Where did Grim get a man-sized cage anyway? I doubt you can just find those things at Hardware Hank, and these caves are well-mapped, so if this lair is left over from the last time he was up and stomping, you'd think someone would have noticed a slaughterhouse full of big cages and human bones. I should know better than to ask questions like that about movies like these at this point, shouldn't I?
Eventually they lure Grim back to the stone pillar he escaped from at the beginning, and Katie lures him into a shaft of sunlight coming through the ceiling as dawn breaks and Grim is turned to stone once again, along with Katie, who sacrificed herself for everyone else. And that poor crazy woman is still chained up down in the basement.
It would have been nice to get a little more background on Steven and Katie. Were they holding the séance with the intention of getting in touch with Grim all along? Where did they get the amulet from? What do they want with the monster? And for that matter, what the hell is Grim and does he have any supernatural aims beyond eating the occasional Virginian? I could find almost nothing in the way of production information or behind the scenes stories (and the one story that is out there is the tragic death of actress Kadamba Simmons, who was strangled by her insane boyfriend – not exactly a topic for a breezy review of a dumb monster flick), but the consensus on the internet seems to be that this movie is just the worst thing ever. Whenever I see people saying that about a movie that is, at worst, mediocre, I can't help but think they're new to this game. Sure, the acting sucks and the plot is no more than is necessary to get the Expendable Meat into the caves (and really, it's barely even that), but you can't say the movie doesn't lack enthusiasm. The Grim suit is a solid piece of monster making, and Matthews must really have believed in this flick to go to the trouble of shooting almost the whole thing in a cave. That has to be a pain in the ass. It's never going to show up on any best-of lists, but hey, there are worse ways to spend your time than getting hammered and watching a troll chop up torsos with a meat cleaver.