Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Friday, December 4, 2009

La orgía de los muertos (1973)

... aka: Beyond the Living Dead... aka: Bracula
... aka: Dracula: Terror of the Living Dead... aka: Hanging Woman, The... aka: Orgy of the Dead, The
... aka: Return of the Zombies
... aka: Terror of the Living Dead... aka: Zombie 3: Return of the Living Dead

Directed by:
José Luis Merino

After receiving a telegram informing him that he's been remembered in his late uncle's will, Serge Chekov ("Stanley Cooper" / Stelvio Rosi) travels to a remote Russian village to see what he's inherited. The first thing he bumps into upon arriving is a murdered young woman hanging by her neck in the cemetery. The dead girl, Mary (Aurora de Alba), happens to be his cousin, the daughter of Count Mihaly (the uncle), and primary heir. Now that she's out of the way, Serge is getting everything much to the dismay of Nadia (Maria Pia Conte), Count Mihaly's much-younger wife, who looks about the same age as her stepdaughter. Nadia's about as nasty as they come. She's likely behind the questionable deaths of both her husband and Mary and, as if one affair isn't enough, she's been carrying on with two separate men. The first is Ivan (Charles Quiney) the butler, who probably had his hand in the murders. The other is Igor (Paul Naschy, credited as "Carl Mansion" on some prints), an unhinged grave digger with a rather odd sex life, but more on that in a minute. Also living in Mihaly Manor are Professor Leon Droila ("Gerald"/ Gérard Tichy), a scientist friend of the Count's who's been experimenting with using electricity to revive the dead, and Leon's kind daughter Doris (Dyanik Zurakowska), who functions as the maid.

So what kind of other horrors befall our characters? For starters, a seance seems to calls forth Count Mihaly's vengeful spirit, and he obviously has a bone to pick with his wife and which ever of her lovers killed him and his daughter. If that isn't enough, a handful of zombies show up as a result of Professor Doila's experiments. That means elements of murder-mystery, ghost story, zombie flick and mad scientist opus wrapped into one. It's a bit slow going at times (particularly in the middle) and the plot's pretty busy, but the movie is surprisingly well-made and things are all neatly tied together during a finale. There's ample nudity provided from the two female stars and plenty of gore, including a decapitation, maggoty corpses and a bloody autopsy. The zombie makeup designs vary, but a few of them are really creepy looking. I'm not sure where this was filmed, but it's a gorgeous old village at the base of some mountains and it's a great setting.
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As an added bonus, Naschy's character is a complete degenerate. To keep him loyal to her cause, Nadia is willing to indulge Igor in his necro fantasies by lying completely still as he paws at her. Yes, this woman is completely shameless, but even she is not enough to satisfy Igor. He also robs graves, takes the female corpses to a tunnel located underneath the Mihaly home and professes his love to them, removes their clothes, touches them and takes pictures of them to enjoy later on. This is a rare movie where Naschy was not involved behind-the-scenes. He didn't write it, he didn't produce it and he's around solely to play the part. It's a smaller role than usual for him, but he does an effective job with it. The rest of the cast, which includes Pasquale Basile as a police inspector and Isarco Ravaioli as the mayor, are solid.

Director / co-scripter Merino also made SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER (1970) featuring Quiney as the male lead. In America, this first hit theaters as The Hanging Woman in 1975 (with a tag line emulating the popular one just used for The Last House on the Left), was first released to video by Unicorn as Beyond the Living Dead and in 2009 received a DVD release through Troma (again under the Hanging Woman title). It's a full screen print that looks sourced from VHS so it's nothing to write home about quality-wise, but it's well worth picking up anyway since it includes interviews with Merino and Naschy, as well as a second bonus feature, the seldom-seen Sweet Sound of Death (1965).

★★1/2

La huella macabra (1963) [filmed in 1961]

... aka: Macabre Mark, The

Directed by:
Alfredo B. Crevenna

I had to watch this one in Spanish - it has never been English dubbed or subbed for any kind of release outside of Spanish-speaking countries - so please bear with me as I try to fumble my way through the plot. (For the record, while I do understand some Spanish, it's not good enough to understand everything.) A man and a caretaker enter a cemetery and open up a tomb. Inside the coffin, the rotten-faced corpse (Eric del Castillo) is lying there alive and awake (!) He rises, hypnotizes the caretaker, forces him to take his place in the tomb and then tries on a couple of human face masks the other guy (who's actually his servant) has brought him. He, a vampire named Count Brankovan, selects the favorite one (and is now played by the handsome Guillermo Murray) and then resurrects his little vampire son Erik (Humberto Dupeyrón) with some kind of serum; letting him feast on a woman he's kidnapped and tied up. The two return to their mansion home along with the servant, where they keep two white-haired albino robot men (?) in frozen chambers just in case things get out of hand.

Now I need to stop here for a second to point out that this is a follow-up to Rostro Infernal (aka The Incredible Face of Dr. B) and has many of the same characters. Now I may be mistaken, but I believe Brankovan - with the new face and identity - is trying to pass himself off as the brother of the vampire killed in the previous film when in fact he's actually the same guy. He seems to want revenge on certain characters here; giving a professor a heart attack by pointing some gadget that looks like a pen light at him. While the count is cool, collected and doesn't want to attract too much attention, the son (who is able to transform into a bat) is constantly blood-hungry and has little control over his vampire tendencies. There are two attractive women who get involved with the duo; Vicky (Rosa Carmina), who seems to be playing surrogate mother to the boy and may be a vampire herself, and Berta (Elsa Cárdenas), the dead professor's distraught daughter. Jorge (Ramón Bugarini), who is love with Berta, is pissed off that she's cozying up to the Count and has been staying in his home. An obligatory police inspector (Jaime Fernández) is snooping around. And what would one of these things be without a gratuitous wrestling match that has absolutely nothing to do with the plot? This one's got one of those, too!

There are some genuine surprises here (especially the fate of the vampire boy) and enough kooky touches to get things entertaining throughout. I've seen it listed on various websites as a horror-comedy, but the whole thing is played completely seriously. The performances are good (Murray played another bloodsucking count in The World of the Vampires), it's well-made and nicely photographed in black-and-white. I haven't been able to track down the first movie yet, but it might help to fill in some gaps once I do. Neither was released until two years after they were made and I've read elsewhere there was a bit of controversy surrounding the portrayal of the child character.

★★1/2
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