In the past few years EIN has reviewed some very unusual Elvis related films, notably the Australian short film Elvis Killed My Brother and the underground slasher movie, Evil Elvis Christmas.
EIN first heard about two other little known films, Elvis' Grave and (Revenge of) The (Killer) Elvis Zombies many years ago.
Thanks to its DVD release and screening on two continents for the 30th Anniversary of Elvis' death last month, Elvis' Grave is now available for review.
Blending elements from the infamous Texas Chainsaw Massacre and classic Rocky Horror Picture Show, the plot of this low budget feature is described as:
"A Chainsaw wielding, psycho-impersonator from hell -- on a conquest tour of terror!" And this essentially sums up what is a decidedly offbeat story.
When I sat down to view Elvis' Grave I did so with some trepidation. However, it hooked me straight away with a strong intro featuring an impressively bosomed female, a pink Cadillac, and a catchy rock 'n' roll tune. But could it sustain my interest over the next 84 minutes?
At the heart of Elvis' Grave is one man's search for approval and acceptance. Purvis Wayne Melvis (Kyle Holman) yearns to be the world's greatest Elvis impersonator and he will do anything to achieve his goal. Cruelly let down by his corrupt mother, talent challenged Purvis 'takes care of business' as he sets sail on a path to what he hopes will be success, wreaking out a bloody path of death and destruction along the way.
The violence in Elvis' Grave is implied rather than explicitly shown. In one scene the use of red jello to metaphorically signify Purvis' bloody revenge of his Momma's betrayal is a neat device; and I have to say Purvis' mind works well in plotting the deaths of his hapless victims - the murder weapon for each execution in the mounting death toll is eclecticly diverse. Clearly Purvis is not a one gun man even if he is a monotracked Elvis.
As with all good 'B' grade movies, Elvis' Grave does not take itself seriously and it employs liberal doses of offbeat humor. If you ever wanted to know how to change your family sedan into a convertible, Purvis shows you the way. And with corny lines ("How could you be cruel to a heart that is true?") and the television studios named 'EPTV' you should get a feel for what I mean.
There are also various oddball characters inhabiting Elvis' Grave including a corrupt mayor, hicksville Sheriff, and a Gomer Pyle-esque garbage man. But always remember: "A garbage man knows things that other people don't!"
Elvis' Grave exhibits the hallmarks of a filmmaker who knows what he is doing. While clearly (and intentionally) a 'B' grade movie it deftly uses various filming techniques (camera, lighting, overlays) to heighten interest and move the plot along. The plotline itself is cohesive and predictable (but hey, isn't that always the case with a 'B' grade movie).
Similarly, the acting is commensurate with the film's standing: at times over the top, at times surprisingly poignant, and at times decidedly "Z" grade. And that 'B' grade feel is gleefully reinforced by the baggy, ill fitting jumpsuits worn by Purvis. My God, what was this guy in a previous life?
A Rocky Horror touch sees a very strong scene blending two disparate images and audio - the sentimental Prissy (Tara Leigh) home in Memphis pining for her love while the unhinged Purvis menacingly plots his deadly path live on stage. This is great stuff.
Another clever touch is the shadowy Elvis figure present in the background of many scenes...a figure whose identity is only revealed as the final credits roll.
The final act sees psychotic Purvis pitted against reporter Bobby Anderson (Johnny Self) - Anderson now imbued with the "real" spirit of the King. It is a revealing and deadly showdown, and dare I give away the ending:
"The killer is dead...long live the King!"
There are several underlying minor (but actually quite serious) themes in Elvis' Grave which are interesting but only briefly touched upon. Butch Elvii; Yankee vs. Southern Elvii; Elvis as King and his female fans as his potential Queen; and ETAs using voice enhancers! are just some of the deleriously delicious sociological themes which need to be considered at the next serious symposium about things Elvis.
A soundtrack release of the film is definitely warranted. This is a core strength of the film, a rousing rock 'n' roll compile which is appropriately inserted throughout the narrative. Standout tracks include the driving ballad, She Drove A Pink Cadillac; the poignant It's Lonely In Memphis Tonight; and a great swing version of Dixie.
The 11 tracks and singers are:
- She Drove A Pink Cadillac (Rick Carter)
- Tell It To The King (Kyle Holman)
- Chainsaw Medley (Kyle Holman)
- I'm The One (Kyle Holman)
- Gone With The Wind (Larry Shaw)
- Dixie (Proxy)
- Elvis' Grave (Marc Phillips)
- It's Lonely In Memphis Tonight (Kyle Holman & Tara Leigh)
- I'm Back (Tony Ross Ardovino)
- Rock The Firmament (Tony Ross Ardovino)
- I'm Going Back To Memphis Tonight (Tony Ross Ardovino)
Watching Elvis' Grave I had to ask myself, was it ahead of its time? With EPE now firmly behind the revenue making opportunities of ETA competitions we can only hope there isn't a Purvis Wayne Melvins waiting quietly in the wings to eliminate his competition one by one. Or maybe that would be a blessing (or is it devil) in disguise!
As for the burning question: Is Elvis' Grave a Southern Gothic Musical? I'll leave that to each viewer to decide. Just don't turn away from Purvis Wayne Melvins while you're watching!
Technical Specifications: Elvis' Grave was originally filmed used 35mm Panavision. Its audio and video reflect the limitations of this medium including an acceptable but less than crisp visual. The color saturation is good. As a DVD it is released in Region 0, DVDR format. There is no Scene Selection and our disc proved to temperamental, requiring it to be played on a 2nd machine.
Elvis' Grave is rated 'NR for Nauseating Repulsive...If your IQ is under 17 you will love this film'.
Verdict: Elvis' Grave features a number of potent moments to savour and enjoy. The difficulty with the "low rent, low budget, low class" film is that it is a tad too well crafted to be bad enough to be really good. Its nice touches and humor are arguably just too finely interspersed in the narrative to leave any cohesive or lasting impact on the viewer. Musically strong, narratively interesting, but ultimately flawed.
And you've been warned: If Purvis Wayne Melvins is in your ETA contest, stay away...or else you could end up legless, or much, much worse. Thank you, thank you very much.
Visit the 'Elvis' Grave' website & buy 'Elvis' Grave' on DVD
Comment on this review
John: Amusing review. Keep up the good work. Don't think I'll be watching Elvis' Grave though.
Matt: This film sounds like a hoot.
Bev L.: I saw the movie to, it was terrible.