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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

The Graveyard (aka Persecution) Don Chaffey 1974

Don't Die Over Spilt Milk

If you're a regular reader of this site (and I know who you are... both of you...), you probably already know that I have two particularly strong fascinations that have interrupted my development as an emotionally mature individual and contributing member of society: desperately dignified post-prime actresses, and kitty cats. Like the baddest of medicines, these two fetishes - though fairly innocuous when treated separately - can become incredibly volatile when combined, particularly when the kitty involved is an evil, murdering Persian named Sheba and the matron has had the late-career swandive trajectory of the great Lana Turner. Both Sheba and Miss Turner are allowed their moment to shine in this dreary and rather sadistic neo-gothic melodrama. And further, in one of the greatest humiliations in screen history (for the cat, that is - I don't know if Lana minded), both are unceremoniously drowned in bowls of milk.

I'll be honest and say right up front that The Graveyard is best viewed with the middle 80 minutes snipped out. For maximum viewing pleasure, watch the pre-credits sequence up until the titles begin, and then pick up again at the last 10 minutes (which easily rate among the most bizarre I've ever seen). These two scenes are nearly exact parallels of one another, occurring 20 years apart in the same room and detailing the same situation, and watching them back-to-back is enormously rewarding. The stuff that comes in between is amusing camp at best (there are a few nasty moments, like Lana getting shoved down the stairs by her face) and dreadfully boring at worst (a single shot of a man entering the lion house of the zoo is intercut with a shot of a pacing lioness and literally makes the entrance last 45 seconds). The look is dreary, grey English countryside from start to finish, which is about as exciting to watch as an entire season of To the Manor Born, and the actors are so uniformly unattractive that the appearances of several plain-at-best women (David's pluckish - and ill-fated - wife, and his yawningly seductive - and ill-fated - French nurse/hooker) are far more exciting than they have any right to be.

The basic premise is this: David (played as an adult by Ralph Bates of the dreadful Judd Hirsch sitcom Dear John), having killed his mother's cat as a child in fury over a lack of affection from his mother, is then subjected to 20 years of psychological browbeating from the psychotic matron, who herself holds a dark secret about the boy's origins and the whereabouts of his father. Among other decidedly un-motherly deeds, the bitch gives the little boy the cat's corpse in a tiny coffin as a gift for Christmas and makes him bury it, and afterwards immediately buys another identical cat (giving it the same name) in order to guilt-trip the child into an early grave (a hilarious pan of the family graveyard of the title shows that she has indeed kept cats named Sheba constantly since the death of the first - this woman knows how to hold a grudge!). When David gets older, marries, and has a child, dear old Mom goes so far as to have her wicked pussy suffocate the baby in its crib (!!!) and trip the charming wife down the stairs to her death, already having hired a hooker posing as a maid to break up the happy couple (and no, I'm not just insulting the actress by saying that - she really is a hooker hired to break them up).

Needless to say, this is not the kind of lady that takes it lightly when you forget Mother's Day; she's the kind who will hire a pygmy bush assassin to hide under your bed and slice your Achilles tendon with a rusty razor, leaving you paralyzed and with a jaw-crunching case of tetanus. Blanched and puffy, Turner looks like a poached chicken breast wrapped in eveningwear, and alternates between wandering aimlessly through acid-laced dialogue (sample: "You know I can't stand babies. They're so… helpless") and delivering painfully forced community-theatre-caliber monologues that she obviously made up on the spot and bullied the director into including. How Turner fell from Hollywood royalty to being forced to meow and drowned in Parmalat by a skinny British man is utterly beyond my understanding (her slide would continue even further to Falcon Crest), but anyone with a thing for desperate, faded starlets will eat this up with a fucking spoon (or, dare I say, lap it out of a bowl).

That's not to say that her son is any better off, mind you -- in fact, besides his somehwhat understandable anger over his mother's killing his wife and baby, he really needs to lighten up a bit. The emotional crux of the film seems to be that he was furious with his mother for throwing out a tacky ashtray that he made her for Christmas as a child. Correct me if I'm wrong, but his mother doesn't even smoke. David, pick your battles a little more carefully, okay?

In truth, this is less a horror film than another of Lana's "women's pictures", only in this one the woman gets her due from the people that she has messed with over the years (imagine a Far From Heaven where Julianne Moore gets tossed onto the train tracks by her bridge club). But combining the gothic elements really just makes it too much to be taken seriously, and it tips into camp territory before you can gasp Die, Mommie, Die. Still, for the opening and closing it is more than worth taking a look, and on the whole it makes up for its incomprehensibilty (if you can tell me what the hell the secret is, I'll give you a dollar) with its gleeful nastiness.

It's ironic that I saw this film for the first time on the weekend that the mega-budget shitfest Catwoman sprayed its way across theatres (from what I hear, Halle Berry's character is brought back from the dead as a hooker by an Egyptian cat, and laps up bowls of milk and beats the hell out of a blonde senior citizen). One could only imagine how The Graveyard might have been used to improve on Catwoman's shortcomings (Sharon Stone with a walking stick? Halle Berry drowned in a saucer?) had the filmmakers done a little cat film research. Note that director Don Chaffey would go on to an extremely successful career in television (including my favorite show of all time, Hunter) and the freaky Valerie-Bertinelli-robot-dog flick C.H.O.M.P.S..

Rating (out of 5):