Thursday, March 3, 2016

Ladrones de tumbas (1989)

... aka: Grave Robbers

Directed by:
Rubén Galindo Jr.

In a 19th Century American monastery, an evil monk (Agustín Bernal) attempts to impregnate a female captive with the devil's child but is captured by his brothers-in-cloth, who stretch him out on a rack hoping he will denounce Satan. When that doesn't work, he gets an axe sunk in his chest but vows one day he will return stronger than ever once the axe is removed. Cut to modern day, when three young grave-robbing  couples from Mexico show up in the same area. Having already raided seven different cemeteries only to come up empty-handed, they've chosen this particular graveyard in this particular town because it's rumored the dead are buried with gold to ensure they'll go to heaven. After a fight, one of the couples take off walking down the road, while the others remain and start digging up graves. Rebeca (Erika Buenfil), who seems to have psychic abilities, climbs down into one of them and falls right through the bottom of the casket into some tunnel that slides straight down for what seems like a mile. Ringleader Manolo (Ernesto Laguardia) tries to climb down with a rope but also falls in and finds himself inside the same torture chamber where the evil monk was executed over a century earlier.

Rebeca and Manolo are soon joined by the other two grave robbers; Armando (Germán Bernal) and his girlfriend Diana (María Rebeca), and everyone starts snooping around the musty crypt. They find plenty of gold and jewels and start joyously loading up their bags but, naturally, don't leave well enough alone and decide to crack open a tomb. There, they find the body of the evil monk, remove the jewel-encrusted axe from his chest and all hell pretty much breaks loose, starting with a really bad rainstorm. Fleeing the tomb with their findings, the grave robbers find their truck stuck in the mud with no way to get it out. A couple of local peasants show up to help and then the undead, skull-faced monk rises from his grave and gets his hands on the axe. After he hacks up the two peasants and Armando gets blood on his hands when he trips and falls next to one of the bodies, Police Captain Lopez (top-billed Fernando Almada, who also plays the Archbishop in the period prologue) shows up and arrests them.

At the police station, Lopez and Officer Lalo (Toño Infante) coerce confessions from the teens (by punching them in the stomach!) about what they were doing there. Lopez then rushes back to the scene because his own daughter Olivia (Edna Bolkan) is near the old cemetery on a camping trip with three of her girlfriends. The zombie monk arrives before Lopez does and drowns one of the girls, twists the second's head around backward and chops off the third's hand. When he finally lays eyes on Olivia, she reminds him of the virgin he had lined up to bear Satan's child back in the 19th Century before being interrupted. Unfortunately for him, Lopez and future son-in-law Raúl (Tony Bravo) show up heavily-armed with machine guns and shoot the piss out of him. Raúl loses his head in the fight, but the Captain gets his daughter off to safety (for the time being) and then explores the tomb, finding a book written in Latin. He takes that to priest Father Jeronimo (Roberto Cañedo) to translate.

The grave robbing teens aren't off the hook themselves. While they're busting out of their jail cells, the monk shows up to use his supernatural powers to kill most of them off. An axe is planted in a face, a hand emerges from a wall and crunches a neck, a head is forced through bars on a steel gate and, during the goriest bit, a hand bursts from a chest and rips off a necklace. Only Manolo and Rebeca manage to get out of their alive. He wants to split town. She thinks they owe it to the others involved to help put the demon down for good. Either way, Lopez could use some help after Olivia is kidnapped and dragged back to the monastery by the ghoul, where he tries to perform the same ritual as before to inseminate her with Satan's seed.

Nearly all of Grave Robbers is bits and pieces stolen from American and Italian horror movies that were popular on the international video market in the 80s. There's even one bit when the zombie monk's face is finally revealed, he takes a deep breath and then rips a chain off from around his neck that's identical to a moment in the seventh Friday the 13th movie. Unlike with the Friday movies, however, there was no MPAA around to cut out all the gore, so this features a few genuinely gruesome moments. Despite being completely unoriginal, this is actually a pretty fun movie. Apart from dragging a bit in the middle, it's busy and fast-paced most of the time and the production values, acting, sets, cinematography and make-up effects are all either good or at least passable.

Released on video in its home country on the Film Mex Entertainment label, this was mostly unseen here in America until the 2006 release from BCI / Eclipse, who've paired it up with the same director's (somewhat better) slasher / zombie flick CEMETERY OF TERROR (1985) for their DVD release “Crypt of Terror: Volume 2.” The same company released a seven film set (“Crypt of Terror: Horror from South of the Border, Vol. 1”) that included these two films plus VACATIONS OF TERROR (1989) and its 1991 sequel, The Demon Rat (1992), HELL'S TRAP (1990) and two versions of Don't Panic (1988); one English-dubbed and the other in Spanish.

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