Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
All Eurohorror films are not created equal, and despite the present critical trend to elevate the reputations of tedious filmmakers like Jésus Franco, European junk films can be every bit as poor as bad American efforts, and often worse. Under the name Paul Naschy, Spaniard Jacinto Molina helped fill a gap for fantasy films in the 1970s by starring in many horror outings including a lengthy series of sometimes-romantic werewolf pictures. Molina wrote the script and plays three roles in1972's Vengeance of the Zombies (La rebelión de las muertas), a wholly artless pastiche of Evil Easterners visiting curses on luckless Europeans.
Elvira Irving (Romy) has terrible dreams about bloody murders that culminate in the actual killing of her father. She convalesces at the rented country estate of Krisna (Paul Naschy), an Indian guru. Meanwhile, a masked zombie master runs amok, using voodoo rituals to raise female corpses from the dead and send them to carry out bizarre murders. A disfigured fiend named Kantaka (Naschy again) performs black masses that summon forth Satan (Naschy, a third time). Elvira's writer friend Lawrence (Vic Winner, aka Manuel Barrera) has a theory linking the murders to India, where all the female victims once lived. Elvira is falling in love with the gentle Krisna, but could he be the demonic Katanka in disguise?
Vengeance of the Zombies ties together a requisite number of unconvincing killings into an exploitable horror stew of Satanism and voodoo. The synopsis makes the show appear much better than it is: director León Klimovsky's scenes are as flat as Molina's writing. Zombie wraiths skip across tombstones in slow motion and naked lovers are impaled by a mysterious hooded fiend, but unattractive lighting, inappropriate music and unimaginative direction kill any chance of horror excitement. Forget about attention to detail: at a funeral service the hero nonchalantly smokes a cigarette next to the open coffin, while inane light jazz plays on the soundtrack. Filmed at least partly in England, the movie takes breaks from the ugly sets to showcase travelogue-style views of downtown London (where Shaft's Big Score and Fritz the Cat can be seen on movie marquees).
The stout, burly Naschy comes off reasonably well in a uniformly wooden cast. His Indian guru contrasts well with the scarred fanatic Kantaka, and by the time the resurrected Horned One arrives to briefly molest a female sacrifice, we welcome his fairly creative makeup. The film's so-called mystery fails to gel and instead resolves itself in a flurry of last-minute stabbings. Even the blood looks wrong, like too-thick house paint.
Spanish horror films of this period are often noted for their conservative themes, and Vengeance of the Zombies is one of the most offensive. The supposedly benign Krisna's Indian origin makes him a target for suspicion, and the rationale for the killings eventually boils down to a fanatic's revenge for colonial injustices. Why natives of India are using European witchcraft and Haitian voodoo rituals can only be explained as rampant xenophobia. Even more pronounced is a broad misogynistic theme. Not only are the zombies all women (las muertas), many of the film's sinful acts are the fault of perfidious females that urge men to commit adultery and defile tombs. Wicked female jealousy enters the picture as well when Krisna's exotic lover Kala (Mirta Miller) tries to rid herself of Elvira's dull heroine. As the villains more or less eliminate each other, the presence of Scotland Yard and the handsome hero is mostly a formality.
Deimos Entertainment presents Vengeance of the Zombies in an excellent transfer obviously taken from original film elements. The image is full frame, when enhanced widescreen might have focused attention on the actors instead of the poor sets and lighting. Audio tracks are provided in both Spanish and English; menus and artwork are polished and professional. Also included is the Spanish title sequence and several censored alternate scenes for the film's initial Spanish release. Still and artwork galleries detail the film's many foreign versions, including three separate titles for three different German releases. Paul Naschy appears in person for a new introduction, giving a generic warm-up for the film's Satanism and voodoo content. Much more appealing and informative are excellent liner notes by writer Mirek Lipinsky, whose knowledgeable essay on Naschy and Klimovsky's film work is far more interesting than Vengeance of the Zombies itself.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Vengeance of the Zombies rates:
Sound: Excellent With both English and subtitled Spanish audio tracks.
Supplements: Paul Naschy intro, liner notes by Mirek Lipinsky, American trailer, Spanish title sequence, alternate 'clothed' Spanish version scenes, still and artwork galleries.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 18, 2007
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson