A profound fondness for grade-Z horror pics powers writer-director Elza Kephart’s “Graveyard Alive,” a take-no-prisoners genre parody rooted firmly in the playful tradition of Sam Raimi, George Romero and Canadian kitschmeister, Guy Maddin. Very cleverly made on a minuscule budget, terrific-looking pic (which deservedly received the Kodak Vision Award for best cinematography at Slamdance) should see a healthy life (and after-life?) as a cult and midnight movie, at festivals and in ancillary.
Pic’s subtitle, “A Zombie Nurse in Love,” pretty much tells it all. Drawing its inspiration both from the zombie movie and medical soap opera canons, pic relates the tongue-in-cheek story of a hospital nurse (Patsy Powers), who fantasizes about whisking away the handsome Dr. Dox (Karl Gerhardt) from his current flame (and Patsy’s arch-nemesis), Goodie Tueschuze (pronounced, of course, “two shoes”).
Then, a fortuitous bite from a zombie patient begins to turn Patsy’s dreams into reality. Suddenly, Patsy has voluptuous breasts and heart-stopping legs and can belt out a torch song like nobody’s business — all to Dr. Dox’s titillation and Goodie’s consternation.
In “Graveyard Alive” becoming a zombie isn’t nearly as hazardous to your health as it is in most zombie pics. Rather, it’s an overnight route from dowdy to dynamo. The only hitch: You also develop a ravenous craving for human flesh.
Kephart takes the eroticism of the vampire myth and grafts it onto the undead (rather than the immortal). But it’s all done with little pretension and obvious joy for the moviemaking process. The laughs in “Graveyard Alive” are plentiful, and if they don’t quite keep the same manic pace all the way through to the end, pic remains a far livelier comic specimen than any one of the three “Scary Movie”s.
Pic is also a constant visual pleasure, with terrific high-contrast, black-and-white lighting schemes; compositions that are all sharp diagonals and dramatically twisting spirals; and oodles of visual references to “Night of the Living Dead,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and virtually the entire Alfred Hitchcock library.
Interestingly, pic was actually shot in the old Techniscope widescreen format, fondly remembered from the spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone and many of the Italian “giallo” horror pics of the same period.