Horror Rises From the Tomb
“France, in the middle of the fifteenth century, when superstition and ignorance reigned almighty across the land. Men and women accused of witchcraft were burned at the stake, hanged from the gallows or placed under the blade of the executioner. Pestilence, the most destructive plagues, war with its untold horrors, were not even as remotely feared as the dark power of Satan and his sinister followers of devils and witches.”
We open in medieval France where Aleric De Marnac (Paul Naschy) and his mistress Mabille De Lancre (Helga Line) are about to be put to death for practicing black magic. Aleric is being sentenced to a particularly draconian punishment – he is to be beheaded, and his head and body are to be buried in separate places so that never again will he be able to walk the earth. Before the sentence is carried out, Aleric pronounces a curse upon his disloyal brother and others who were responsible for his execution, a curse that that will affect their descendents. He then loses his noggin and Mabille is put to death.
The action picks up again in modern day Paris where we are introduced to Hugo De Marnac (also Paul Naschy) and his artist friend Maurice Roland (Victor Alcazar). While visiting their lady friends Paula (Cristini Surianti) and Sylvia (Betsabe Ruiz), they are invited to attend a séance the following day. Maurice abstains from going, but the other three decide to participate. Skeptical, Hugo asks the medium to contact the spirit of his ancestor Aleric De Marnac, and, speaking in Aleric’s voice, the medium says that he will never rest in peace as long as his head and body are separated, and the voice reveals that, while his body is buried in the crypts on the Marnac lands, his head is buried elsewhere. As this is happening, Maurice, sitting at home trying to paint a portrait, is possessed by a sudden urge and creates a painting of a headless body holding Hugo’s severed head. A phantom image of Aleric then appears and laughs evilly, and Maurice destroys the painting.
In order to see whether or not the medium was correct, Hugo decides to pay a visit to his family lands in the rural mountain country and search for the remains of his ancestor. Sylvia, Paula and Maurice all agree to go with him. After a long trip into the mountains, and after being briefly sidetracked by a run-in with some local bandits and the posse chasing them, they arrive at the estate, a massive manor house in the middle of the woods tended by the elderly Gastone (Juan Cazalilla)) and his lovely daughters Elvira (Emma Cohen) and Chantal (Maria Jose Cantudo). Hugo tells Gastone to hire some men from the nearby village so that they can do some excavation, but due to the “demon” that is supposed to haunt the Marnac lands the only people he is able to recruit are a couple village lowlifes. As the laborers begin to dig Maurice is possessed by a strange vision and instructs them where to dig and, sure enough, they unearth a centuries old box with a lock so strong that they can’t break into it. They lock it in a shed until morning when they can try and find a blowtorch. However, the two lowlifes can’t wait that long. Thinking the chest contains treasure, they find a blowtorch and break into it on their own. Just as they open the box they are surprised by Gastone, who points a shotgun at them. However, one of the men, as if in a trance, proceeds to slaughter Gastone with a sickle, and then do his friend in as well. He takes the box – and whatever is inside of it – and disappears into the night. Other ghastly occurrences follow and the group realizes that they are now trapped and alone at the estate. It seems that Aleric De Marnac - or at least his head – is back and eager for vengeance...
Horror Rises From the Tomb is usually considered a lesser Paul Naschy effort. Judging by the majority of reviews, two thirds of fans seem to consider it below average or worse, while few sing its praises. Far be it from me to go against popular sentiment, but I feel that the film has been consistently and unfairly judged by viewers. Though not without the inevitable problems, it is not a terrible movie at all. In many ways it seems to be an unofficial remake of a more obscure American production from 1958 called The Thing That Couldn’t Die, in which the residents of a California ranch dig up the severed head of an executed devil worshipper. The head, which can control people’s minds, then proceeds to terrorize the population. The plot of Horror Rises From the Tomb is so similar to the earlier film that I would be greatly surprised to learn that Naschy (who penned the script under his real name, Jacinto Molina) wrote it from scratch. But the Spanish movie differentiates itself from it by adding other elements to the storyline, including zombies, sex and plenty of violence. In fact, the film is appreciably more brutal and gory than some of Naschy’s better known efforts.
An ominous atmosphere of dread and isolation pervades almost the entire movie. The sun almost never shines and the cloudy, gray skies give it a foreboding feeling. The wind, the weather, the stark and bleak landscape on which it was filmed with mountains, lakes and swamps create the impression of being trapped, as the characters themselves are. The horror scenes (particularly the killings) are staged well and are even suspenseful at times. Unfortunately, the scenes involving the reincarnated Aleric and Mabille never really work. The tacky staging, bad theatrical lighting and poor dubbing hurt them. Though the voice acting in general is no worse than most other films of this nature, the performer who dubs Aleric was a particular poor choice for the role. He has neither the vocal quality nor the acting ability to make him a convincing villain, and often draws laughs whenever he speaks.
This edition presents the film in three different cuts – a clothed version, an unclothed version, and the “original US release version”. Before we delve into the differences between the first two cuts, it should be made clear that the addition of the American version was a completely redundant waste of a second disc. It’s apparently from a TV print, and it’s been cut to ribbons. It’s also not even the version that American audiences have grown accustomed to. The full uncut version was available in the U.S. as early as the 1980’s when Charter Video released the unclothed edition on VHS. If you have a spouse or family member who has an aversion to watching nudity and violence, this might be useful. Otherwise it’s just a waste of time. Fortunately, the other two versions are more worthwhile. Due to the fact that Spain was still in the iron grip of General Francisco Franco (himself a film buff) and his fascist dictatorship when the country’s horror boom was in full swing, domestic audiences were subject to censorship. This resulted in export versions that were more sexually explicit than the domestic versions. While actresses in the versions seen by many foreign audiences were nude, the versions seen by Spanish audiences featured the women keeping their clothes on during those scenes (the two shots below will give you an idea of the difference). It’s nice to have both, though in my opinion the film plays pretty much the same in either version.
Horror Rises From the Tomb is really no better or worse than most of the other horror films that were coming out of Spain at this time. There’s a decent amount of gore, lots of atmosphere and a few suspenseful moments. It’s competently put together and generally entertaining, even if it is still a little crude in its own ways. But I’ve always found it worth watching.
The three different cuts were all taken from different sets of film and video elements, and the quality varies between them. The clothed version is letterboxed at 1.85:1, while the other two versions are full-frame 1.33:1. Each of the three versions looks different from the others, and as you have seen from the included comparison shots, even the two 1.33:1 versions are framed differently. But both appear awkward compared to the clothed version, which has the most appealing framing out of the three. The color timing on the clothed version is also different from the others, with bluish tints in many scenes.
Overall, the clothed version looks the best, but don’t get that worked up – it’s still flawed. It appears to have come from a German PAL master since, first of all, the running time is speeded up and, secondly, there are German subtitles which pop up from time to time. On the positive side, colors look real nice and the image is pleasingly clear, with an above average level of detail and little print damage. On the negative side, the transfer is not enhanced for 16x9 displays and there is some fairly noticeable digital artifacting at various points. The biggest problem, however, is that there are bits and pieces of footage that look like they were dragged through a digital dumpster. Apparently whoever assembled the original master could not find a complete set of elements and had to borrow footage from a secondary source. There will be several times when the film will suddenly look like dung, with brownish colors, little detail and a visual sheen to it that indicates the footage was probably spliced in from a videotape source. The effect of this transition is so jarring as to be disruptive to the experience of watching the movie. Thankfully it only happens a couple of times
The other two versions each get a C-, but for different reasons. Both are uncomfortably cropped on their sides. The unclothed version is too dark, rendering some scenes completely unintelligible. It has a faded look to it, and the colors tend to have a bluish-greenish tinge to them, as if the whole thing was being projected through a turquoise-colored lens. Though print damage is not a major issue, the image lacks the level of detail found on the letterboxed edition and there’s some very noticeable digital artifacting during scenes with lots of smoke or fog. Basically, it looks no better than the VHS releases that have been floating around for years from companies like Sinister Cinema. Yeah, it’s nice having the uncut version, but still, the presentation is so woefully lacking that viewers might just as well stick with the better looking letterboxed version.
The American cut on the second disc looks to have been taken from a 16mm print. It doesn’t have the artifacting problems of the other releases, it’s a little bit sharper than the unclothed version and the colors appear a bit more natural. However, it’s noticeably more grainy than the other versions and is usually way too dark during the night scenes. The print that it was struck from looks extremely beat up, with numerous scratches, splices, specks and blemishes. The image also jitters up and down in the frame from time to time, to a highly distracting effect.
All three versions feature English dubbed soundtracks in Dolby 2.0 Mono. The sound on the clothed version veers between very good, with no hiss, background noise or distortion, and then having a noticeably hissy sound to it. This is largely true for the American version as well. The unclothed version has less hiss and background noise to it, but is also a bit more shrill and compressed sounding.
Several scenes in the clothed version feature the aforementioned German subtitles, which, naturally, are burned into the frame.
This beautifully put together, exquisitely designed and thoroughly comprehensive two-disc special edition contains...almost nothing. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the damn American TV edit needing a second disc all the extras here could have easily fit on the first disc with the other two cuts. The only thing of any particular value is a text interview with director Carlos Aured. Though very brief, it focuses entirely on the production of Horror Rises From the Tomb and contains a few amusing anecdotes.
Other extras include a brief text bio of Paul Naschy, some filmographies, text notes on the production and a still gallery with a few interesting pictures of what appear to be conceptual drawings of how Alaric de Marnac would appear in the film. Lastly, there are promotional trailers for the early 1960’s British teen exploitation pic Beat Girl (featuring Christopher Lee!) and the jungle adventure Invaders of the Lost Gold, both of which are also available from Mondo Crash.
Horror Rises From the Tomb is an above average Spanish chiller that suffers from some predictable deficiencies, but remains enjoyable nonetheless. This DVD release doesn’t do the film justice in terms of video quality, and is far below what we are accustomed to seeing from other Eurohorror releases. The strange and seemingly pointless inclusion of the edited American TV cut, and the second disc which houses it, seems almost like a desperate attempt to inflate the value of a weak product. But it doesn’t work. Despite the slick packaging this release isn’t really that much of an improvement over the budget DVD releases that are on the market. With the recent announcement that another American company plans to put out a remastered edition in the near future, fans would be well advised to wait.
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Interesting review. Personally, I hated this movie. I became so bored that at one point I decided not to care and fast-forwarded to the end so I could still say that I "watched" it. And yeah, there was nothing at all special about this special edition.
I thought Mondo Crash did a decent job with the disk.And while it is not up to par with what other company's "sound and image wise" they put forth a decent effort.As a Nascy fan you can do much worse.I am looking forward to the future releases.
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