• Shallow Grave (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: September 7th, 2021.
    Director: Richard Styles
    Cast: Lisa Stahl, Tony March, Carol Cadby, Donna Baltron
    Year: 1984
    Purchase From Amazon

    Shallow Grave – Movie Review:

    A beautiful college coed showers, leaving little to the imagination, only to be interrupted by a knife wielding maniac. Some piercing and familiar music blasts from the speakers as, covered in blood, she slides down the wall, pulling the shower curtain as she drops, red swirling down the drain. This obvious nod to Psycho opens Richard Styles’ 1984 film, Shallow Grave (not to be confused with the Danny Boyle film of the same name), and we soon learn that it was all part of a practical joke that four students - Sue Ellen (Lisa Stahl), Patty (Carol Cadby), Rose (Donna Baltron) and Cindy (Donna Baltron) – were playing on a classmate who had the nerve to make a pass at one of their boyfriends.

    The girls are called into the office of the nun in charge of their Catholic college and told to write a lengthy paper on all of this while on spring break. Instead, they pile into a car and head to Florida for some surf, sun and boys. Along the way they meet up with Chad (Vincent Tumeo) and Owen (Gregg Todd Davis), who agree to meet up with them the next morning for breakfast. The next morning, the girls get a flat tire and, having removed the spare to fit more luggage in the trunk, find themselves stranded on the side of the road. When Sue Ellen heads off into the woods to answer nature’s call, she unexpectedly sees a man (Tony March) and a woman (Merry Rozelle) having sex in the woods. She watches, and when he tells her that he won’t be leaving his wife for her, they argue and he kills her.

    When Rose and Cindy, hoping to get help with the car, break into a gas station, they’re arrested by Deputy Scott (Tom Law), and that’s when things get complicated.

    Shot on a modest budget and intended for the then booming straight to VHS market, Shallow Grave was features a less than super experienced cast in Georgia doubling for Florida by a director who was never intended to direct the film in the first place and whose experience prior was mainly as a producer. It’s a film that had a lot of strikes against it right out of the starting gate, but you’ve got to hand it to Styles and company, because they defied the odds and turned in a genuinely tense and unnerving thriller that does a great job of holding your attention once the plot starts moving. The Psycho nod at the beginning of the film really doesn’t add much except for some bonus nudity and the early subplot with the nun doesn’t wind up going anywhere, but give this one twenty minutes or so to ditch the unnecessary comic relief and finds its footing and it’ll likely win you over despite a very uneven opening reel.

    Production values are solid. The scenes that take place in a jail use a set as does the opening scene in the dorm (Styles goes over this in the extras) but the rest of the movie benefits from being shot on location. Cinematography is polished and the editing, in the second half of the movie specifically, quite clever and very tight. This one just might take you by surprise, it’s very much worth seeing.

    Shallow Grave – Blu-ray Review:

    Vinegar Syndrome brings Shallow Grave to region free Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen with the feature taking up 26.7GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Presented “newly scanned & restored in 2k from 35mm vault elements” the transfer is naturally grainy but quite solid overall. Detail is quite strong and the image is nice and film-like throughout, showing good texture and depth without any obvious digital scrubbing or edge enhancement.

    The 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, in the film’s native English, comes with optional English subtitles and an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track as well. There is some sibilance in a few spots but otherwise the track is clean and nicely balanced. The films genuinely cool score sounds very strong here as well.

    Extras start off with a new commentary track with director Richard Styles that starts off strong but soon finds the director going quiet. He does cover the Hitchcock nods in the opening sequence and beyond and offers some thoughts on working with the inexperienced but talented cast and some of the crew members as well, but after about a half an hour or so the track would have benefited from a moderator as there are a lot of stretches where he goes quiet.

    The disc also includes a second commentary track, this one with the guys from the podcast The Hysteria Continues!, this one much more engaging. They offer up a nice mix of background information, trivia and interesting factoids about the picture along with some welcome critical analysis, all done with the group’s typically listenable and enjoyable tone.

    Looking For Magic is a fifteen minute interview with director Richard Styles who is pretty open about the Hitchcock influence in the movie. He also talks about how he came to direct the film when he was originally meant to produce, his thoughts on the cast, shooting in Florida without a SAG cast and his thoughts on the movie overall.

    A Visual Storyteller is a fourteen minute interview with writer/producer George Edward Fernandez who also talks about how Styles came to direct the picture while also taking the time to talk about his writing career, how the story evolved from something very different originally to the thriller that we see on the screen and some of his other projects.

    Menus and chapter selection are also provided, and it’s worth pointing out that this release comes with some nice reversible cover sleeve artwork.

    Shallow Grave – The Final Word:

    Shallow Grave takes a little bit of time to hit its stride but once it does, proves to be a really solid thriller with some strong moments of suspense and some pretty decent performances. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray release is a good one, giving the picture a very respectable presentation and some decent extras as well. Recommended!

    Click on the images below for full-sized Shallow Grave screen caps!