Horror Rises from the Tomb
Euro Thriller Collection
Review by C. Demetrius Morgan
This review has been viewed
The opening scene shows us a procession of 15th century soldiers leading a wagon with two prisoners who, it is revealed, are a knight and lady accused of trafficking in black magic, witchcraft, Satanism, cannibalism, and just about every other vile deed and -ism those responsible for the English language dub could find listed in a Roget’s thesaurus. Long story short, this is a pair of truly rotten apples. Witness the sudden vomitous spurt of curses hurled at their executioners amidst vows to one-day return to wreak diabolical havoc upon their hapless descendants. Now skip forward to the relative present of the seventies, which is when the rest of the movie takes place, and behold a bevy of snotty folk entertaining themselves with, what else, a séance. If you can’t guess where the movie goes from here it’s time to turn in your horror movie fan club card right now!
Original US theatrical release (full screen)
Uncut International release (full screen)
“Clothed” version of the International release (widescreen)
Collectors keep box
Paul Naschy bio
Coded for Region 0?
Listed Running Time: 89 minutes (Uncut version)
Listed Theatrical Run Time: 95 minutes
MPAA Rating: NR. (Contains nudity and mild gore.)
Cast: Paul Naschy, Helga Liné, Emma Cohen, Vic Winner, Betsabé Ruiz, Julio Peña, Luis Ciges, et al..
Director: Carlos Aured.
AKA: El Espanto surge de la tumba/ Horror from the Tomb/ Mark of the Devil 4 / Blutmesse der Zombies/ Vengeance of the Zombies
Wow. The quality is far superior to the- PAL conversion? Bootleg? Rental video? Fan dub?- version included in Brentwood’s Horror Rises from the Grave 4-movie collection. Seriously that version has a video title screen tacked to the beginning announcing “Maurizio Cabri Presents” (?) and a rather ugly low resolution title still replacing the original film title announcing this movie to be “Horror from the Tomb” with, in smaller sized font below the fuzzy title, a bit o text claiming “copyright 2002 Maurizio Cabri”. Great just what we need a narcissistic basement video pirate who can‘t just run off a direct dub of a movie but has to edit it. Is that was this is evidence of? If claiming copyright on a video edit were so easy! It’s not.
So this beggars the question: What other edits did mad Jack iconoclast basement video entrepreneur make?
Admit it, true or not, that’s what many hardcore movie aficionados are likely to be thinking. Of course the average video watcher won’t notice or care. More to the point for $5.99 it may be a viable alternative for those who want the movie on DVD but can’t find it elsewhere. Hey I bought a copy didn’t I? Of course I did, couldn’t crack these barely humorous jokes about it otherwise. So thanks Brentwood! Now how about digging up copies of Twins of Evil and Vampire Circus?
Ok, whatever dude, is the Mondo Crash version worth hunting down? I thought so. Then again I wanted the movie. Granted I did not notice much difference between the “clothed” and “uncut” version in my quickie comparison beyond some visual blurring and the lack of undergarments in a scene where one nubile female character happens to be wearing a see through negligee. Nothing much to get excited about. Then again my overall take on the movie is that the tale would have been better if filmed as a full-fledged period movie but, c’mon, with three different versions on two discs this is a must have! Right? So there you go. Take it or leave it as you want. Just be ware this is awesome bad movie night viewing.
DVD Picture Comparisons
The comparative screen captures are available only in the PDF version of this review. Is it worth downloading the PDF? That depends, for some inexplicable reason all of them appear with a wee bit of picture data missing to the right. Because of this I didn’t include a lot of screen comparisons. If you are alright with that then, yes, it’s worth downloading the PDF. However, Murphy’s laws seem to be in full force with this review as, believe it or not, my work file also crapped out and returns unrecoverable errors. This means that I didn’t get to justify all the margins or add in all the graphics I intended to. Otherwise the review is all there. At this point I am none to happy with my DVD software player, or my choice of word processor, however for those who would like to compare basic picture clarity the raw screen grabs appear as they were taken and show the picture quality spot on. Better than no screen captures at all, right? Yeah, when the wind blows it blows.
To give you an idea of the picture problems here is the sample image (that seemed to be the proverbial straw that broke the document when I tried to import it) notice the area with the white Xs inside boxes.
Notice the strip of black? That’s not supposed to be there. And, yes, that screen grab is from the wide screen version. Looks nice, eh? Unfortunately there is a similarly sized strip of picture data missing to the right. Haven’t been able to figure out why yet. In the PDF you really wouldn’t notice the picture loss in the full screen screen grabs unless they were pointed out, as I am doing, which I think is only fair.
So there you have it. It’s either go with what I have and release this review in time for Halloween, or try and fix a series of compounded problems including having to start the PDF version from scratch, and thus release the review whenever. I prefer to release the review when I intended it to be read, prior to Halloween. I hope you don’t mind.
The Horror Rises from the Tomb DVD from Mondo Crash is actually a two-disc set containing three; count them THREE, versions of this wicked tale of black magic and revenge. I say wicked because the movie goes from a very atmospheric opening with costume clad actors in period dress representing 15th century witch hunters going about their business, namely beheading warlocks and hanging witches upside down naked from gnarled trees, then jumps to the relatively boring present of the 1970s. This has always been a pet peeve of mine and, to be honest, I hate movies that do this as I feel they are a tease set up to lure you in to B- or Z-grade fare. Luckily Horror Rises from the Tomb was shot in the 70s, which means it has an atmosphere and style most B-grade direct to video titles from the 80s and 90s lack, so this ploy can be marginally forgiven.
Written by Jacinto Molina and starring Paul Naschy- actually one in the same person- this movie looks like a hodge-podge of scenes excised with a mad scientist’s skill from a diverse range of movies and woven together, like a Frankenstein monster, to create that special kinky kitsch that marks this devil of a film an true Paul Naschy feature. Problem is, unlike most movies that you can playback in your mind in a linear fashion, Horror Rises from the Tomb defies rational expectations. When you ponder it after viewing you find your gray matter twisting and turning down different corridors, asking questions, wondering if you really remember the film right. For instance there is the obligatory seventies séance scene ala Count Yorga, Vampire, yet the flow of plot isn’t as neat and cookie cutter tidy as in the Count Yorga movie.
What the (expletive deleted) is that supposed to mean? Horror Rises plays up to horror moviegoer’s expectations but with a sinister twist. This isn’t your typical assembly line horror movie that was banged out by studios like Universal, Amicus, or even Hammer! The editing and pacing are, for lack of a better word, eccentric. But in a mysteriously compelling way. The movie grabs your attention from the very first frame, where you hear squeaky cart wheels then are shown, slowly through a thicket of wild growth, a medieval procession leading a wagon with two obviously bound prisoners standing in the back. You can’t help but ask yourself what this is all about as you, unconsciously, sit up in your seat to try to get a better look. That’s roughly when the narration kicks in. It’s subtle genius.
The Setting: Opens with a scene set in 15th century Europe then jumps to the relative present of 1970s Europe.
The Story: Two nefarious characters are executed in the 15th century. Dunderheads in the relative present of the seventies hold a séance and awaken the vengeful spirit of one of them. Awakened, the spirit seeks to have its severed head restored to its body and his ladylove returned to him. Somewhere in the mix there are zombies, hypnotized nymphs wearing sheer negligees, and a bunch of other stuff I’ve conveniently forgotten to mention so as not to spoil your viewing experience.
The Characters: The 15th century necromancer killed at the beginning of the movie is one Alaric de Marnac, a ripe evil bastard that would make Gilles de Rais blush with shame. His consort in deviltry, Mabille de Lancre, is similarly a vile figure that makes Elizabeth Bathory look like a virginal schoolmarm. If you‘re thinking it’s a good thing they are executed in the opening sequence then you haven’t watched nearly enough horror movies! Now jump ahead a few centuries to the relative present of the seventies and we have your archetypal group of.. Well..
I‘ve pondered how to best summarize the characters and realize they aren‘t that easy to pin down. In a way they represent classic horror stereotypes. For instance Hugo is the archetypal skeptic, that one character who disclaims belief in the supernatural to the point you know, at some point, he will be coming face to face with it. Then there is Maurice, the archetypal tortured artist, and the one person who starts the movie with a mysterious obsession about painting these dark eyes in a face he’s never seen. You just know that something terrible is in store for this character and those who get too near to him.
Yet the characters, and this could be an artifact of the dubbing and eccentric editing, come across as more than a bit quirky. For instance the two girlfriends, Sylvia and Paula, almost seem to be present only because the script called for two female characters. Their strongest onscreen portrayals come near the end and at the beginning of the movie, where they seem integral to the plot by insisting on having the séance. Of course being a seventies era flick they are primarily cast in the role of victim, something that may not sit well with 21st century female sensibilities. Even so it is a interesting window into the mores of a different era.
The Horror: This movie just about has it all. From medieval miscreants condemned to death for witchcraft, a gruesome decapitation, naked women hung upside down from a tree, a séance, floating heads, a carjacking, row boat rides, burials at sea (well a lake anyway), zombies, black magic rituals, hearts being ripped out of chests, an angry centuries old necromancer warlock, and for those who just can’t live without nudity; beautiful women with bounteous bare heaving bosoms. Well the latter is in the uncut version at any rate. With all that how can you possibly go wrong? Granted having to choose which of the three versions of the movie available in this release to watch first is a nightmare, but what a nightmare!
Moral: Bored rich folk really shouldn‘t make fun of ancient curses made by beheaded necromancer-warlock ancestors then conduct a séance to find said warlock’s head.
Suggested Game Uses
The key question here is what would be the best possible game available to adapt Horror Rises from the Tomb? As the movie really takes place in the relative present I‘d suggest a RPG designed for modern settings such as Blood Games, which is specifically designed for games of modern occult horror, or something more generic, like D20 Modern. These are at least appropriate choices for adapting the modern setting. However a game system offering a cinematic approach may be useful given the eccentric nature of the movie. It’s really a tough call as many generic systems such as Risus or GURPS may be also be useful. But truth be told Horror Rises from the Tomb is really the sort of movie you want to watch on bad movie night with friends, not really the sort of thing you‘ll probably be wanting to adapt for use in a game session. I could be wrong, but I‘d suggest viewing this movie to see if it has any potential appeal to your gaming group.
The opening sequence is well done. However the action cuts from here to a plodding and utterly boring set-up for the séance scene. I can’t put my finger on it but this scene- which taken as a whole involves a painter inexplicably painting the beheaded satanic knight of old- felt awfully familiar. In a way it reminds me of those old serial stories told in movies ala Tales of Terror or Tales from the Crypt. Not sure why. Anyway the flow and pacing of the movie would have been far better had the action cut directly to the séance scene. (Apparently someone else thought the same as one of the versions I’ve seen does just that.) Here the audience could have been introduced to the characters in a simple round table of “Hello, I am so and so, and I‘m here because…” kind of deal. In fact it probably would have been better to introduce the characters here as to do so could have both set up the scene and explain it. Sadly that‘s not how it was filmed.
In execution the movie is a clichéd mishmash of themes borrowed from all over the place. The most obvious of course being the underlying meme lifted from the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a tale similarly concerned with a mysterious headless figure’s search for its missing head. At times the movie meanders like the blind dead through foggy streets looking for victims. But just as you are feeling like you are getting bored with what is going on something always suddenly happens to make you sit back up and scratch your head in wonder. The entire movie is like that. Long segments of plodding dreariness punctuated by sudden steep turns that keep you watching until the very end.
Ok, that may be a bit overstated, let‘s take a step back and see what lead me to that analysis. For starters the basic story premise, when put under the microscope, sounds flawed. The movie hinges on a loose thread of occult and black magic that serves as the foundation upon which the entirety of the movie premise is constructed. However the intro scene, while well done, sets up a background that is never really expounded upon in any depth. Pretentious sounding, isn’t it? Then again why are we seeing a 15th century execution? Why is this integral to the story even though it is never once explained how such a powerful arcane necromancer who is capable of ghostly manifestation over 500 years later was caught in the first place! For that matter why does it take so long for this obviously ludicrously powerful warlock to seek his revenge? More importantly will there ever be a prequel to explain all this?
Seriously any wizard like entity whose decapitated head is dug up 500+ years later without any evidence of decay is one powerful mother! So how did this guy get caught?
Never once is this explained in the intro. He’s just there. Like gum on the sidewalk. Funny thing is there were no representatives of the Church present that I recall, and for the 15th century they really would have been like gum under your shoe! So where were the clergy? Wouldn’t a warlock of such diabolical power have warranted a representative of the Church, such as a priest or three, to have been present if only to ensure the body was properly disposed of?
While a lot could probably be blamed on low budget constraints and bad dubbing these basic questions just really make this reviewer wonder what the back-story is. Kind of silly, I know, as it’s just a horror movie. But it does draw you in, dang it! That said, I really would have liked to see a far more in depth exploration of the occult elements, specifically as touching upon the 15th century back story, and have who de Marnac was shown in greater detail. Anyhow that‘s my quick overview of the story. Speaking of which, now that remakes are all the rage, all these questions could easily be addressed in a new version. Maybe even a prequel! I’d pay to see it.
Then that‘s really the problem with this old seventies potboiler of a horror movie. It has a few very good main scenes but, on the whole, the linking scenes seem to have been included almost as an after thought or in a effort to explain things that, perhaps, the director felt weren‘t properly explained in the scenes they should have been. Worse, a few scenes have no real reason for existing at all. Take the Night of the Living Dead inspired zombie attack scene in the latter half of the movie. Why?
The long and the short of it, the movie is several decades old and needs redoing. Especially when one considers the SFX, which could be categorized as “laughable” by current standards. Too, the dubbing of this movie is pretty bad. How bad is it? Well if the person was making lemon aide the product here would be evidence they were more interested in picking as many lemons as possible to make a quick buck than paying attention to how those lemons were actually squeezed, much less used. Yet the odd thing about this movie is the more you watch it, the more questions you have, and the further into the story you find yourself drawn.
In the immortal words of Mr. Spock, “Fascinating.”
Video Quality: Speaking of effects and digital artifacts, when viewing the uncut Mondo Crash DVD on my computer I noticed a line artifact at the bottom of the display that looks rather suspiciously like video tape crawl. This is not plainly discernable in the screen caps but it is noticeable while viewing. Not sure if that’s an indication the video was merely transferred from an existing VHS tape or a high end video master, but it was definitely not sourced from film. On a side note the Brentwood version doesn’t have this line crawl in evidence, then again the picture is so fuzzy it could hide a host of sins. Yet the Mondo Crash versions have superior visual clarity. What’s more you’re not likely to find better quality on VHS, DVD-R, or any other bargain bin versions that might be available.
If any feel this conclusion is in error I will gladly look at any tape or DVD they’d like to send my way for evaluation and update this review accordingly. I can be contacted via e-mail at kester_pelagius at yahoo dot com. Do NOT forget the underscore.
Rating: 8 ˝ out of 10 golden apples. (Based on the quality and content of the two discs.)
Perspective: Considering this movie was originally released in 1973 it is nice to see that someone out there cared enough about the movie to give it a decent digital transfer. If I had the equipment I’d probably do it myself, but I don’t, so there you go. That’s right I had a version of this title on VHS. So when I first saw the bargain bin 4-movie set from Brentwood with this title in it a few months back I figured if I couldn‘t find a official DVD release that I‘d buy that, just for nostalgia‘s sake. Long story short I did.
Yeah, so why tell us about it? Believe it or not the video quality, while somewhat mediocre, didn‘t seem any worse than I remembered my old VHS copy to be. Then I got the Mondo Crash DVD, which this review is all about. Talk about a difference! By comparison the Brentwood version is downright dreadful. It’s grainy, too bright, lacks clarity of color, and might have even been sourced from a old VHS dub. Too, there appears to have been minor cuts made here or there, as the time counter does not entirely sync up with any of the versions in the Mondo Crash release. Even after the time for the tacked on intro screen is taken into account the runtime is slightly off.
Keeping in mind the movie was filmed over thirty years ago based on a script that, according to legend, took only two days to write the end result isn’t that bad. Granted the SFX used for the disembodied ghost head does look silly to the point of becoming an intrusive annoyance to the later scenes in which it is used. Not an unwanted distraction so much as a visceral reaction to not wanting to see that head, which is the villain, so it does actually work. All in all for a low budget 1973 production it’s exactly the sort of thing you want to have around for bad movie night. This was a very well done DVD set that, for the price, can’t be beat.
Negatives: I had a darned hard time tracking this title down. I finally found a copy at a Fye‘s in a mall. Should any other version be out there of which I am unaware please, for the sake of my sanity, send me a screener! *smiles*
While it’s nice to have the different versions it doesn’t appear that any have been sourced from film elements of a theatrical version. For instance the so-called “U.S. release version” looks to be a very grainy video edit. Possibly an old one. Whether this was a TV edit or merely the bargain bin VHS version is unknown, either way the video quality looks roughly on par with that of the Brentwood release. Surprisingly the “clothed” version had far better picture quality than any of the other versions mentioned here. At a glance the main differences I have noted so far is a bit of visual blurring and possibly some minor snips to the gore. Thus I am going to go out on a limb and say the definitive edition of this film has yet to be released. Given the age of the film that‘s probably to be expected.
Positives: The unusual story is rather captivating even though the dubbed dialogue has its ridiculous moments. Granted bad dubbing is part of the charm of these older horror films. All in all this movie is perfectly suited to both bad movie nights and Halloween. However I am not convinced this is the definitive DVD of the film even though it does showcase three different versions, all with good to awesome picture quality. Too, there are only mediocre to nice extras. For instance the “U.S. version” (a TV edit?) is on the extras disc! Which is nice to have, but it‘s also pretty much the best “extra” on the extra disc. But for the price I’m not complaining. This was well worth it!
Availability: While the reasonably priced ($14.99) Mondo Crash release is listed in most store databases I had to trek all the way to a mall to find an actual physical product, which was the only copy on the shelf! Conversely the budget priced Brentwood version, which comes as part of a 4-movie pack, was much easier to find. While I picked up my 4-movie pack for $5.99 be aware that prices will vary. Sadly that’s it for domestic DVD.
There are (or were) VHS versions available from Charter Entertainment, Embassy, Sinister Cinema, Columbia Tristar, Alpha Video, and Something Weird. I have no information on the video quality or versions on these tapes beyond what is listed on the product link pages of the company web sites. A region 2 DVD going under the title of “Blutmesse Für Den Teufel” is also floating around out there. As if that’s not enough there are also DVD-r copies available. But be wary. Not all who offer DVD-r titles are reputable. If in doubt ask yourself: Do I really want to pay $25 plus steep S&H charges for what may turn out to be multi generation bootleg quality video?
If you are willing to take the risk, or are thinking about it, please research the sources. There are many great online forums and resource sites where movie fans can go to find out all sorts of information and trivia. (See “Supplementary” below.) Of course the same advice holds true for those offering imports or viewing titles listed on eBay. Be safe, shop smart, know who you are doing business with, and try to read as many reviews of a product as possible. Do that and you’ll almost always be happy with your purchases? Note that is not a guarantee just an hopeful observation. *wink*
Supplementary: If you would like to find out more about the enigmatic films, filmmakers, or any of the other obscura mentioned above I suggest acquiring a copy of the book Immoral Tales. It’s very informative. Also recommended are visiting sites such as Latarnia (http://www.latarnia.com/default.htm), Horror Wood (http://www.horror-wood.com/), or Sinister Tales (http://members.aol.com/eurosin/sin.htm).
The PDF version of this review with comparative screen captures can be found here.
Copyright © 2004 C. Demetrius Morgan