PURE TERROR MONTH: Keep My Grave Open (1977)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John S Berry is someone I have great conversations with. I’m excited that he’s writing for the site. You can check out John on Twitter

I had one of those odd realizations as I was watching Keep My Grave Open. Someone had recently asked me if David Lynch was my favorite director. I couldn’t jump right on that answer and say yes for some reason. Don’t get me wrong, I love his work (yes even Dune) but favorite? What makes someone your favorite? 

Sunday night I was winding down a great weekend and was happy to have an extra hour to burn. I remembered I needed to re-watch Keep My Grave Open for Sam. It had been some time since I had viewed it and Sam’s Movie Pack reviews deserve the respect of watching them as they appear on the box sets (note: I watched it again Monday night)

So, I put this in and about midway something hit me, SF Brownrigg may be my favorite director. All my current favorite films and filmmakers have the same spirit; small I budgets, character studies and unique locations that make me either homesick or nostalgic. His movie always have a touch of sadness to them and I often find some sweetness in one or more of the characters. Maybe SF Brownrigg is the great grandfather of horror that really is about the people and the small universes they inhabit. 

Grave starts with cracks and pops and the sounds of wind in the back of a pick-up. The old bum immediately melted my heart as he investigated the surrounding farms as the mournful music played and he grabbed his knapsack. This just set the tone for the movie, people carrying a quiet sadness about them in a rural setting, it was like seeing some of my mom’s scrapbooks come to life and speak.

Usually I am not too fond of origin stories or laying out a character’s back story piece by piece. With all of Brownrigg’s films (all 5, four horror and the ones I have seen) I want to know how they got there, why are they damaged this way? 

Even with the opening hobo character just serving as a quick jumpstart to the story I found myself wanting to know more about him. Why the bright yellow sweater? Why was he so polite in a sense when he was raiding the fridge and didn’t take all the contents? Was he looking for work?  

Brownrigg often used some of the same actors in his films and they all do great to decent jobs. They give a lot of them small little natural quirks. Keep My Grave Open centers around Ms. Fontaine played by Camilla Carr who keeps up appearances (2 to be exact). But is slowly losing her grip on sanity or is she just trying to win over the mysterious Kevin?

Ms. Fontaine is a lonely tortured soul in a good-sized country house with a nice young man named Bobby who takes care of her horse Caesar. Bobby cares more about the horse than teenage girls (OK community college girls) or older women trying to seduce him. He is likeable polite young Texas man and the actor is Topher Grace before there was a Topher Grace or that 70s show. 

There are many dimensions to a film that was made to fill up time on the drive-in screens across America in the 70s. It is much more nuanced and open ended, and boy do I love an open-ended film, especially when you can go and talk about theories and ideas with a friend over a good milk shake (miss you Lucas). 

In that spirit, rather than recap and describe the film (which to be honest you cannot get better than Groovy Doom’s amazing piece here.

Let’s all take some time,78 minutes and get out our notecards, yarn, push pins and giant whiteboard. Put on your best formed foil hat and let’s talk some theories and speculation. 

But before we get into was Kevin real? Was he there the whole time? Etc. Let’s take a minute to really ponder the odd old dingy country bar/ one stop brothel scene, one of the those great I can almost smell it scenes that Brownrigg often had in his films. 

After hearing of this place from Kevin and him giving a great Yelp review of Twinkle Ms. Fontaine decides maybe she needed to see what the fuss was about. Maybe get some take out for Kevin.

We cut to a man and a lady trying to negotiate how much adult fun they are going to have this evening. What comes next is some good old fashion haggling but using amounts of $22.50 with a counter of $17.50. Is there change in prostitution? Where and how do you give change? 

I imagine the bar/brothel really priding themselves in their customer service and imagine most interactions went like this:

Trixie Diamond: OK you had the #3 and an Around the World.’ 

Good Bubba: ‘Here’s a twenty.’ 

Trixie Diamond: OK and here’s a dollar fifty back.

Good Bubba: Keep the change

Trixie Diamond: Thanks hon’ Have a good rest of your night.

Good Bubba: You too ma’am careful driving home looks like rain. 

Old bar maid: Don’t forget to get your customer rewards card punched. 12 punches and you get a free one. 

Twinkle was inpatient lady, she must have double booked herself. Smart move hiding in the car and pulling the sheet over your head. Not such a smart move gasping and giving away your position.

So, we know some of the facts but do we truly? We know of Ms. Fontaine’s version and her recalling. But we have also been hinted at a different truth from the doctor? 

Was????:

  1. A. Kevin an orphan with Miss Fontaine as children or her biological brother. At her 16th birthday she was caught changing innocently to try on the dress or is that Miss Fontaine’s version? Where they really caught by the old aunt who took care of them and Kevin was shipped out to another orphanage or military school or did he just run away. Again, we are hearing Ms. Fontaine’s telling of the story 
  2. B. They were both orphans and Red was crushed that he left, and she was stuck with the house after the old lady died and she kept dreaming of Kevin returning.

C. Maybe Kevin was there the whole time but would go on benders and do anything he could do to get away from Ms. Fontaine. Each of the victims had some connection to Kevin which is why Ms. Fontaine eliminated them: 

1c. Old Bum was one of Kevin’s drinking buddies fellow hobo on the road coming back into town. Remembered that was his place and thought he would stop by. 

2c. Bobby (Topher Grace) was ranch hand that Kevin liked working with and was kind of like a kid brother which leads to…

3c. Twinkle was one of the ladies that Kevin and Topher uh hung out with when they went out for beers on a Saturday night

4c. Young girl who liked Bobby had caught Kevin’s eyes a few times and Miss Fontaine saw it

  1. C. Why the fencing like sword and gloves as the weapon? Did Kevin kill a fellow orphan or sibling when the old lady made them practice fencing? 
  2. D. Why did nobody come looking for any of the people. OK we know they probably thought Twinkle had finally mouthed off to the wrong guy. But what about the Topher Grace and the other girl, I am not sure if they were supposed to high school kids or community college kids. But someone had to wonder where they were. 
  3. E. Did Ms. Fontaine kill herself because she had gone to such extremes and Kevin had still not come back and given her is full attention? Or did he just not care and was sleeping off one hell of a bender?
  4. F. Did Kevin read about Ms. Fontaine’s death in the paper? Maybe he get word from the MD? Perhaps he was just as damaged where he was, a male version going through what Miss Fontaine was going thru but on a different coast or state and he came to take his place as last member of odd family?
  5. G. Or is it possible there is some sort of rebirth, re-awakening action going on? With Ms. Fontaine dying, she re immerges as the manifestation of Kevin. Kevin calls up to her in the house at the end. Or maybe the suicide opened some odd dimension and they switched places ala Freaky Friday? Or perhaps Ms. Fontaine took 

I guess that is why SF Brownrigg may be my favorite director, in a simple short movie made for drive ins I become immersed in the what ifs and wonder whys. Anyone can Room 237 a Kubrick film, but I am glad to get to do the service for SR Brownrigg.

I have an idea of the story but am never sure how it is going to end or what direction it will take. SF Brownrigg’s films make day dream and speculate, and wouldn’t it be nice if more films did that? 

1 thought on “PURE TERROR MONTH: Keep My Grave Open (1977)”

  1. Excellent. When you have to break down a film (or a career) into 1, 2, 3’s and bullet points, it is a must watched film/career. I’ve done it myself in reviews. So, I rewatched this one on You Tube last night. You can’t not love Brownrigg. He was upagainst it with no budget and he made his movie, by god.

    Like

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