Those of you familiar with the work of director S. F. Brownrigg will know what to expect from this flick, which made its debut it 1976. Titles such as Don’t Look in the Basement and Scum of the Earth should trigger memories of what Brownrigg is all about. With Keep My Grave Open, Brownrigg, with the help of screenwriter F. Amos Powell, enters the twisted world of Psycho, abandoning all subtlety and going for outright craziness at the half-way mark.
The movie opens with a drifter making his way to an isolated mansion, where he tries to communicate with anyone inside. Surmising the place is empty, he enters the house and quickly raids the refrigerator. At the outskirts of the property, the drifter feels safe enough to start a fire and cook his ill-gotten goods. But someone has followed him, and this person carries a very sharp saber.
The story then shifts to the main plot. Brownrigg stalwart Camilla Carr takes center stage as Leslie Fontaine, a young and pert woman who lives in an isolated mansion, supposedly with her “husband” Kevin. At first, Leslie appears as a together gal, but slowly and surely she begins to exhibit odd characteristics, until at the movie’s half-way mark she begins to crack.
Leslie’s principal issue is her relationship with her husband Kevin, who seems to spend the bulk of his time locked inside a bedroom. As the story meanders on, Leslie struggles with her inner sexuality—it seems Kevin does not find her desirable and all she wants is to be loved. In a particularly bizarre sequence, Leslie attempts to seduce Kevin, with the camera’s point of view as the audience, with Leslie reaching out, kissing, and pleasuring herself as the camera darts in and out. It is obvious from these shots that there is no Kevin in the room.
However, someone in male riding clothing and wielding a saber is killing people that come too close to the house, despite a warning sign at its entrance.
Rejected and humiliated, Leslie then attempts to seduce a teen who comes by to feed and train the couple’s horse. At first the teen is hesitant, but when he finally builds up the courage to take on the MILF, “Kevin” shows up and kills him with a saber. In true Psycho fashion, the killer is revealed to be Leslie dressed as a man.
Brownrigg is not done, however. Leslie is pushed further into her delusion when she pays a visit to a city brothel, where she secures a visit from a prostitute, ostensibly for Kevin. The hooker, named Twinkle, goes to the house with Leslie, where she waits for Kevin. When Kevin makes “his” entrance, all hell breaks loose, with Leslie killing the middle-aged woman in the couple’s car, where the crazy keeps all her previous victims.
Weary of all the killing, Leslie phones her psychiatrist and waits for him to arrive. Some mumbo jumbo ensues, and as the good doctor excuses himself (apparently to secure help), Leslie goes into the bathroom, crunches down a bunch of pills prescribed to her, and gives in to the reaper.
Now here’s where things get really weird. At her funeral’s end, a young man dressed in riding gear shows up—it’s none other than Kevin, who takes up residence in the mansion and does the exact same things that Leslie did at the beginning of the movie. This twist will leave most fans scratching their heads, as it comes out of nowhere and makes little sense. Have a psychologist watch this flick and see what he or she can come up with.
Although the movie is slow and tedious at times, it is interesting that Brownrigg’s structure with respect to the killings would influence so many slasher films that followed, including John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978 and Friday the Thirteenth in 1980. There is one sequence where Kevin/Leslie pursues Twinkle about the mansion, where Twinkle winds up hiding in an antique car, which happens to be filled with the serial killer’s previous victims. Now, turn to Halloween, when Laurie finds the Shape’s victims stashed in various places in the kitchen.
Although not as wonky and wacky as some of Brownrigg’s other fare, Keep My Grave Open has enough for fans to enjoy, particularly when it comes to the future of the slasher genre. The performances are all okay, with Camilla Carr delivering a standout performance; the script is a bit on the silly side but still delivers the goods; and even the direction works well enough, although the pace is really slow. The version of the movie screened for this review was grainy, with poor sound and various skips and jumps (obviously a poor source was used), but such artifacts added to the schlock factor.
Keep My Grave Open may not be the best movie of the genre, but it served very much as the boilerplate for many films that would come after. As for Brownrigg, he may have screened 1971’s Play Misty for Me and from there gone off the deep end with his own twisted, knotted version. Worth checking out once or twice.