Keep My Grave Open (1976)

Directed by S.F. Brownrigg
Unicorn VHS

Pauline Kael once wrote, “Technique is hardly worth talking about unless it’s used for something worth doing.” Cue Mr. Brownrigg.

S.F. Brownrigg was remarkably proficient at exactly one aspect of low budget filmmaking: he knew how to make things look good. Whether orchestrating a shot from the point of view of a sink’s drain or supplementing a nervous breakdown with a kaleidoscope of color, Brownrigg’s filmography is drenched in visual creativity. For that reason, he’s kept me coming back. Don’t Look In The Basement spurned my inquisitiveness. I couldn’t find a copy of Scum Of The Earth aka Poor White Trash II. Don’t Open The Door frustrated my will. And now, Keep My Grave Open, S.F.’s final Texas-lensed curio, has asked that I work. Extra hard. But you know what?

I’ve got nothing left.

Keep My Grave Open follows a familiar pattern. Like Don’t Open The Door, the film provides a wonderfully peculiar sense of design, yet chooses to contrast that foundation with two horseback-riding montages, uncomfortable soap opera emoting, and truant plot details. It’s like trying to read Brownrigg’s mind, but what’s on his mind is only what we see — the rest is floating around in some kind of temporal limbo. With Nick Millard and Doris Wishman, that effect can yield a superb experience, because films like Satan’s Black Wedding and Indecent Desires suffuse their capriciousness with a solid dose of self-contained FUN. But when Brownrigg plasters the choppy Grave with psychological turmoil, wounded sexuality, and extended scenes of vacuity in the form of a schizo at odds with her incestuous past, there’s no sanctuary. No release. And, most importantly, no moment of association, be it admiringly or emotionally or humorously.

I know what you’re thinking. Grave features a sword-brandishing killer and some tense atmospherics. Plus, a semi-rewarding climax. That’s all true. But you and I could both name at least ten trash-horror films that provide solid hooks, technical depth (either hi-fi or lo-fi), and palpable reasons for devoting your time to whatever it is that they offer. Grave is a casualty. It’s a film you want to love, because you can feel the effort and sincerity with which it was crafted. And believe me, I wanted to love it. Unfortunately, this film, like the double Don’ts before it, is dressed to the nines, but has nowhere to go.

And I no longer have the means to take it there.

Excessively dark, riddled with jump cuts, and muffled like a 1988 cassette tape, the print is a big-time mess. Sadly, this is not one of those occasions (see Psyched By The 4-D Witch or Another Son Of Sam) where the atrocious print quality enhances the film’s individuality. Bummer.

Keep My Grave Open was recently released on a two-fer budget DVD with Beast Of The Yellow Night, but let’s face it. VHS is cool. So why bother?

S.F., I really tried. Keep My Grave Open will probably please Brownrigg admirers. It follows a similar schematic to his previous work, but with less budget and even less vitality. Everyone else can stick with Don’t Look In The Basement. And leave it at that.