Blu-ray Review: Shallow Grave

Sometimes the blurb on the back of the Blu-ray box immediately gets me ready to slice apart the cellophane and get the disc into the player. Such is the case of Shallow Grave with “Four college coeds are on their way to Florida for spring break.” The film came out in the ’80s so rest assured four coeds in a car are going to get into good trashy trouble. There’s a bit of a more serious aspect to the adventure for the four college girls that are heading down South in a convertible than found in Hardbodies.

The movie starts out right with a peeper looking into the back windows of a girls dormitory at Our Lady of Hearts college. The peeper stops as a female student gets into the bathtub for a shower. Little does the showering woman imagine that she’ll be the victim of a knife attack like in Psycho. Even soaked in blood, the attack turns out to be a theatrical trick done by four girls. The head nun in charge of the school isn’t amused by the stunt, but the girls can’t be punished because they have to visit an elderly aunt during Spring Break. The elderly aunt lives in Fort Lauderdale. How convenient. The nun lets them go and the foursome hit the road at full speed which leads to a montage of being pulled by cops and given tickets. They were going to be partying at the beach in record time until their tire blows out on a remote road. Turns out the spare was left back at the school to make room for their luggage. One of the girls has to wander away to relieve herself in the woods. She stumbles across a couple hooking up in the wild. At first it’s rather peeping tom-ish except the woman ends the romp by complaining to the guy about him not leaving his wife. He gives up on rationalizing their affair and ends it rather coldly with her. As the girls attempt to get help, they end up at the local jail where they get a harsh realization of the identity of the break up guy. This might not end well for them.

Shallow Grave hasn’t been out on DVD so it’s been an obscure title for quite a few decades. If you wanted a copy, you’d have to hunt through used VHS piles. This is a shame since the film is great. The performances from the actors match the characters. The ending of the movie gives you chills. The movie starts out looking like a fun college girls on Spring Break. They’re flirting. They’re showering. They’re dressed up in Madonna inspired fashions. And then they have the breakdown in Georgia and find themselves being hunted down by the homicidal married guy who wants to keep his secrets. While sometimes a film that has such a tone shift might seem like two films slammed together, Shallow Grave seems natural as it goes dark. Growing up in the South and having driven to Florida, there’s a serious fear of Georgia police and their ability to have their version of law and order. This movie plays on a natural fear and nails the nightmares we imagined. You’ll scrape up enough money for an airplane ticket on your next spring break adventure after watching Shallow Grave.

The videos is 1.78:1 anamorphic. This is easily the best the movie has ever looked since it was only released straight to VHS tapes. This is the first digital release and it looks fine in this 2K scam from 35mm vault elements. You’ll get the uncomfortable sense of being pulled by the cops. The audio is DTS-HD mono. The mix allows you to hear the religious radio as clearly as muffled screams of the victims. The movie is subtitled.

Commentary Track with director Richard Styles goes deep into how the film came about. He explains a lot of what it took to make a film in Florida during the ’80s.

Commentary Track with The Hysteria Continues! The group of film fanatics goes into the history of the film and how they each discovered the VHS tape. They all agree that this film needs more attention and the Blu-ray will help with it.

Looking For Magic (14:42) has director Richard Styles recount how he originally arrived on the location as the executive producer. He recounts how the original director had to step back at the last minute. Richard quickly had the script redone since it originally involved aliens. He talks about how things can change when you enter the editing room and see if the magic happened. Styles currently makes movies for a certain cable channel. He’s happy how the film turned out and still holds up.

A Visual Storyteller (13:30) sits down with writer/producer George Edward Fernandez. He talks about how he changed his original script. It was about an interracial couple dealing with the Jim Crow laws in Florida. But then it got changed to four girls on a trip. George was going to direct, but marital problems made him realize he couldn’t devote his time to the project. The film did well on VHS in the mid-80s. He taught at Florida State’s film school. One of his students was Barry Jenkins (director of Moonlight).

Vinegar Syndrome presents Shallow Grave. Directed by Richard Styles. Screenplay by George Edward Fernandez. Starring Lisa Stahl, Tony March, Carol Cadby & Donna Baltron. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 89 minutes. Release Date: October 19, 2021.

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