One of my rules for these challenge things and lists and the like is A) I should never have seen the movies before, or B) If I have, it was twenty years ago or more. This one is kind of a special case: it was thirty years ago, and it was also the first review I ever wrote, for a zine called High Tech Terror (which eventually became European Trash Cinema). So it’s kind of special, in that horrible way usually reserved for misshapen creatures in a Berni Wrightson story. I thought it was behind me, and then it crops up just in time for a horrifying twist ending.
I’ll begin with my usual digression to Bruce Lanier Wright’s Nightwalkers, (too long out of print, c’mon publishers) where he refers to “Italian horror cinema and its idiot brother, Spanish horror cinema”. Well, there’s good and there’s bad, and there’s a whole lot of in-between, and that’s where Horror Rises from the Tomb falls.
We begin in 16th century France, where warlock Alaric de Marnac (Paul Naschy) has a bunch of accusations about him read out by his brother or cousin, who knows, Armand (Paul Naschy), that he is a warlock, a vampire and a lycanthrope (Paul Naschy) and he and his mistress Mabille (not Paul Naschy, but Helga Line) are to executed for same. The execution takes some time, as Alaric and Mabille need that time to curse the descendants of their accusers, like Andre Roland (Victor Alazar). Alaric is beheaded, and Mabille is hung upside-down and whipped, as this is judged the best way to get a naked woman onscreen as soon as possible.
In the present day, Hugo de Marnac (Paul Naschy) poo-poos such things as seances where the head of Alaric puts in an appearance, and his friend Maurice (Victor Alcazar), who is receiving visitations from said disembodied head (because, as you recall, Maurice was cursed back in the beginning, when he was in period costume). Hugo decides to do the ultimate poo-pooing by taking Maurice and their girlfriends (Cristina Suriani and Betsabe Ruiz) to his ancestral chateau, where the body and head of Alaric are supposed to be buried separately.
As the de Marnac estate is believed by the locals to be something like a transplanted place of Transylvania, Hugo can only find a couple of local lowlifes to dig up the grounds, and they find a chest where Maurice suspiciously intuits it will be. That night, the thugs break into the shed where the chest was left until Hugo could find a blowtorch to take to the lock. They bring their own blowtorch, and find not treasure, but the head of Alaric, who immediately possesses one and compels him to kill the other, and the caretaker who discovers their burglary.
Now, fellow monster kids, you are going to realize that this is the Universal B-flick (and TV staple for years) The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958), right down to the necklace with an ancient symbol that is the warlock’s weakness. What Paul Naschy realized is that the setup needed more gore (Alaric and Mabille like to eat human hearts), more kills, and much more nudity. Mabille, for instance, once she is resurrected, likes to wear a sheer black nightie, and nothing else, much of the time. Oh, yes, Naschy also realized the plot needed zombies for no good reason, except for addition to the running time.
I should mention that Hugo takes the opportunity to rekindle his childhood romance with the caretaker’s daughter, Elvira (Emma Cohen), who is quite endearing and makes for a (spoiler spoiler spoiler) splendid Final Girl (end spoiler. Movie’s 40 years old, dude).
Apparently, beside gussying up another movie’s plot and injecting frequent nudity, Naschy also shot the entire movie in and around his country house, which makes makes this movie the sort of thrifty enterprise Roger Corman would give a standing ovation. It’s a pleasurable enough way to spend 90 minutes, and can serve as a decent intro to Spanish horror cinema.
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