CAPSULE: HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB [EL ESPANTO SURGE DE LA TUMBA] (1973)

DIRECTED BY: Carlos Aured

FEATURING: Paul Naschy

PLOT: The head of a medieval warlock possesses the bodies of young people staying at an isolated country estate, turning some into zombies and causing them to kill each other.

Still from Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Horror Rises is a worthwhile, but not quite exemplary, illusrtation of the tendency of 1970s Eurotrashy fantastique horror to elevate atmosphere and effect over sense and logic. Made out of equal parts camp, decadence, and incoherence, it’s a decent choice for a midnight viewing some evening when you don’t want to think too hard while getting some pre-bedtime chills.

COMMENTS: Most of the plot developments in Horror Rises from the Tomb need to be prefaced with the phrase, “for unclear reasons…”  When invited to a seance with a medium, swinging playboy Hugo suggests they contact an ancestor of his who was hanged for practicing witchcraft (and vampirisim and lycanthropy), then decapitated so his head and body could be laid in separate graves to prevent him from rising from the tomb.  The same warlock ghost has been haunting Hugo’s artist pal, dripping blood from his severed head on his canvases.  After successfully contacting the spirit, Hugo, the painter and their girlfriends travel to Hugo’s isolated country estate to go digging for the head but are waylaid by bandits, then rescued by vigilantes who execute the criminals on the spot.  Upon arriving the foursome hires village locals to dig up the head, or buried treasure, whichever they find first.  Halfway through the movie, after the cast is mostly dead or possessed, the caretaker’s daughter remembers that her father hid a magic talisman that would protect them from any evil spirits that would rise from the nearby tomb in a well.  Besides possession, the warlock also creates a mini-army of walking corpses, and when daylight comes Hugo goes to dredge up their corpses from the river (where he dumped them earlier—for unclear reasons) and burn the bodies, even though he already incinerated them the night before.  And so it goes. The storytelling is jumpy—characters are killed off before you even realize who they are—and awkward editing exacerbates the problem.  According to legend, star Naschy took anywhere between two days to a week to write the script, and it’s easy to believe.   You go into every story segment presuming it’s not going to make sense, and you’re surprised when, on reflection, there’s a hidden logic to some development.  Besides writing the script, Naschy is also credited as playing three roles (the warlock and Hugo are two of them, but somehow I missed the third one). Horror Rises gets by on atmosphere—beautiful, misty Spanish scenery; gorgeous doomed women in gauzy nightgowns; floating heads; zombies; Paul Naschy flinging his black cape about and keeping his bushy arched eyebrows flying at full mast.  There’s also a screechy organ score that is irritating but effective in keeping you on the edge.  The decadent exploitation, in combination with the disjointed storytelling and jittery editing, produces a comic-nightmarish effect typical of 1970s Eruohorrors; it’s a style that can become addictive if you give yourself over to it wholeheartedly.

The version of Horror Rises from the Tomb reviewed here is the edited, full frame version, likely compiled for television broadcasts, that’s commonly found in multiple-movie bargain packs.   This edition cuts out the abundant nudity and most of the gore (including, reportedly, heart-eating) and runs 10-15 minutes shorter than the uncut film.  The frequent edits to produce a TV-friendly, PG-rated product likely increase the incoherence factor, but given the movie’s edited in the purely expository scenes, I don’t believe the complete version makes significantly more sense.  The out of print but widely available BCI/Eclipse DVD contains both cuts of the film, along with a third “clothed” version intended for European distribution that substitutes alternate takes for some of the nude scenes but keeps the blood and guts intact.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…there was no denying the strange, unsettling otherness of this film as I watched it in a dark room, illuminated only by my portable black-and-white TV set.”–Troy Guinn, Eccentric Cinema (remembering a 1970s TV broadcast)

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