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The Gravedigger (2019) Review

The Gravedigger opens, appropriately enough, at night in a graveyard, only instead of putting a body into the ground Kurt (Paul Homza, Street Survival, 2 Fast 2 Furious) is digging one up to sell to Victor Frankenstein (Tyler Charles Kane, A Life Untitled). This segues into a credits’ scene, in which we see Victor putting those body parts to use in his laboratory.

Shortly after the credits, as he wanders home drunk, Kurt has an encounter with a strange bandaged man (Gisbert Heuer, American Cryptid, Theater of terror) whom he finds hiding in the cemetery. The man claims to have no name and ends up being called Anton after Saint Anthony, the patron saint of gravediggers.

As you’ve probably guessed, Anton is the doctor’s creation. And Dr. Frankenstein is looking for him, not just because he escaped, but because he killed his creator’s family.

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The Gravedigger is billed as “A Frankenstein Story” rather than an adaptation of the novel, which is fitting. While it doesn’t follow the book’s plot line it does incorporate several elements from it to one degree or another. He looks like a man who’s been badly injured and through multiple surgeries, rather than the flat-headed creature from the Universal films. He can talk and think like a normal person, and as in Shelley’s novel, the creature kills those around his creator including his fiancé Elizabeth (Tracey Mendy, Let’s Talk About Sex) whom the creature kills on their wedding night.

The Gravedigger is the first feature for director Erynn Dalton and writer Joseph Zettelmaier, who also collaborated on the short American Cryptid. They seem to be as interested in examining the human condition and what it means to be human as they are in generating scares. And they use the rather talkative creature and his conversations with the people he encounters to do so.

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Dalton and Zettelmaier get some mileage out of this, despite moments where the dialogue and acting start to go over the top. It’s interesting to see Anton begin to control his rage, discover other emotions, and become more human as the film goes on. But, as the fortune-teller Nadya (Arlette Del Toro, The Naked Proof, Shag Carpet Sunset) finds out when she pushes him too far, the beast still lurks inside him.

Unfortunately, the film is undercut by some serious issues right from the start. The Gravedigger is set in Bavaria in the 1700s, but Kurt is wearing what is very obviously a modern-day button-down shirt. And when we see Dr. Frankenstein at work, he’s wearing the same mass-produced, disposable masks we were wearing during COVID. I know this was a low-budget film and money for authentic costumes was lacking, but such obvious anachronisms are jarring.

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The other problem ironically helps hide that in some places because The Gravedigger suffers from some very poorly lit scenes. I mean, they’re dark to the point that it’s hard to tell what is going on. The scenes where Kurt first brings the creature home, for example, look like they were shot using just the candle in the room. At other points, exteriors have a blueish tint that makes me wonder if they were shot day for night and the effect was overdone, leaving the scenes hard to make out.

The Gravedigger makes a sincere attempt to do something different with the familiar tale of Victor and his creation. But it’s brought down by a lack of budget, technical problems, as well as some issues with the script and performances. It might be worth a watch on Tubi or a similar platform, but that’s about it. If you’re looking for a more human look at the man-made monster saga, maybe give Larry Fessenden’s Depraved a look instead.

Indican Pictures has released The Gravedigger on DVD and Digital platforms. You can check their website for more information. And you can check FilmTagger for suggestions for films like The Gravedigger.

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