Dollar Dealicious: Terror Creatures From the Grave (1965)
Hello folks, and welcome back to the second week of Dollar Dealicious. This week and for the next few I'll be covering films from the bargain set Horrorlicious. It's a nice little set and a real steal for what you get.
Speaking of steal, or Steele rather. Barbara Steele stars in tonight's feature. The scream queen, who came to fame in Mario Bava's masterwork Black Sunday, is back at it again with another piece of gothic Italian goodness. This is a film which claims to be based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe, and Ms. Steele is no stranger to loose adaptation of the author's work having starred in 1961's The Pit and the Pendulum and the faux-Poe tale Castle of Blood (1964). However tonight's tale stretched the limits of the based on Poe craze because I feel fairly certain he never wrote a story called...
Terror Creatures from the Grave (5 tombe per un medium) starring Barbara Steele, Walter Brandi, Mirella Maravidi, and Riccardo Garrone. Directed by Massimo Pupillo.
At the behest of Dr. Hauff, Albert Kovac (Brandi) travels to the doctor's country manor. He, or rather his partner Joseph Morgan, has been asked to attend to making out the Doctor's last will and testament, but when he arrives the Doctor's wife Cleo (Steele) informs him that the Doctor has been dead nearly a year. Suitably confused, Albert accepts Cleo's hospitality and stays for the night, perhaps because he has eyes for the Doctor's daughter, Corrine (Maravidi).
Corrine however has issues of her own. She tells Albert of the Doctor's true vocation as a spiritualist. It seems the manor is built over the ruins of a plague hospital, and the grounds are littered with the unconsecrated graves of plague spreaders, persons who were accused of spreading the disease on purpose. The Doctor had spent many hours in communion with those lost souls, and now Corrine believes that her father's spirit now wanders the mansion.
Albert, her mother, and the town physician, Dr. Nemek, all scoff at her dark fantasy. However when the people who signed the Doctor's death certificate begin to die off, they begin to wonder if the girl might be right. As bodies begin to drop, and a rash of the plague begins to break out, Albert must learn if the diabolical Doctor has returned or if some supernatural evil awakened to bring terror to the night.
--Massimo Pupillo had his name removed from the finished film and replaced with that of the producer Ralph Zucker. For many years people thought that Zucker was a pseudonym for Pupillo.
--The film's original title is 5 tombe per un medium. It has also been known as Cemetery of the Living Dead, Coffin of Terror, and Five Graves for a Medium.
--Barbara Steele still works in genre film. She had a bit part in 2008's Her Morbid Desires.
The Bug Speaks
This film shows all too well the difference between a film maker like Mario Bava and a working director like Pipillo. Bava had released his film The Girl Who Knew Too Much in 1963, and the stylish thriller was enhanced by his play with shadow and skillful camera work. Sadly none of this can be said of Pipillo. Pipillo manages to take a clever idea and bog it down with static cameras and plodding pacing. Worse yet, promises of horrors that never pay off, but more on that later.
Ms. Steele is lovely to see as always, and the Mortica-esque costuming she wears is quite fetching. She seems to know that she's not working with a great director here, and her performance is not up to it's usual standards. The rest of the cast is enjoyable enough, but no one really stands out. I will have to say that the reaction on Walter Brandi's face, when he finds that his car is broke down because of an owl in the engine, is perfect. I expect I would look as confused and bewildered by that prospect as he was.
While the cast is nothing special, they are not the real problem with the picture. To discuss what is wrong with the movie, I will have to divulge some small spoilers, but nothing that would really detract from the film. I was very happy to find the film going down a supernatural route and not doing the bait and switch like I saw last week with The Night She Returned from the Tomb. The problem is that zombies rise from the grave, but we never get to see them. All we get is a plague ridden hand in a few shots. Now in my book if you're calling your flick Terror Creatures.... then there better be some Terrible Creatures on display. While we do see the aftermath of a few deaths and the makeup is pretty nicely done, we see very little of the unseen creatures dispatching of their victims. In a nutshell, little on screen death + lack of actual creatures = one unhappy Bug.
This film had real potential. I found the story line interesting enough that it got me through the first half hour which has a very slow pace, but with lack of stylish camera work, death, creatures, and no great performances, the film comes up quite lacking in most regards. It also comes up really, really short in the Poe department. If I had to take a guess, I'd say the film was inspired by The Masque of the Red Death, but by "inspired by" I mean the screen writers had read the story sometime in the long past.
For folks who really like Italian cinema, but are running out of films to watch, this is a decent one to see. For fans of Barbara Steele, I say throw this one on a Netflix queue or pick it up on the cheap. But for anyone looking for a genuinely scary film or with the stylized flair of Italian cinema, there are better places to look.
Just a reminder that if you want to pick up a copy of Horrorlicious, I have it linked over in my Amazon store in the sidebar. It is available used for about $4 and it's well worth that. I'll be back next week with a review of the gem of the set, House on the Edge of the Park. So stay tuned, Moonies.