Tuesday, March 27, 2018

In short: Grave Secrets: The Legacy of Hilltop Drive (1992)

Because it’s the 90s, this made-for-TV haunted house tale directed by John Patterson is supposedly based on a true story, though the damn Warrens were apparently – and fortunately – not involved. Some charming Southern family – Patty Duke as the matriarch and David Selby as the patriarch cursed with the somewhat eyebrow-raising first name of “Shag” – builds a new house in some charming Southern area where the land is surprisingly cheap. Alas, they are soon haunted by a truckload of supernatural phenomena, starting with the particular obsession of American TV movie ghosts, the ghostly flushing of toilets, but certainly moving into more interesting, gruesome, or weird directions, too. I turns out the piece of land they built on was once part of a graveyard for former slaves.

Alas, at about that point, the film starts losing steam quickly, developing an unfortunate interest in the pre-judicial proceedings between the family, their neighbours, and the (probably evil) real estate company that sold them the land. In fact, the film’s losing drive so quickly, even the ghost induced deadly heart attack of a daughter doesn’t get the dramatic emphasis it – as the actual climax of the story – should have. Grave Secrets suffers from what I can be now call “true ghost story syndrome”, so that is can’t really bring itself to end in a dramatically satisfying climax, because true ghost stories just never have that sort of thing. That it mostly wastes the opportunity to metaphorically examine white Southern guilt despite a set-up that basically screams for it is par for the course. But then, if a film can’t even milk ghost-induced cancer and heart attacks properly, asking for depth might be a bit much.

It is something of a shame, though, for some of the ghostly manifestations are genuinely creepy, strange, and even upsetting. There’s a pretty cool (and unpleasant) moment where the family’s birds are apparently killed by insects that works very well, later followed by a wonderfully strange bit where the (of course sceptical) Shag suddenly turns around and sees the bird cage and the birds looking alive and well at their old place, only to have them disappear again once he turns on the lights. I’m also fond of the moment where Patty Duke’s character witnesses their garage door first opening for a snake to slither through, and then politely closing behind the animal. Unfortunately, Grave Secrets seems more interested in the horror of ghosts costing families “their investment” than in the ghosts and what they might mean.

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