October Horrorshow: Horror Rises from the Tomb

Writer/actor/director Paul Naschy was cinematic royalty in his native Spain. But, despite having seen piles and piles of horror flicks and shitty movies combined, this reviewer had never heard of him until doing the research for this post. My favorite factoid about Naschy is that he starred in twelve low-budget werewolf flicks, all as a character named Waldemar Daninsky, and yet each is a standalone film, featuring a new origin for Waldemar’s werewolf curse. That’s fantastic. Who retcons the same character eleven times? Naschy and his cohort over in Franco’s Spain, that’s who. I cannot wait to see them all and share my thoughts on them with you, loyal reader.

But, before then, there is 1972’s Horror Rises from the Tomb, wherein Naschy does not play a werewolf, but the resurrection of a medieval sorcerer named Alaric de Marnac. Directed by Carlos Aured from a screenplay by Naschy, the film opens with Alaric’s execution by decapitation. He utters curses and vows of revenge against his executioners, including his own brother, Armand (also played by Naschy), then is killed alongside his lover, the witch Mabille De Lancré (Helga Liné). Their bodies are entombed beneath a monastery on the Marnac lands, and survive only in local legend.

Fast forward to modern-day Paris, and viewers meet Armand’s direct descendant, Hugo (again played by Naschy). He is close friends with Maurice Roland (Victor Barrera), and the two enjoy the Paris life with their girlfriends, Silvie and Paula (Betsabé Ruiz and Cristina Suriani). One night, the ladies decide they want to go to a séance led by medium Madame Irina (Elsa Zabala). Maurice doesn’t care to go, but Hugo is willing. He’s skeptical of the whole thing, so to test Madame Irina’s veracity, Hugo asks Irina to contact the spirit of his executed ancestor. Hugo was just looking to have a good time, and lord it over his girlfriend with logic, but Madame Irina is legit. She does indeed contact Alaric, and he tells where his head can be found in the now ruined monastery.

Well, there’s nothing else that Hugo and company can do but head down to the family lands and find old Alaric’s head.

Hugo, Maurice, Silvie, and Diane pile into Hugo’s Mercedes and it’s off to rural Spain they go. The Marnac lands are in a particularly lawless area of Spain, and one rife with superstition. Bandits and thieves abound.

After arriving at the family’s estate, watched over by caretaker Gastón (Juan Cazalilla) and his lovely daughter, Elvire (Emma Cohen, Spanish cinematic royalty in her own right), Hugo enlists the help of Gastón to hire locals to begin digging up the area in search of Alaric’s head. Because legend tells that Alaric will bring nothing but death to the area should he be found, and because numerous locals have gone missing searching for a mythical treasure on the property, Gastón can only find a pair of thieves to help with the digging.

The excavations uncover a locked chest, which the two thieves try to steal. But, when they crack open the lid, one of the thieves comes under the spell of Alaric’s severed head (still played by Naschy), and now the plot really gets going.

There’s not much that a severed head can do on its own, even if it is conscious, but Alaric is no slouch in the spells and hypnotism department. He takes control of characters throughout the film one by one to help in his nefarious deeds.

He is reattached to his body, Mabille is resurrected alongside him, more cast members come under the control of Alaric, and there’s a bunch of bloody murder. All of it leads to the kind of finale with which horror veterans will be familiar. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s the journey that counts. And what a shitty journey it is.

Naschy penned somewhat of a coherent screenplay, but there were 89 minutes of running time in this film, and not enough idea to fill it. So, this film is something of a collection of horror tropes. In one scene, ripped straight out of a Dracula flick, Alaric enters Elvire’s bedroom in the night, but is fended off by a religious talisman she wears around her neck. Not a Christian cross, but Thor’s hammers formed in an ‘x.’ Alaric disappears in a cloud of smoke with a hiss in his throat. In another scene, corpses for which Alaric is responsible come to life and attack the Marnac house like it’s the zombie apocalypse. Naschy and Aured disposed of the zombie threat as soon as this scene was over, exposing its purpose as filler. But, this kind of filler is much better than what other horror dreck chooses to use.

And this flick is dreck. It was never released theatrically in the United States. Rather, it was part of a cheapie package of shitty foreign horror flicks sold to syndicated television. It’s strictly fodder for late night television hosts.

As such, the film has not been cared for. The print I saw was poorly dubbed and allowed to degrade until it could be called a ‘brown and white’ movie. A restored print would look better, sure, but why would anyone bother? The story would still be absurd, the sets would still be cheap, the effects would still be poor, and the acting would still stink.

There’s not much to recommend this film for the shitty movie fan, except that it does have style. The poor sound and crackling picture form an aesthetic all its own, one that has increasing credibility in the age of Instagram filters and faux retro horror movies.

I’ve seen many less watchable shitty movies than Horror from the Tomb. Despite its profound lack of quality, it doesn’t fall down among the worst films in the Watchability Index, simply because Aured and company were smart enough to kill some characters when things were threatening to get too slow. My goodness, they might have cared about their audience. That’s worth at least 20 spots all on its own. Horror from the Tomb takes over the #193 spot from Chernobyl Diaries.

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