Thursday, July 14, 2016

Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973)

I first saw Horror Rises from the Tomb many years ago (around 2003) as part of a four movie bargain set of zombie movies, and my initial thoughts were, “too slow and not enough zombies.” I had no idea who Spanish filmmaker Paul Naschy was at the time, nor would I have probably cared. I was disappointed I didn’t get the zombie movie the misleading box cover promised. I then cast it aside as an irrelevant film that was best forgotten. (Boy is adult-me really annoyed at teenage-me right now.)

In the midst of my giallo collecting craze around 2008, I eventually came upon a Naschy thriller called Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (1974). Needless to say, I dug it and finally became interested in director/writer/actor Paul Naschy. My next Naschy film was Human Beasts (1980), which to me was an even greater experience. Then, after having fun with a couple of Naschy’s werewolf movies, I thought, despite my disconcerting memories of the film, I’d give Horror Rises from the Tomb another go with a new perspective as a Naschy fan and without my zombie film bias.

Horror Rises from the Tomb was written by and stars Paul Naschy, in three roles. It came about as a rush emergency product. Film producer José Antonio Pérez Giner urgently needed a horror screenplay in order to get a new production company, Profilmes, off the ground. With only a day and a half to do it, Paul Naschy offered to quickly write up a screenplay. In his memoirs, Naschy stated that he managed to write up the screen play for Horror Rises from the Tomb in record time with the help of amphetamine pills. The movie was originally to have been directed by Leon Klimovsky, but he was not available, so the job went to Klimovsky’s assistant Carlos Aured. Aured would direct Naschy in three other films, Curse of the Devil (1973), The Mummy’s Revenge (1973), and the aforementioned Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, before the two would have a falling out, as Aured seems to have shunned Naschy from what was supposed to be their next film.

It is safe to say that Horror Rises from the Tomb is one of the most well-known Naschy films and emblematic of Naschy’s particular brand of horror. It also features one of Naschy’s most iconic monsters, next to the wolf-man, Alaric de Marnac, an evil French sorcerer/knight who is kind of a mix between Gilles de Rais and Count Dracula. Naschy would reprise the role of de Marnac in Panic Beats (1983). 

Pacing issues aside, this movie is a beautiful gothic horror piece that’s a lot more dreadful than most of your atmospheric candles, nightgowns, and ghosts fests. There’s just something depressing, hopeless, and pessimistic about it. The characters seem doomed to die horrific deaths in an inescapable, claustrophobic nightmare world.

When I first saw it, I was anticipating a fun zombie film, one that followed conventional zombie-film rules, instead of a dark and disturbing tale of occult cruelty. I had also thought that it dragged its doom and gloom, stilted conversation scenes, contrived climax, and ritualistic resurrections to an uninspired conclusion.

I remember thinking that the short zombie segment was too little too late, but I was overlooking that the zombies were more of an addition to the meat and potatoes, like a condiment, a little George Romero to go with your gothic horror. Also, the scene with the zombies, seen from a distance, emerging from the swamp is highly effective at eerily foreboding the film’s brief transition into a zombie film. The landscape and sound effects that sound like some sort of unidentified sea creature make this one of the creepier parts.

My negative opinion has of course long since passed. I’ve come to hold Horror Rises in high esteem. The film really is a nightmarish experience akin to Fulci’s The Beyond (1981). It also helped that, when I revisited it for the first time, I chose to watch BCI’s marvelous HD restoration, which brought out the sheer beauty that makes up every interior set and exterior location, because beauty paired with gloom is an intrinsic element to this kind of film.

Aside from the visuals, my favorite quality would have to be the dark fantasy element, which includes sorcery, occult rituals, and resurrected evil from the middle ages. The antagonists are introduced at the beginning in a terrific medieval flashback. Alaric de Marnac and his faithful love and partner in evil, Mabille de Lancré (Helga Line) are being led to the gallows to be executed for a list of heinous crimes, which includes “drinking human blood”, “eating flesh”, and “bloody sacrifices of the newborn and of young girls.” Naschy and Line do seem born for these roles, with the evil sorceress/vampire Mabille being kind of like a red-headed mix of Circe and Evil-Lyn. Line was about forty years old at the time of filming, and I do believe that Mabille, along with the Loreley from Amando de Ossorio’s The Loreley’s Grasp (1974), is probably Line’s most popular role. (By the way, today July 14 happens to be Helga Line’s birthday).

Happy birthday, vampire queen!
Before their violent executions, both Alaric and Mabille manage to spit out rather elaborate, vengeful curses to the descendants of those responsible for their sentence, namely Alaric’s brother Armand de Marnac (also Paul Naschy) and Andre Roland (Victor Alcázar). This setup does bring to mind Bava’s pivotal gothic horror Black Sunday (1960), and likely a number of other films that followed suit.

Flash forward to ‘70s Paris, where the descendants (and modern counterparts) of Andre and Armand, Maurice (Alcázar) and Hugo (Naschy), are living what appears to be comfortable lives, each with their respective girlfriends who could pass as supermodels.

So that’s three roles for Naschy, and although Armand is only briefly shown, the character range is, as usual with Naschy, exceptionally impressive. When I first watched this, i.e. when I was ignorant of Paul Naschy, I didn’t even notice.

A skeptical Hugo attends a marvelously shot séance, where they learn of the location of Alaric’s head buried somewhere on the land near Hugo’s isolated winter mansion. To see if it was all a hoax, and if not, to possibly find buried treasure, Hugo suggests to everyone that they travel down for a sort of getaway for the weekend to the chalet on his family grounds. (The gorgeous isolated country house located in Lozoya Valley in the film actually belonged to Naschy’s parents).

During the drive up to the estate, they are stopped and molested by bandits (a common scene in Naschy’s films), who wreck their car. Vigilantes come to their aid, and they turn out to be even more brutal than the bandits, as they violently murder the bandits with the authority of an execution squad. Every time I watch it, I’m disturbed by the summary executions, which feel like an appalling abuse of authority. The leader of the gang, who is a dead ringer for Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York (2002), sells Hugo and his companions a clunker so they can reach their destination where all Hell will eventually break loose.

It’s funny that the curse would take over five-hundred years to be realized. You’d think Alaric and Mabille’s vengeful souls would’ve moved on and gotten over this execution incident from way back in the Middle-Ages by now and perhaps acquired some sort of enlightenment whilst in whatever purgatory they were confined to before resurrection, yet this is true evil itself, which would only intensify with centuries.

I do like the way the groundskeeper becomes possessed and transitions into something similar to a slasher movie villain to do Alaric’s bidding in order to procure the parts he needs to be resurrected, namely Alaric’s head, a heart, and a nubile body for Mabille’s resurrection.

While at the estate, Hugo develops a love connection with one of the house keeper’s daughters, Elvira (Emma Cohen). (The name Elvira is in tribute to Naschy’s real life wife, Elvira Primavera, one of many times Naschy would name his character’s love interest after his wife). Cohen’s performance is sincere; she puts a lot of terror and sadness (her character did recently lose her father and sister to the forces of evil) into her acting, making certain scenes like the zombie assault more believable, as she stands behind Naschy while he pushes the zombies back with a torch, and her facial expressions here give a genuine sense of fear. Elvira ends up being the heroine of the story, transitioning from the damsel in distress to the final girl, with the power to destroy Alaric and Mabille. This power is in the form of a “deus ex machina” plot device known as the Talisman of Thor. I find it rather peculiar that with the film’s villains being in league with Satan, instead of a Christian symbol of good such as the cross, it is a pagan symbol that overpowers the evil force. However, a cross probably could’ve been found anywhere, but a mythical talisman is quite unique. I do think it is unusual, but a good kind of unusual, addition, probably because it had me thinking of fantasy themed heavy metal. The villains who were pretty terrifying up to this point do become pushovers when pit against the Talisman of Thor, which was conveniently pulled out of a well. But the seemingly invincible evil has to be defeated somehow, and I’ll accept a fun trinket like the Talisman of Thor, which could easily adorn the cover of a power metal album.

So I made the point that I didn’t like it at first, but that was more of a shame-on-me sort of thing, because Horror Rises from the Tomb is awesome. It may slow to a grinding halt at times, but the mood, tone, and atmosphere always persist. The soundtrack is also creepy and quite effective; there’s a particular disturbing, scraping sound effect heard during some of the esoteric ritual scenes, and usually when Alaric’s presence is known, that sounds like some sort of reptilian mating call that adds to the unease. I can’t recommend it enough to Naschy fans that haven’t seen it yet, and with the right audience this would make for some great midnight movie madness. 

© At the Mansion of Madness

During the time I was writing this review, I was saddened to learn of the passing of Emma Cohen on July 11, 2016. Thank you and rest in peace Emma Cohen. I haven’t yet experienced the full extent of your acting, but your talent was and will continue to be a special treat to us fans of Spanish cult/horror films.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Blow Job – un soffio erotico (1980)

Not to be confused with Andy Warhol’s Blow Job (1963), Alberto Cavallone’s Blow Job is a witchy Italian horror film with a fairly meagre start that escalates into a reality transcending experience that was influenced by Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception (1952) and the shamanistic writings of Carlos Castaneda. One similarity between both films is the titular blowjob and its ambiguous nature. Warhol’s Blow Job is a thirty five minute still-shot of a young man’s (DeVeren Bookwalter) face while he is supposedly receiving fellatio, allegedly by experimental filmmaker Willard Maas. Because the sexual act itself takes place off camera, it is never absolutely certain if the fellatio is legitimately happening, which along with conflicting accounts of the filming itself adds a curious air of mystery to it.

The blowjob in Cavallone’s film only makes up a fraction of the movie during the third act and coincides with a mescaline (the main active hallucinogen in peyote) trip, and so the fellatio is also presented indirectly. The mescaline aided “blowjob” sort of doubles as a gateway act to a higher form of perception, but the fascination in this case comes more from how the filmmakers choose to represent “suchness” or “the absolute”, the ultimate nature of reality without reduced awareness. One of our lead characters Stefano (Danilo Micheli) transcends reality, under the guidance of an erotic witch Sibilla (Mirella Venturini), to take a trip through the spirit world, aka tripping balls. It involves dancing and low budget experimental set pieces and was more memorable than I was anticipating it to be.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Ten Films That Describe My Aesthetic

Terence from Chicks with Candles has tagged me to “list ten films that describe my aesthetic.” I believe this is a Tumblr game that has leaked into Blogger in my case. Before me, Terence was tagged by @alfredsnightmare. So what does it mean to say “my aesthetic”? With movies, I think of it as a familiar visual and emotional theme that still resonates with me irregardless of how many times I experience it. 

But perhaps the included images might speak a little more than words.

1) The Forbidden Photos of a Lady above Suspicion (1973): Colorful liquor bar carts, ‘70s giallo glamor, Euro-nightclubs, Technicolor, small cars, cigarettes, Edda Dell’Orso, Ennio Morricone – So these features could describe a lot of movies, but this one has one of my favorite titles and Nieves Navarro in a black high split open side dress. I thought that Navarro’s proud and confident sexually liberated character Dominique felt like a proto-Samantha from Sex and the City.

2) Succubus (1968): Provocative muses, looming castle destinations, mannequins, inner personality conflicts, nightclub faux torture scenes, dream sequences, trippy acid parties – The hazy soft-focused sequence when Janine Reynaud’s Lorna Green drifts out of bed and ventures to the limestone river castle in Lisbon and the questionable perspective of dream or reality remains a gold standard for surreal film experiences for me. Is she mad, or just not of this world?

3) The Reincarnation of Isabel (1973): Erotic madness, mountainous terrain, spaced out looking actors standing around the Castle Balsorano, Eastmancolor, expressive sadomasochism, comical sex scenes, day and night merging, excessive use of grandiose set pieces – This movie’s a chaotic mess, but it’s also an expressionistic masterpiece that thrives on account of its aesthetic and not its narrative.

4) The Blood Spattered Bride (1972): Ancestral mansions, sapphic vampires, Carmilla influenced, bloody daggers, blurred line between dream and reality, bloody mariticide, gothic candle lit dinner scenes, sylvan settings – Beautiful but disturbing with several uncomfortable parts, The Blood spattered Bride still works as a great Spanish horror film despite being pretty heavy with its tones of misogyny and misandry.

5) The Spider Labyrinth (1988): Conspiracy theory – How can conspiracy theory be an aesthetic? Well, have a look at the included screen grab below. That realization that you were in the lion’s den the entire time makes for a uneasy experience in denouements to films such as The Perfume of the Lady in Black, Short Night of Glass Dolls, and Rosemary’s Baby.

6) Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night (1987): ‘80s Filmation nostalgia, inappropriately scary for intended kid audience, creepy carnivals – This unofficial sequel to Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio did give me nightmares, particularly on account of one scene with Pinocchio at The Neon Cabaret, some sort of kid’s disco (the Playland counterpart), where the kid’s faces start to horrifically distort after he drinks the sparkly green liquid, which I like to think is carbonated Ecto Cooler spiked with absinthe.

7) All the Colors of the Dark (1972): Black Masses, Edwige fenech (yes, she counts as an aesthetic), looming mansion destinations, Bruno Nicolai, staying classy and fashionable (like something out of a JCPenny’s catalogue) while being stalked by your killer. I love black mass scenes and All the Colors of the Dark easily has my favorites.

8) The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman (1971): Vampires moving through space in slow motion, classic monster mashups, Paul Naschy, gothic ambiance – With the right amount of fog and dread, slow motion framing can make your monsters seem to exist outside of space and time, and the effect is quite startling, so much so that Amando di Ossorio would mimic it for his Blind Dead Templars.

9) Queens of Evil (1970): Horror movies with a fairytale exterior, provocative situations that aren’t what they seem, ancient witches in touch with modern ‘70s fashions, Snow White, free spirited hippies with a lot of crazy ideas about free loveQueens of Evil is a fantastic horror film with a biting social message.

10) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988): Classic cel animation juxtaposed with reality, nourish style set in 1940s LA, inappropriate for kids despite being one of my favorite movies as a kid – There couldn’t be anything more awesome than cartoons being real and the existence of a place like Toontown and not to mention a chance to meet Betty Boop.


Friday, April 1, 2016

Adrift / Touha zvaná Anada (1971)

Adrift was one of the last, if not the last, Czechoslovak New Wave films before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Filming was actually interrupted by the invasion, with a military bridge being temporarily erected at the filming site on the banks of the Danube River. Adrift’s co-director and co-writer (academy award winning filmmaker Ján Kadár) then fled the country and made another film in the US, The Angel Levine. After the loosening of Soviet control in Czechoslovakia in 1969, Kadár returned, and, after getting everyone back together, filming for Adrift resumed.

I became interested in Adrift (or my preferred title: A Desire Called Anada) at random while scanning for new older foreign films to watch. One drew me in by its poster design (I know, typical) that put me in the mood for a haunting, surreal fantasy about a water nymph. I also saw that it was Czechoslovak, which had me recalling At the Mansion of Madness favorites Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) and Morgiana (1972). I’ve also been meaning to explore more Czechoslovak New Wave films, especially for this site, so I kind of committed myself to Adrift for review before even watching it. I decided not to read anything about it and go in fresh without knowing what it was about or if it was any good. (Yep, that’s how this blogger sometimes picks movies). Spoiler: it’s good.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Marta (1971)

Austrian actor Marisa Mell (born Marlies Theres Moitzi) is remembered by most as a sexy ‘60s cult icon, particularly as Diabolik’s girlfriend/partner-in-crime, Eva, in Mario Bava’s comic adaptation Danger: Diabolik (1968), but Mell also starred in a fine line of Euro-thriller dramas, usually playing the seductive swindler-murderess type – Death will Have your Eyes (1974) and Diary of an Erotic Murderess (1975) to name a couple. Her particular attention-grabbing, statuesque presence could make the most routine mystery plot a delight to sit through. However, she was underutilized in her movie career in certain respects; considering her demigoddess-like physiognomy, it’s unfortunate that she didn’t play more fantastical or otherworldly characters in fantasy or horror films; and along with Margaret Lee, I thought of her as a Eurospy girl that should’ve eventually been a real Bond girl.

A number of Marisa Mell starring vehicles currently suffer from not having proper releases, such as a little seen Spanish/Italian mystery thriller, directed and co-written by Jose Antonio Nieves Conde, called Marta aka …dopo di che, uccide il maschio e lo divora. I had been interested in checking it out for a while, and when a reader mentioned the film to me, I was finally driven to track down a copy and watch it. The version I first watched didn’t have the best image quality, but even worse was that it had all of Marisa Mell’s nude scenes edited out (the nerve), but I liked it enough to buy a DVD-R of the uncut version, which, sadly, was of even lower image quality; Marta is obviously in need of proper restoration.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Spasmo (1974)

I know now that it’s Italian for ‘spasm’ (or a name giallo fans might give their pets), but when I first watched this film’s delirious trailer, I remember thinking: “who or what is Spasmo?” and after I saw the movie, I still didn’t know what Spasmo was. It’s just one of those appealing one word titles that, like Orgasmo, somehow complement the film rather well.

You don’t forget a title and a film like Spasmo. As for the details of the story and characters, that can get a little hazy, not just with time but even upon reflection the following day, since there’s so much to it. Images of assaulted mannequins meld with memories of murdered characters that may or may not have been real from the perspective of the protagonist, who is either losing his mind or is in the worst company ever. It really makes you wonder if Umberto Lenzi’s experimental giallo is either a confusing mess or a labyrinth of mysteries and riddles for the viewer to explore and analyze.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Devil of Kreuzberg (2015)

It’s always been interesting to get to know fellow film bloggers through their writing or vlogs. You come across a lot of great writers with a mutual passion for European genre and horror movies, yet some of them have a passion that goes beyond just talking about the movies; they make them too. Now, I confess to knowing nothing about filmmaking and I probably never will, but I can only imagine what kind of intense commitment and passion must go in to making a genre love letter like The Devil of Kreuzberg, a medium-length German gothic horror film from indie filmmaker, and I might point out fellow film blogger, Alexander Bakshaev.

I’ve followed Alex on Trash Film Addict for a few years now, so I was familiar with what kind of films he’s interested in and looking forward to how someone who knows a lot about vintage gothic horror would tackle a low-budget gothic horror film in 2015, and I’ve got to say I was impressed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Dracula Saga (1973)

Count Dracula seems to have a habit of always being reborn, both within the stories themselves as well as in different incarnations across the board of entertainment media. He’s become so synonymous with horror and Halloween that he will never leave the public consciousness. You can kill him off with a wooden stake or by overexposing him with so many variations, adaptations, tie-ins, or spin-offs, but he’s never going away; he’ll always be reborn. And why shouldn’t he? Like most great ideas, there always seems to be plenty more to explore. I wonder if Bram Stoker knew just how immortal his creation would turn out to be and that killing him off at the end of the novel was only the beginning.

Much like Hammer’s Dracula films, the Spanish horror film The Dracula Saga / La saga de los Drácula is a take that explores further possibilities with The Count. With a stretch of the imagination, it kind of works as an unofficial prequel to Stoker's Dracula, but it’s rather more of an alteration of sorts that disregards the events of the original story and takes liberties to imagine what Dracula’s family would be like, with a story told primarily through Dracula’s estranged granddaughter, Berta (Tina Sáinz – I could’ve easily seen Emma Cohen in this role as well). Although there are narrations from Dracula at the beginning and at the end, telling the story at the end as if it was his story all along, while the English trailer is narrated by Berta, who claims this is her story, so it's a bit of a toss up as to whose story this really is. 
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