THE FILM 2/5
“This is turning into a real snoozefest. We’ve only killed, like, two people.”
It’s Halloween night. A trio of costumed misfits with very special dietary requirements invades a Mexican cantina and forces the staff to engage in a late night of gluttony. The only caveat is what’s on the menu… and who will survive until morning!
From director and co-writer James Roday (Psych), this deliriously demented horror-comedy is a true feast for genre fans. Stuffed with an outstanding ensemble cast and perfectly seasoned with laughs and scares, you’ll be sure to ask for seconds on Gravy.
Horror comedies are tough. That’s because very few people know how to do it. Weird, because the horror and comedy genres are actually the closest in similarity, exemplifying the most primal of the human experience. John Carpenter likes to say that fear is the first and last thing every single human being will ever experience. We’re born afraid and we die afraid. The action genre provides visceral thrills that slowly build to its unforgettable climax, while the dramatic genre exhibits a slowly-growing effect onto its audience. It’s the horror and comedy genres that demand an instant reaction. A person has never left a horror film or a comedy while thinking, “You know, the more I think about it, that movie was actually pretty scary/funny!” Neither a horror film nor a comedy work better the more you think about it. For those genres, it has to happen in the moment. That musical sting, that eerie image; that well-timed gag, that perfect punchline. Both depend on capturing the attention of their audience as they sit in their seats.
That’s why so few horror comedies work. That’s why Gravy doesn’t work. Gravy wants to work. You can really tell it’s trying. And James Roday of “Psych” fame, whose long-running popular USA show has often worn its love for the horror genre on its sleeve, deserves a lot of credit for putting this film together. With all kinds of geeky in-jokes to locate (Sarah Silverman’s underused character hails from “Haddonsfield”) and with it set on Halloween night, likely the geekiest night of the year for the horror crowd, it’s easy to tell that Gravy’s icky black heart was in the right place.
Gravy relies on a very specific brand of humor, which isn’t going to appeal to those who like their horror-comedies to be a bit more subtle and a bit more…about something. If Kevin Smith had opted to begin exploring the horror genre right around the time he’d made Mallrats, that’s about where Gravy would exist – and with a bit of strange Wet Hot American Summer-type humor thrown in that lands rather flatly. Michael Weston as Anson walks away with having given the best manic, exuberant, and enthusiastic performance. A doppelganger of Horrible Bosses‘ Charlie Day, Weston has been toiling away for the last ten years taking bit parts in various projects (his brief appearance in “Six Feet Under” is the stuff of chills), but he has yet to break through and obtain himself a lead role in a film that’s worth a damn. Even after his appearance in Gravy, probably his biggest role to date, that next step for him has still yet to be reached. Jimmi Simpson (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “House of Cards“) also does a fine job, and he and Weston share believable chemistry, but sadly it’s not enough to carry Gravy through to the end.
The boys from KNB FX (“The Walking Dead“), who apparently never stop working, turn in a number of gruesome gags that, as has has come to be expected from KNB, look awesome, and it’s Gravy‘s intent to rely on nothing but practical, in-camera gags that certainly gains it points. But ultimately the film needed more than gruesome gags and pair of charming (if insane) leads to bring it all home. A higher emphasis on horror with a calming of the very quirky and pithy humor would have been a step in the right direction.
THE PICTURE 4/5
Though the visual presentation of Gravy never looks flat-out bad, there’s something about it that also appears rather bland. This likely has to do with the fact that Gravy was made with a very low budget, and from the sounds of it, every called-in favor on which Roday could collect. Colors are strong and vivid, though they can sometimes get lost in the overall dominating brown colorscape of which Raoul’s Mexican restaurant is constructed. The various colorful costumes look good, as does the blood (of which there is certainly a lot), and textures in the forefront look calm and defined. The image itself is very stable and clean, with no sign of compression artifacts or other maladies. For the image that Gravy was always meant to present, this blu-ray image reproduces it well.
THE SOUND 3/5
Gravy‘s audio presentation, at best, does the job, but contains a couple issues that take away from its overall use. Of some concern is the tendency for some characters’ dialogue to peak and rattle around like a broken speaker. More often than not, this occurs during some of Gabourey Sidibe’s dialogue, as she plays one of the more, er, dynamic of the characters. But really, when any character gets too loud, there’s a tendency for the audio to peak and break apart. Additionally, there are a couple instances in which some dialogue becomes lost behind the very eclectic and busy soundtrack. Those issues aside, all other dialogue is clear, the scenes of mayhem are appropriately icky-fied, and the musical selections do sound good and for the most part complement their scenes well.
THE SUPPLEMENTS 2.5/5
The main supplement on the disc is the audio commentary with writer/director James Roday and actors Sutton Foster and Jimmi Simpson. While a fun and boisterous track with a lot of lightheartedness and humor, there is very little actual information shared on the making of the film. Roday will talk about the various actors on screen at any given moment and in what capacity he came to know them, he introduces every song choice and credits the band, and…that’s really it. Foster and Simpson jump in from time to time to share Roday’s sentiments that the shooting was pretty fun, but on all three of their parts, there’s also too many passes of silence. Even fans of the film may only listen to this track once.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Audio Commentary with writer/director James Roday, and actors Sutton Foster and Jimmi Simpson
- What Is Gravy? Featurette
STUDIO: Siren Digital – Hollywood / TapouT Films
DISTRIBUTOR: Shout! Factory
THEATRICAL DATE: N/A
VIDEO STREET DATE: October 6, 2015
VIDEO: MPEG-4 AVC; 1080p; 2.35:1
AUDIO: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English 2.0 Stereo
RUN TIME: 90 mins
DVD COPY: N/A
DIGITAL DOWNLOAD: N/A
Horror-comedies are a tough nut to crack, which is why most major filmmakers don’t even try anymore. Shaun of the Dead comes to mind as the last great horror comedy to hit theaters and really take audiences by storm; generally, it’s films like Gravy, released quietly to video after a round of film festival appearances, where the horror-comedy generally exists. Gravy‘s very acerbic brand of comedy definitely has its place and will likely entertain those who tend to enjoy Kevin Smith-ish snappy dialogue and profane verbiage, but it certainly won’t be cited as the last great horror-comedy since Shaun of the Dead, that’s for sure.
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