Grave Robbers (Mexico, 1989)
I’m always on the lookout for some cheesy, gory, eighties fun to pepper the month’s viewing. While I enjoy art house horror as much as the next pretentious snob, sometimes I just want to watch some teens get slaughtered in a graveyard.
Cemetery of Terror certainly scratched that itch last year. When I saw that there was another eighties Mexican film with a similar premise, also from director Rubén Galindo Jr, I knew it had to go onto this year’s list.
Grave Robbers is currently available on Shudder in the UK.
If the jagged blood red titles and cod Gregorian chant opening music don’t warn you exactly what kind of film you’re in for, opening in a medieval torture chamber straight out of Poe’s nightmares certainly does the trick. We plunge into a Gothic phantasmagoria of evil monks, Satanic rituals, and a screaming damsel in distress.
All this is only the prologue, however. Once we’ve established that this evil monk is trying to father the Antichrist, only to be stopped by an axe to the chest, we quickly jump forward a few hundred years and move on to the titular graverobbing.
So there’s this group of teenage punks, straight out of central casting, who break into a graveyard to dig up valuables. Like any good group of grave robbers, they pick their targets by dowsing with a crystal. This leads them to the treasure-packed tomb of the Satanic monk. Here, they nick everything, including the still-embedded axe that was somehow preventing the monk from rising from the dead. Oops!
Meanwhile, the police chief’s 35-year-old teenage daughter is camping in nearby woods with some disposable friends. There are also a couple of peasants in traditional garb wandering around, making the area a victim-rich environment.
When the undead monk goes on his inevitable killing spree, the police chief is forced to use every tool at his disposal to save his daughter. This includes a machine gun, dynamite, and an ancient tome written in Latin. Apparently, he’s a Call of Cthulhu player. But will all this be enough to save the world from evil?
One of the more uncomfortable aspects of revisiting eighties horror cinema is that it can be a bit rapey. In Grave Robbers, let’s just say that consent isn’t a major consideration in conceiving the Antichrist. While the attempted sexual assaults are curtailed through the careful application of an axe, you may still want to avoid Grave Robbers if sexual violence is a trigger for you.
Some of the stunts in Grave Robbers look genuinely dangerous, not in a flashy way, but in a “I can’t see any way they could have taken safety precautions” way. The eighties were a different time.
Things are no less dangerous for the characters. One of them just happens to store a big crate of dynamite in a random cupboard in his house. This crate then gets tossed casually down a deep hole in the ground, then carried around a burning building. Grave Robbers should not be used as a safety training video.
Guns also get pretty bizarre treatment here. The police chief and his prospective son-in-law make a big deal of restoring a machine gun. When shit goes down, however, they use it on single-fire mode, treating it as an over-glorified pistol.
On the other hand, the chief is pretty versatile with his actual pistol, wielding it like a .45 calibre multitool, with a bullet for every problem. Not only is it a handy lockpick, but a single shot will cut through any iron chain. You barely even need to aim!
Watching Grave Robbers, I was reminded of Joe Bob Briggs’s adage about the best way to shoot a sequel being to make the entire same film again. While this is not a sequel to Cemetery of Terror, it doesn’t stray far from the formula. Unfortunately, it also suffers a little in comparison.
Maybe it’s because I felt like I was on familiar ground, but I didn’t find myself boggling at the weirdness or gore as much this time. It’s still a perfectly serviceable film, and I enjoyed it, but it felt a bit too plodding at times and never quite went as batshit crazy as I’d have liked.
The main problem is that a film like this relies a lot on the goriness and creativeness of its kills, and the early ones are pretty mundane. Things do improve as the story goes on, however, and there is a particularly effective homage to Alien‘s chestburster scene. There’s another nice gag with someone’s head being forced through a metal gate that looks better than it should. It appears that Galindo saved most of his budget for the final act.
On the other hand, there are some moments of egregious cheapness. A stone floor in the tomb wobbles suspiciously like painted plywood. One jump scare comes from a cat that has clearly been thrown from just off-camera. And, in a weird bit of editing, a character runs and tackles the monster, only to jump back to where he was standing, ready to run, and then back to him wrestling the creature.
These complaints aside, Grave Robbers is undeniable fun. If you’re up for a silly, Gothic slasher with over-the-top acting and a large side order of blood, you could do worse.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Dark August (USA, 1976)
- Huesera: The Bone Woman (Mexico/Peru, 2022)
- The Banishing (UK, 2020)
- Brooklyn 45 (USA, 2023)
- Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell (Japan, 1995)
- Pyewacket (Canada, 2017)
- Grave Robbers (Mexico, 1989)
- You Might Be The Killer (USA, 2018)
- No One Will Save You (USA, 2023)
- The Sect (Italy, 1991)
- Last Night in Soho (UK, 2021)
- Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (Spain, 2017)
- 47 Metres Down (UK/USA, 2017)
- The Oskars Fantasy (Philippines, 2022)
- In the Earth (UK, 2021)
- Something in the Dirt (USA, 2022)
- Blood Flower (Malaysia, 2023)
- Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Canada, 1987)
- Older Gods (UK, 2023)
- Come to Daddy (New Zealand, 2020)
- Shrew’s Nest (Spain, 2014)
- Totally Killer (USA, 2023)
- The Premonition (USA, 1976)
- Murder Me, Monster (Argentina, 2018)
- The Gruesome Twosome (USA, 1967)
- Talk to Me (Australia, 2023)
- Gaia (South Africa, 2021)
- Demon (Poland, 2015)
- Juju Stories (Nigeria, 2022)
- El Conde (Chile, 2023)
- The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Hong Kong/UK, 1974)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!