Friday, 7 October 2016

Horror Rises from the Tomb (Blood Mass for the Devil / El Espanto Surge de la Tumba) - review

1972 (Spain)

Contains spoilers.
Not overly original, not particularly well-paced and a bit of a garbled cacophony of ideas; nevertheless Paul Naschy's (under the writing guise of his birth name Jacinto Molina) odd little seventies euro horror is remarkably atmospheric, utterly watchable and entirely endearing. This is actually my first taste of the infamous Mr Naschy. Renowned for his role as the werewolf El Hombre Lobo, as well as such horror staples as Frankenstein's Monster, The Mummy and Count Dracula, his acting prowess has seen him rewarded with official accolades, as well as household recognition across Spain, for horror fans at least. On top of these roles he also starred in several original zombie horrors, and it's his first, filmed in 1972; Horror Rises from the Tomb aka Blood Mass for the Devil, or Blood Mass for the Zombies, and originally in Spanish El Espanto Surge de la Tumba trasl. Fright Rises from the Grave that we're looking at.

Paul Naschy is the blood drinking, baby-eating, beard wearing and all powerful warlock Alaric de Marnac. A brilliant opening sequence sees him and his beloved Mabille De Lancré (Helga Liné) put to death at the hands of his brother and accomplishes, and them screaming a curse on their bloodline with a promise to return and settle the score. Five hundred years on and it's Hugo de Marnac (also played by Nashy), Maurice (Víctor Alcázar) and their girlfriends Paula (Cristina Suriani) and Sylvia (Betsabé Ruiz), a séance that leaves a lot of questions and a field trip  to Hugo's remote mountain retreat to look for the late Alaric's missing head and find some answers; what could go wrong?

I've seen the film come in for a bit of criticism, and it considered a bit of a let-down, at least when held up against his best work, and this only excites me. Personally other than, as said, a plot and origin story that seemed to scramble about looking for identity the film hooked me with it's odd satanic / vampire / witchcraft / zombie world, and positively oozed otherness with a disturbing erotic, dark and sinister personality I felt it forged all of its own. Nashy is quoted as saying he penned the story in a day and a half, with the help of amphetamines, and the film itself was shot in days, not months with little to no budget at his family home in the Lozoya Valley, France. Whilst the wandering, and it could be argued up until Alaric's resurrection, ponderous, narrative could be held as testament to this, I personally see it as all the more reason to recognise and praise the obvious craftsmanship and passion of all those involved. Horror Rises from the Tomb's story is coherent, the threat tangible, the dialogue and relationships believable, and the action suspenseful. Effects, which are normally the first thing to suffer when money is tight are remarkably polished too, which given the whole detached head being transplanted thing, is quite something.

Alaric and Mabille are positioned as vampire / satanic witches, without fangs but the ability to translocate in the blink of an eye and often a puff of smoke and swirl of the cape, and beguile victims into servitude, and quite often to take off their clothes. Alaric is definitely the boss; well it is the seventies and mainland Europe; and it's his perfectly preserved head and body that need to be reunited first before he can perform the necessary blood sacrifice on the bones of his beloved and bring her back. Mabille can be killed with a silver needle through the heart, where-as Alaric requires the sacred medallion Thor's Hammer (though what pagan polytheistic Thor and Mjölnir have to do with fighting Alaric and his monotheistic Satanic worship is anyone's guess) to be placed on his forehead; which Elvira, the caretakers daughter, conveniently knows where to find. Thor's Hammer also acts to protect them from direct attack so Alaric turns to the swamp and some recently deceased to do his dirty work. It is a bit of hodgepodge if we're honest; but an endearing one, and I'm all for a bit of artistic license when it comes to surrealist existential euro nonsense. 

It took a long time coming but the fetid gnarly walking dead are worth the wait, and their slow siege of the house oozes danger and evil. Before they arrived I was worried I'd have to make the point that those charmed by Alaric were zombies of a sort, and while I'd argue wrested control, subjugation of the will and mute obedience is every-bit zombie, opening up the blog to all and every vampire film where the eyes swirl and the young girl takes off her top and bares her neck would leave me in a world of pain. Fortunately here there are actual reanimated dead and Paula, Maurice and the late caretaker, my glib point aside, are fully possessed in a manner more reminisce of older voodoo zombie films, obeying their masters ad infinitum, or at least until freed by their death or in this case a magical totem. The walking dead are that; macabre shuffling, groaning corpses, impervious to gun shots but wary of fire which seems the only way to stop them. Ok, their appearance is fairly brief, and obviously inspired by Night of the Living Dead, and I would be hard pressed to sell the film as a zombie one per se, but their introduction is powerful, entirely coherent and an utter joy.

With a disturbing and uncomfortable identity I can understand why Naschy's gothic delight has become a bit of a cult hit and why Naschy himself held it in such high regard. A bit Fulci a bit de Ossorio, Horror Rises from the Tomb delights us with a story where the odds appear insurmountable and death is perhaps just the gateway to something far more alien and potentially far darker. Less sadistically in your face than Fulci, it's still a film that isn't afraid to close in when then there's blood spill or organs to rip out; and yes the copious amount of female flesh displayed was perhaps more for titillation than any narrative reason but it all added to the identity and charm (there's always the release which saw all nudity reshot and removed) but you know what, I unashamedly enjoyed the euro-trash. Moody, gritty, disconcerting; this tense Naschy horror is more than the sum of its parts and really given the tight constraints deserves the same corresponding level of attention and love from the horror fan as was obviously lavished on it by all involved - 7/10.

The 1997 Victory Films DVD I watched had a lovely 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer but presented me with a bit of a conundrum. With both the original Castilian and English dub track to choose from it took me until chapter three before I settled on the latter. With reasonable voices I felt despite the distraction of an off lip sync, it gave me more time to, ahem, enjoy the ample visual delights on offer…



  1. I'm glad you've discovered Naschy. I went a little lower on score for this one than yourself, I wanted less of the kitchen sink and a little less languid in pace.

    1. Cheers, I saw that you weren't quite so enamoured! One day we'll have to get together and watch some these films a second time!