Adam Ahlbrandt’s Cross Bearer has justifiably gained him a lot of attention in the independent horror scene for its visual style and its unique take on the slasher template. Fans may be surprised to learn that Ahlbrandt has another feature already completed, and it’s another take on a well-worn horror trope. The Cemetery takes Ahlbrandt’s style and applies it to the “college kids in the woods” concept, and features a lot more humor than the appropriately bleak Cross Bearer. It also cleans up some of the few rough technical edges of the previous film without sacrificing any of its low-budget charm.
The setup of The Cemetery is familiar: a group of young people go deep into the woods and encounter a supernatural force that threatens their lives. In this case, the young people are a video production crew and a medium who are out to shoot an episode of their show Ghost Seekers. One of the crew found a book on a previous shoot that referenced an old cemetery supposedly hidden in the woods, the resting place for scores of victims of a 17th-century massacre perpetrated by a group of demented priests. Supposedly the evil encountered by the priests in this place was too powerful for them to overcome, although from the surviving account it seems the priests enjoyed their exorcism duties a little too much. Legend has it that even a single drop of blood on this unholy ground will be enough to revive the demons that ran rampant here, waiting to once again possess and destroy whoever steps into their path.
However, all that comes later. First the film introduces us to our crew: Bill (J.D. Brown), the awkward tech guy, who is trying to pick up the obviously uninterested medium Sandra (Tabetha Ray). Mike (Tim Cronin) and Andrea (Natalie Jean) have been together a long time and even moved in together, and Mike has a special plan for Andrea in addition to the weekend shoot. Too bad for him Andrea is trying to make time to be alone with lothario cameraman Tim (Adam Huss). The first act of the film is mostly concerned with establishing these characters’ relationships to each other and Tim’s seemingly endless supply of inappropriate one-liners. The cast is likable enough for the most part, but there are still maybe a few jokes too many before the action kicks into gear.
Anyone familiar with Cross Bearer will probably guess that the violence in the film will stand in stark contrast to its humor, and they would not be wrong. Once one of the crew becomes possessed and the killings begin, Ahlbrandt pulls no punches. The practical effects in the film are gruesome and occasionally cringe-inducingly realistic. This dedication to old-school makeup and effects is seriously refreshing given how many low-budget filmmakers rely on cheap (and cheap-looking) CG effects. The sound issues that were a minor distraction in Cross Bearer are entirely absent here, and while The Cemetery doesn’t have quite the same visual flair as that film, it still looks very good. There’s nothing here that hardcore horror fans haven’t seen before, but everything is done very well. The Cemetery confirms that Ahlbrandt is a talent to keep an eye on.