Bite Size: Keep My Grave Open (1977)

S.F. Brownrigg managed a well rounded slate of exploitation offerings in his short film career, using a down home Dreamlanders style cast of stock actors to put out everything from hicksploitation hellfests (1974’s Scum Of The Earth, which has an upcoming restoration from Grindhouse Releasing), to the obligatory 80s teen sex comedy (Thinkin’ Big).

1977’s Keep My Grave Open was the last of his three horror efforts, and the only one not to get slapped with the ever so popular cautionary “Don’t” title. Not that it really helps, since the end result film doesn’t have much to do with graves, open or otherwise. Lesley Fontaine (Camilla Carr) is a well to do young woman who lives on a remote ranch with her reclusive brother, Frank, who never seems to leave his bedroom. At least, she assumes he doesn’t. When a series of murders plagues the property, an increasingly fragile Lesley is left to clean up the mess.

The plot is pretty slight, and the more slasher style elements are rather goofy, given the weapon of choice is the sort of replica sword a neckbeard would buy after a cruise of the local mall’s Spencer Gifts. Keep My Grave Open hits its languid stride as Lesley’s mental state begins to deteriorate. She wanders around her depressingly empty house giving us a variety of impending nervous breakdown tableau, including a bizarre scene that plays out like a distant, downmarket ancestor of that uncanny valley POV virtual reality porn. If Frank even exists at all, their relationship is the stuff of V.C. Andrews novels.

This sort of rural route Polanski psychological weirdness better suits Brownrigg’s microbudget milieu, and Camilla Carr’s surprisingly capable performance keeps this odd little mood piece drifting pleasantly afloat. There’s a few nice stylistic touches here too, from the classic “sliced victim to butcher shop chop” transition shot to some loving close ups of Carr’s face that recall the style of the achingly glamorous promo photos parceled out to 40s starlets.

By the time the pace picks up in the final stretch, the seemingly shy Lesley aggressively propositioning her doctor and the life (and death) of a local prostitute named Twinkle seem a natural part of the film’s disjointed universe. This all culminates in a supposed twist of an ending that launches this isolated and icy little movie into a tiny bit of Messiah Of Evil‘s territory of borderline brilliant incoherence. While not terribly effective as a traditional horror film, fans of idiosyncratic local labors of love will likely dig this one for its ambitious attempt to swing above its DIY in the Texas dust pay grade.