"He'll stop at nothing to see them dead ...
They were young ... alive ... and all set for a good time. Sue Ellen, Patty, Cindy and Rose - four convent school girls hell bent on tearing up the town and making it with the local boys.
But the good times couldn't last. In a country where the most feared killer wears a badge, they found themselves on a fast road to a living hell. When a routine stop was the start of a backwoods nightmare ... When to witness a murder became a crime, and an exercise in panic, terror and survival.
One by one they were the prey and one by one they were going to pray ... for mercy."
Not to be confused with the jet black British comedy of the same name from 1994, this SHALLOW GRAVE is a worthy addition to the city-dwellers in backwoods peril subgenre.
Four (somewhat over-aged) sorority girls at the 'Our Lady of Hearts' college: Sue Ellen (Lisa Stahl) (seemingly airheaded, blonde Madonna clone); Rose (Donna Baitron) (chain-smoking, Cyndi Lauper wannabe); Patty (Carol Cadby) and Cindy (Just Kelly) (two down-to-earth and preppie looking types), are planning a holiday of boys and booze in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Their plans are nearly scuppered after a practical joke they plan on a fellow student (a busty blonde who is surprised in the shower by a figure wielding a butcher's knife; a shot for shot recreation of the shower scene in Hitchcock's PSYCHO follows) backfires when she goes to the head nun after her hair is dyed red by the fake blood they had hid in her shampoo bottle! They only get away because they pretend they were going to be looking after an elderly Grandmother, but are still ordered to write a hundred page essay on one of the saints!
Stopping off at a diner, on route, they meet up with a couple of college boys who are also on their way to Fort Lauderdale, Owen (Gregory Todd Davies) and Chad (Vincent Tumeo). They agree to meet up with them the next morning for breakfast; Sue Ellen makes sure they will stick to their agreement by naughtily taking Chad's ID and cash.
However, on the way to meet the boys the next morning a tyre blows on the girl's car and they veer off the road. Rose didn't pack a spare (to make room for more luggage!), so Patty heads off back to a gas station they passed about a mile back. Whilst waiting, Sue Ellen is desperate for the loo so has to seek a quiet spot in the woods beyond the road. After relieving herself she hears two voices and goes to investigate. She spies a man (Tony March) and a woman (Merry Rozeile) lying naked in a clearing having clearly just had sex. However, an argument breaks out between them when he insists he has to go to work and she says he's never had any intention of leaving his wife, so she is going to tell her about their affair. During a scuffle he breaks her neck. Horrified, Sue Ellen tries to escape but trips over an exposed tree root and badly twists her ankle. Luckily for her it doesn't seem that the killer saw her spying on them.
Back at the car, Cindy and Rose start to become worried that Sue Ellen hasn't returned and go looking for her. In an unfortunate twist of fate they stumble across the clearing. Cindy asks the man if he has seen a girl, as her digs a ditch; Rose asks the same question of the woman sitting in the car, only to slowly realise that she is actually dead. The man pulls a gun and advances on them ...
It isn't much of a spoiler (especially as the film's tagline and cover gives it away) that the killer that is in fact the local Sheriff. Of course, the girls don't know that to start off with and even when Sue Ellen and Patty are arrested by the Deputy, Scott (Tom Law) - when he doesn't believe that they were breaking into the gas station to only use the phone - Sue Ellen doesn't recognise the Sheriff (with his clothes on!) until she hears him shout, by which time they are well and truly up shit creek ...
SHALLOW GRAVE starts off like any manner of 80's teen comedies: bad new-wave providing the soundtrack to scenes of teenage girls stuffing their bras and jumping up and down on their beds; the first half and hour follows this pattern, as the group zoom down the highway in a blur of neon colours and teen attitude. However, this is one film that actually confounds stereotypes (just try guessing who the final girl is going to be - I got it totally wrong). The principle cast are all likeable and it's one of those movies that you kinda hope they all get away, which of course they don't. This, coupled with the fluffiness of the film's first half-an-hour jars (in a good way) with some flashes of real nastiness (the second murder provides a real jolt) and some unexpected sleaziness (even though this isn't a high budget thriller I didn't expect the topless scene where a woman is strangled with her own bra (accompanied by a hysterical religious radio broadcast), in a film from this late in the 80's)).
However, it there's one thing that really sets SHALLOW GRAVE apart from other films of its ilk is the decidedly non-two dimensional killer. Despite his growing mania, as he attempts to plug all the leaks in the dyke, as it were, to prevent anyone - especially his increasingly suspicious Deputy - from believing the girl's story, you get the impression that he has remorse for what he's done. In one scene he stops off at the woman he killed in the woods' house and gathers her belongings, there he lingers to smell her perfume bottle. There's also a scene where he contemplates turning the gun on himself. In the end, though, the course he sets on means that there can be no survivors and he becomes increasingly deranged; seemingly savoring the task.
Unfortunately, even though most of the goal post moving is welcome not all of it is. The subplot involving the two boys they meet in the diner goes nowhere, even though they turn up at regular intervals during the film, and the film's actual ending can't help but make you wish it had carried on for another ten minutes and shown us what it clearly sign posts. I'm all for ambiguity sometimes, but here it just makes you feel that someone has whisked away an enjoyable dish before you can savour the last few mouthfuls!
There aren't any sharp implements in SHALLOW GRAVE but, to
my mind at least, it's a slasher flick through and through. The scenes where
the girls are hunted through the woods by the malevolent Sheriff are tense and
exciting - especially given the film's wildcard, anything could happen feel.
Definitely worth checking out, despite its flaws.
female:4 / male:0
1) Female has her neck snapped
2) Female shot in the head
3) Female choked to death
4) Female strangled with her bra strap