Review: Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973)

Horror Rises from the Tomb
aka El espanto surge de la tumba (original title)

Directed by Carlos Aured
Starring Paul Naschy, Emma Cohen, Victor Alcázar

The film opens. Men on horseback tromp through wet fields carrying flags. Men in gray suits of armor march alongside them. A dry, British voice says: “France, in the middle of the 15th 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.”

Oh no. This is one of those documentaries I watched in high school history class, isn’t it? Soon will come the interviews with experts on witchcraft, then more awful reenactments, then a map with red lines moving across it, then more talking, then …

BOOM. Cars. A city. Awful sweaters. Dubbed dialogue. Organ chords from hell. I guess this is a Paul Naschy flick after all. We get minute or two of dialogue and BAM. A séance. An old lady tied to chair. A floating head. A moving candelabra. BANG. Blood. Evil laughter. Canvas-stabbing. POW. We’re driving down a forest road. Where are we, Paul Naschy? WHERE ARE WE?

Horror Rises from the Tomb is a frothy mix of Hammer Studios, George Romero, and Paul Naschy, all suffering from a bad case of ADD. The Nasch-Man himself wrote the screenplay, which most likely consisted of the word “Badass” written over doodles of near-naked women and zombies. To say that the film makes sense is a lie. To say that it was entertaining is also a lie. To say that it featured Paul Naschy in three separate roles, however, would be truth in its purest form.

The meat of the film features five or six characters (one of them, Hugo, played by Naschy) looking for the head of a certain Alaric de Marnac, a warlock who was beheaded in the 1400s, but not before placing a curse on his executioners. The head is found in a chest under the spot where he was killed, and Hugo and Maurice (the geniuses behind the search) move it into a shed near their mountain retreat. During the night, some locals decide to open it with a blowtorch and see what’s inside. Surprise! It’s a head. Another surprise! You’re possessed now and you have to kill a bunch of people.

Eventually, Marnac is resurrected and spends his time seducing women with his Belushi-like features. His magical powers seem to be limited to summoning smoke machines and looking super suave all the time. Everything else he tries to do is a failure. I wouldn’t hire him to deliver pizzas.

The second half of the film is even more disjointed than the first, especially in the shorter, nudity-free version. Paul Naschy stares hypnotically at a young woman, forcing her to move her hands toward her robe. She begins to remove it – And we’re back with Hugo, looking for talismans. At one point, zombies break into our heroes’ home and attack Hugo and his newfound lover Elvira for a few minutes, accomplishing nothing. Marnac attempts to kill Elvira to no avail. Hugo falls asleep in a chair. Marnac and his lover talk about possessing more people. And so on.

Paul Naschy, the so-called “king of Spanish horror,” relishes his two roles (plus a cameo as Marnac’s eyepatch-wearing brother) as much as could be expected, playing Hugo with a disconnected charm and Marnac with an overpowering, cocksure menace. But his writing doesn’t do him any favors. None of his characters are likeable, save perhaps Elvira (mostly because she’s gorgeous), and the story never deviates from cliché. I think I can sum it up with a quote from Paula of the see-through nightgown, who says early in the film: “All those things that happened were very strange.” Or better yet, one from Hugo, Paul Naschy himself:

“You stay here. It’s going to be disagreeable.”

Links:

Amazon – Horror Rises from the Tomb DVD
Amazon – Horror Rises from the Tomb VHS
YouTube – Original US Theatrical Trailer

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