Writer / Director / Producer David Heavener's Evil Grave: Curse of the Maya aka Dawn of the Living Dead is not a good film. Let's not mince words; it's god awful and I could easily concentrate the review on tearing it a new one, but maybe I'm mellowing as I get older as I'm instead going to focus on the few interesting things Heavener does bring to the undead party. For all the woeful acting, turgid dialogue, incoherent, laughable narrative and technically poor film making I'll concede the zombies themselves are actually ok, and the hokey mysticism that lies at the heart of the story is actually curious and almost refreshingly original.
The most ill suited couple I think I've ever witnessed on screen, ageing Dr Jeffrey Morgan (Joe Estevez, the poor man's Martin Sheen), and his much younger fiancée Renee Summers (Amanda Bauman, who must have been the best actress they could find that could both semi-act and semi-take her clothes off) have purchased a dilapidated murder house (off eBay) on the California / Mexico border. The peace and solitude of the desert, Dr. Morgan believes will help Renee recover from her various mental illnesses brought on by the death of her daughter who had been taken off her because of her various other addictions. No sooner have they started to make home though, Renee meets Michael (David Heavener), a local wind turbine engineer, and sleaze, who she immediately strikes a rapport with, and she starts having dark visions and dreams about the family that used to occupy the house before, and how they were killed.
I'm going to spoil the story not in so much as it's rambling, full of cliché and badly presented but I don't think anyone would really care, and I kind of need to, to look at the Mayan zombie family in any detail. We learn through flashback, they were murdered and not given the proper burial their Belize traditions dictated. So as is the South American way, ahem, the idea is they've risen from the dead with an insatiable hunger for five suns, before the Mayan death gods get to suck them through a cosmic tornado to Xibalba, the Mayan underworld. Their only hope is that Renee can utilise her visionary 'gifts' to understand what's going on and perform the relevant ritual to get them into the cosmic cornfield and heaven first. It's a bold idea and certainly adds some colour to the normally drab b-movie zombie narrative (looking at you The Asylum) but unfortunately it's all bit too much hokum and laughably far fetched, than dark, sinister and supernatural.
Now I've read a little about Xibalba and it wouldn't be a stretch to believe the Mayan people had sophisticated death rituals especially for those who had been unjustly slain, but in my admitted frugal research I've not seen any reference to men, women and children pulling themselves out the earth to chase, play with, and ultimately gorge themselves on any and everyone in the vicinity. I'm guessing Heavener had a semi traditional idea based on Mayan folklore and granted himself some pretty broad licence to play. The Vasquez zombie family are a motley group, well presented with a primal, demonic and down right nasty appearance and set of behaviours. They're arrival is almost always met with Renee hearing the voice of the young daughter cry out 'momma, help me' and the camera panning Sam Raimi style to a first person perspective and all the guttural grunting you'd find in Evil Dead and the effect still works. I'd also go as far as saying other than the comically bad zombie grunt conversation between daughter and family near the end their arrival is always a highlight and one area Heavener clearly has a film making understanding of.
Until some of the final exposition I was starting to see the little critters as revenants back from the dead to wreak vengeance on the living but as the hunger was explained more as a passive act I'm not so sure. The unborn embryo brought back as a baby zombie by the lords of death to bring final vengeance at the end might well classify as revenant but by this point the whole film had degenerated to such a total and utter farce I didn't know what to think.
Despite laughing uncontrollably on more than one occasion and quite frankly in awe at the awfulness at what I was watching, in no way could this be classified as a comedy. Even during the ridiculous fifteen minutes too long finale I couldn't help but think Heavener's decision to play this whole film mostly dry was a little ambitious given the obvious finite resources and talent. The baffling inclusion of a wandering posse, half way through, just to provide a half hearted striptease and then have an opportunity to have a few zombie killings demonstrates the struggle Heavener was undoubtedly having with the films identity and its lack of content. It is dry but at times farce and the forced topless scenes were included no doubt at a moment of crisis when all involved realised just how bad things were going and were desperate to add something that might sell a few copies. I'm in no way going to recommend this even as something to drink too and laugh at for it's failings. It's as I've said a bad film, that outstays its welcome even with the main story finishing at the hour mark and little to no redeeming qualities. There's plenty of better awful b-movie zombie films out there so don't be tempted by the cosmic corn, 2/10.