Judge Rafael Gamboa wants an army of undead, semi-attractive, and partially nude women so that he, too, may exact slow-motion revenge upon those who have wronged him.
"When I wrote the screenplay of La rebelion de las muertas [English title: Vengeance of the Zombies], I must have either been under the effects of hashish or, like Bram Stoker, I'd had one hell of a nightmare."—writer/actor Paul Naschy
For those unfamiliar with Paul Naschy (a.k.a. Jacinto Molina), the man is a legend in the exploitation horror genre, having starred in uncountable films (most notably the Waldemar Daninsky werewolf series), many of which he wrote himself and some of which he directed himself. He has gained a reputation as Spain's Lon Chaney for his portrayals of classic monster figures and numerous other caricature roles.
Naschy is a man who has carved a legendary reputation for himself on the quantity and not the quality of his work. This should not come as a surprise, considering the exploitation horror genre has cinematic ineptitude as one of its distinguishing characteristics. There is no denying movies of this ilk are objectively awful. But there are many who find these movies entertaining, often precisely because they are so awful. If you fall in this category, rejoice, for this, along with Night of the Werewolf, is the first in a series of Paul Naschy DVDs that BCI is planning to release, and the first times these films have been released on DVD.
Facts of the Case
Paul Naschy plays Krishna, a Hindu mystic living in England who is struggling against his evil twin brother (also played by Naschy, small wonder), a horribly disfigured man who employs twisted voodoo practices to raise the dead—in particular, the recently deceased female relatives of the families who teamed up to burn down his house in an attempt to end his evilness so many years ago. He uses his army of zombies (or "thombies" if you speak Spanish with a Castilian lisp) to exact revenge upon those living who wronged him. Caught in the middle of this laughably lame struggle is Elvire Irving (Rommy, Pastel de sangre or Blood Pie), who somehow manages to make it through this movie without getting naked—which, in retrospect, is probably why she survives, unlike her unfortunate sisters-in-teats. But that's irrelevant speculation. Paul Naschy also plays goat-legged Shaitan himself, complete with horns, red skin, and goatee. Vic Winner plays Lawrence, Elvire's friend and somewhat accomplished author/researcher. Rounding out the cast is a fistful of women in various stages of undress who play ill-fated damsels, slow-motion thombies, or…no, that's it, really.
The movie is, as expected, terrible. It's rarely well shot, editing gaffes abound, the blood effects are childish, the pacing is uneven, and the slow-motion thombies are endless sources of amusement. There are patches of stock London footage, which try valiantly but hopelessly to convince us that this world of Castilian-speaking creatures with British names is in England. Worst of all, the music is unfathomably inappropriate to every scene into which it cheerily barges, a ghastly mixture of jazz and Caribbean percussion accompanied by what must be a sheep with throat cancer singing "ba baba ba ba, ba ba." It terrifies in a manner that the filmmakers did not intend. The saddest thing, though, is that this film features the on-screen sacrifice of a chicken. It's infuriating that a creature had to lose its life so that a poopie movie like this one could show a chicken getting its head lopped off. I hope somebody ate it afterwards; at least that way it wouldn't have been a total waste of life.
However, there are some surprises. The plot, for instance, is actually intelligible, somehow managing to survive the slap-happy hands of director León Klimovsky (Mean Mother) and the rheumy eyes of the film's editor, Antonio Ramírez de Loaysa. And the performances aren't anywhere near as awful as these movies tend to inspire in their actors. Though they all overdo it, particularly Naschy, most of the performances are digestible. If only they were palatable!
But enough about the movie, because that's not what matters here. Those of you who delight in schlock will like this movie regardless (and probably because) of how horrendous it is. Those who can only enjoy movies that they consider to be good will despise this one no matter how much anyone else tries to convince them that it's fun to watch schlock. What does matter in this case is how well the DVD presents this garbage and preserves it for future generations.
The DVD is a bit of a mixed bag. The physical presentation of the DVD is pleasant enough; the keep case is enclosed within a handsome slip-cover, and inside the case is an equally handsome booklet with liner notes written by author Marek Lipinski, who also heads the Paul Naschy Web site. Excepting the part where Lipinski mentions how actress Aurora de Alba is "a perfect MILF," the essay is a classy and informative piece that does the film much historical justice.
The DVD menu is pretty cool, too, one of those flip-through-the-pages-of-a-book numbers you'd find in the Lord of the Rings menus. My one complaint with it is that it refreshes itself far too often, but that's only a minor peeve. The DVD includes a compulsory introduction to the film by Paul Naschy himself, which is a damn good introduction, delivered with the remarkable presence and depth of voice you'd expect from someone like Patrick Stewart. If you'd never watched an exploitation flick or heard of Paul Naschy before, you would most definitely believe him when he asserts that the film is a terrifying exploration of the dark arts, and blah blah blah about how horrifying the movie is. I can't imagine how anyone who produces this kind of material can take himself that seriously, so I'm going to chalk up his introduction to great acting—or at least great orating, because that it most definitely is.
For the sake of preservation, the DVD includes the alternate clothed scenes used for American audiences. No idea why anyone would care to watch them all by themselves, but I guess it's the thought that counts. I think. It also provides a small gallery of production stills and marketing posters, and a hilariously awful English trailer that comes close to being worse than the movie itself. Also included is the Spanish opening credit sequence, which is the exact same one as the one in English except that the titles are written in different languages, and for some reason it plays with both English and Spanish audio tracks simultaneously. Strange, to say the least. There are no other special features. That's somewhat disappointing; a commentary track or an interview would have been nice. Or, you know, anything of substance.
The DVD also advertises how the film was "mastered in High Definition from the original negative," which doesn't mean the DVD is HD, cuz it ain't. That being said, it's a good transfer. The image, presented in its original 1:33.1 full-screen aspect ratio, is as good as one can hope for a movie of this age and caliber without eliminating the grimy look necessary for its genre, and certainly cosmos beyond its VHS predecessor.
In terms of audio, you have three options: English dub in either mono or 5.1 Surround sound, or the original Castilian in 2.0, with optional English subtitles for all of them. None of these tracks is particularly worthy of praise. The Spanish track is an obvious post-production dub, as it fails to match the images quite often; add to that a noticeable lack of ambient sound, and this track offers no advantages over the English dubs, as the voice acting is roughly the same quality. The varying formats of each of these tracks left me scratching my head.
I hesitate to really recommend this DVD, partly because I feel the movie isn't the best example of a so-bad-that-it's-good flick, and partly because the DVD isn't strong enough to make up for what the movie lacks in guilty pleasures. Then again, it is the first time this movie is presented in DVD format, and most of what the DVD offers is well done. So, in the end, I think I'll give this DVD a thumbs up for those who like this sort of movie, but BCI should probably step it up a notch for the other movies it plans to release in this series.
After much deliberation, the court has decided to swallow its film pretension and declare the defendant not guilty. Kinda. Okay, maybe a little bit guilty. But not too guilty. Not guilty enough to be, you know, really guilty. That kind of thing.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BCI Eclipse
• Liner Notes by Marek Lipinski
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