Shallow Grave (1987)

Shallow Grave 1987

Shallow Grave is an 80’s slasher that I have seen very few recommendations for, however, it’s not what I expected in the slightest. I would be quite excited to share my experience of this flick so let’s just get into it.

During the 80’s it took some time for the slasher genre to deviate from the Friday 13th/Halloween mould that was selling so successfully and, whilst there were a number of notable exceptions, it was rare for a cheap slasher to take that risk. Shallow Grave does that and I would suggest this is refreshingly fun obscurity.

Opening with Porky’s in reverse, four female hellraisers are punished for some japery in a strict Catholic School. However, determined not to let this punishment get in the way of some summer recess  fun, the four bounce into an open-top car and head for the beach. On their way, a setback leaves them in the middle of nowhere and witness to a murder in the woods. Things go from bad to worse as the four take turns in meeting their maker with a couple of horny boys joining their fate as a killer butchers them… slowly!

Shallow Grave opens as so many do with the raunchy teenage shenanigans and the flesh tones that one might extra from an 80’s slasher, however, the movie slowly turns into a more sophisticated thriller. Once we meet the instigator of the killings things turn into a bleak and somewhat twisted tale that really is punching above its weight, and whilst some punches don’t land, most do!

Things could have been tightened up by the editor  into a very slick package, however, some scenes and shots meander a little too long. Some of the performances might lack the talent required for the ambitious nature of the events that push the film forward, however, those moments add to the charm and act as a reminder that this as a whole is better than several of the tent pole slasher franchise sequels that were pulling in the money at the cinema whilst Shallow Grave getting ignored.

Looking through the cast, there isn’t much to note and whilst you might think you recognise someone from something else, it probably isn’t them. In saying that, the cast is absolutely game for the change in tone and manages the transition the film goes through with ease. The girls have some quality chemistry on screen and gel together nicely. The pacing keeps the audience just ahead of the cast with some nice moments of realisation. If I was to make one criticism, it would be the ending feeling a little premature, primarily because I was fully invested in the plot and having enough fun I didn’t want it to end where it did.

Tony March played the sheriff in the backwater town and I’m utterly surprised he did not go on to much else given his performance here, his role requires a balance of intensity alongside some self served fear and he handles it all quite nicely. Lisa Stahl is our heroine and whilst a little rough around the edges in this early career performance she gives a mostly believable turn, occupying the iconic scream queen role well looking equally gorgeous and traumatised as the film requires. Tom Law played the deputy, one of two credits in movies that are not of the male focused adult nature, however, this might be a case of the same name, different performer. Law is pretty good, occupying the role of a young impressionable officer who is slowly putting things together.

This paragraph is a little spoilery, so skip it if you don’t want to know stuff. The change in tone arrives when we find out who the killer is and we spend a little more time with his savagery. March’s psychotic sheriff displays the tiniest amount of regret and fear as we take the time to watch him clear the lodgings of a victim, wondering if he is regretting the events, missing his mistress or just covering his tracks. His unspoken battle with the demons that empower him to murder are left unaddressed and for the viewer to decide upon. 

It’s difficult to say if it was George Edward Fernandez screenplay or Richard Styles approach that steps away from being an out and out slasher and pushes into Hitchcock territory. All involved deserve more credit than they got for Shallow Grave as it’s a solid winner that benefits from its cheap feel and it is honestly a pretty unexpected success.

The majority of the art for Shallow Grave was from the VHS covers, aside from some new art for the Blu Ray. It’s all very typical for the genre and there is little to distinguish it given this isn’t really a slasher film.

Shallow Grave is out on Blu Ray from those wonderful folks at Vinegar Syndrome with commentaries, interviews and all sorts of other goodies.

For a native UK release you might be able to track down an import as I’m not convinced we got a release outside of VHS in the 80’s.


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