Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973) was one of the first Paul Naschy films I saw. I watched it on July 2, 1973 and rated it seven stars out of ten. That means I liked it. Re-watching it now, my opinion hasn’t changed. Had I not also recently watched Dr. Jekyll vs. the Werewolf, this might have been my favorite. (When I’m done with Naschy November, I may need to look at all the titles and adjust my ratings.)
The strongest part of this one, especially on Blu-ray, is the look of the film. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Director Carlos Aured, in his first collaboration with Naschy in such capacity (he was assistant director on Dr. Jekyll vs. the Werewolf), threatens to be a possibly better pairing than Leon Klimovsky. Both directors take scripts that were sometimes written hastily and improve them with visual substance.
In the opening scene, Aured shoots a procession to execute Alaric de Marnac (Naschy) and Mabille De Lancre (Helga Line) through tree branches as if we’re spying on the action. The pair are accused of every supernatural crime in the book from black magic to lycanthropy to vampirism. The result is that Alaric is decapitated and Mabille is hung naked and upside-down from twisted limbs of the scariest looking tree I’ve ever seen.
In “modern day” Paris, Hugo de Marnac, a descendant of Alaric, is skeptical of the supernatural, but after his friends convince him to participate in a séance, is onboard for locating Alaric’s remains. Considering his fate, it’s odd that Hugo is a de Marnac. Based on the fate of his buddy, Maurice Roland (Victor Barrera), It makes more sense that he's a descendant of Andre Roland, one of the medieval prosecutors that received the curse of the dying Alaric and Mabille.
Yeah, that’s a familiar element… cursing future generations of those who wrong the bad guys. What’s not familiar is the odd, but exciting, mish-mash of horror that occurs once Alaric’s head is excavated and re-attached to its body. Aured works some miracles with shots of the head. Sometimes it’s obvious that it’s a fake, but it’s a very good fake. Other shots use Naschy himself in creative ways to simulate the head.
That’s just the beginning! A possessed Maurice places Sylvie’s (Hugo’s girlfriend, played by Betsabe Ruiz) body on top of Mabille’s skeleton, then pierces her side with a scythe. A single river of blood runs down the small of her back as Alaric mounts her. Then, Mabille awakens beneath the skeleton and rises, tossing it to the side. From this point, the backstory stops mattering. More and more people must be killed before the final rite after seven moons.
I guess that’s so they can rise again as zombies and assist with killing even more people. Like most zombies with which we’re familiar, gun shots do no harm. However, a burning log from the fireplace tends to drive them back. It'a also clever to use the log to construct a wall of fire outside, as the zombies do burn and run around nicely before collapsing. If only Elvire (Emma Cohen) remembered earlier in the movie that her father had a medallion that can protect them.
This would all be incomprehensible if not for the artistry of Aured. Shot after shot is framed in an interesting way. For example, when Hugo stands and smokes while the hired help digs for Alaric’s head, we see an establishing shot through a stone arch. Then, when the trunk that contains the head is located and opened, we experience a POV shot from inside as the men look into it.
Sure, Horror Rises from the Tomb has familiar chunks. I haven’t seen it, but it’s apparently reminiscent of The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958.) I consider the specific combination of these chunks to be original, though. I wouldn’t expect so much chaos to be so well-controlled without flying off the rails. It’s quite simply a whole lot of fun. I understand why it's a fan favorite.
Written by Paul Naschy
Directed by Carlos Aured
Starring Paul Naschy, Emma Cohen, Victor Barrera, Helga Line, Betsabe Ruiz, Luis Ciges, Julio Pena, maria Jose Cantudo
RT 95 min.
Released April 30, 1973 (Spain)
Home Video Blu-ray (Shout!)
Rating 7 Waldemar Daninskys (out of 10)