Vengeance of the Zombies (1972)
By: Mr Intolerance on February 17, 2009  | 
BCI (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 4:3. Castilian DD Mono 2.0, English DD Mono 2.0, English DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 90 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Leon Klimovsky
Starring: Paul Naschy, Romy, Mirta Miller, Vic Winner, Maria Kosti
Screenplay: Jacinto Molina
Country: Spain
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
Having read about this film in both the FAB Press Book of the Dead (where it's dismissed snootily with barely a word written about it), and also slightly more extensively in Peter Dendle's The Zombie Movie Encylopedia, I can't say that I sat down to watch this Paul Naschy vehicle without some measure of trepidation. Neither "review" (if you could call them that) spoke well of the film, and even though I love 70s Euro-trash horror, I expected this film to suck like a Hoover. Was my expectation correct? Well, let's have a look and find out.

Naschy talks the film up in the introduction to the movie as one of the most horrifying in Spanish cinema history, but he's up against some pretty stiff competition – if it can get to me as much as Tombs of the Blind Dead or The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, my hat's off to him. I think my head-warming gear is pretty likely to remain attached at the moment. Maybe his liking of the film might be slightly coloured by the fact that he wrote it and had three roles in it. Maybe I'm just being cynical. No, really, I am watching this with an open mind.

Let us begin: a graveyard. Promising... A couple are arguing about whether or not to unofficially exhume a corpse recently buried with loads of jewels – awesome line of dialogue: "Flora, we've been descrating graves for too long". Just what is the acceptable or prescribed amount of time, I wondered. But greed is a pretty strong temptation, as well as getting some booty from his decidedly un-booty-licious wife, and so our reluctant grave-robber Augusto gets jiggy with the desecration. Things don't go quite to plan, and a hatted, masked and cloaked figure uses spooky voodoo powers to make the corpse rise while the grave-robbers are present. That'd kinda ruin your day, wouldn't it?

A credit sequence with a score I hope to never hear again later, and we get plenty of establishing shots to let us know we're in Swinging London – okay, it's not the 60s any more, but that vibe would still have been around in the early 70s – watch Horror Hospital, or Dracula AD 72 if you doubt me (or more appropriately, if you dare...). Anyway, it explains the atrociously bad jazz-pop score. What else did we have in fashionable London back then? We had crackpot cultish religions! Enter Paul Naschy as Krishna, an Indian fakir – which is stretching the realms of credibility a tad – a spiritual leader for the young, rich and gullible (look, if it sucked in both The Beatles and The Who it must have been reasonably persuasive, I guess).

Elvire is not especially young, but certainly gullible, and cousin to the reanimated corpse from the pre-credit sequence (oh, what a coincidence). She's totally bought into Krishna's schtick, her boyfriend, psychiatry professor and writer Lawrence is much more sceptical, thinking it's a scam, but going along to meet with Krishna to get material for his book. Krishna's moving house to the country, and they've both received a standing invitation to visit our turbanned guru. You just know that Elvire (named after Naschy's wife) is going to head up to the yogi's new house at Llangwell; as soon as he's mentioned it, she's practically champing at the bit to be gone. Maybe she'll find her eyebrows along the way...

But: there's trouble a-brewin' at Elvire's place that night – someone (that mysterious figure again, as we saw him at the start of the film, cloaked, hatted and masked like the Phantom of the Opera), has taken a dislike to Elvire (despite the fact they've never met her) and decides they wants to get rid of her. The figure saddles up the zombie Gloria (not literally, of course) and heads over to her father's house (hey Elvire, how old are you? Time to cut the cord, babe) to bury a hatchet in the butler's head, and hang Elvire's dad. The figure has the zombie attack our beleagured heroine, but the police arrive before the job can be finished. And you have to hear the out-of-place cocktail-lounge jazz at the wake for Elvire's father – oh boy...

Elvire needs to get out of town for a while, and guess who she goes to see? Our old friend expository dialogue turns up, too, and we find out that the house Krishna has bought is referred to by the locals as "The Devil's House", and that the family who lived there before, the Watlies, used to hold Black Masses there. Krishna's servants in Llangwell are all from out of town, as locals won't work there. Servants like the sinister scarred man, Ti Zachary, who picks Elvire up from the station, hamming it up for all he's worth.

Elvire ends up at the house and almost immediately has one of the most ill-conceived dream sequences I've witnessed in a long while, Naschy turning up again as Satan, presiding over a very low rent Black Mass (after watching Haxan, other attempts at staging this kind of thing fall very flat), and the score, which has already been truly abysmal, hits a new low of inappropriateness.

Y'know, it was nearly half-way through this film that I actually realised that more than 10 years ago, I'd seen it before, on TV. It was when we get to the episode at the meat-packing plant, it clicked, which was funny, because I'd had this nagging feeling of familiarity for the previous half hour or so – Naschy's turn as Krishna, Elvire's utter unlikeability – I knew I'd seen it somewhere before. I thought maybe I'd watched it on disc drunk one night, but it's been sitting unwatched in storage for the last six months. It can't have made a great impression on me, as I have no idea how it ends re-watching it now, and those expectations just sank even lower.

That nefarious stranger has been at work again, recruiting more zombies into their unkillable, slow-motion army of the undead, using voodoo to control the corpses. Lawrence, meantime, has been doing some research into Indian mysticism, obviously a little anxious about Krishna's sway over the foolish Elvire. Scotland Yard have also called him in to give us more expository dialogue about voodoo. Now get a load of this – we're buying into the voodoo thing (remember, that's from Haiti, born from African slaves mixing their own tribal beliefs with Christianity), and yet we know that the murders were committed in a style reminiscent of the Thuggee. So, Indian voodoo? What the fuck? What we do find out is that the murdered (and now reanimated) girls had a common link – they were all in India, members of important colonial families and had to leave India some years after the country was given back to the people due to an incident in Benares in1957, possibly a rape-homicide. Lawrence starts putting that big brain to work, because he knows Krishna came from Benares, too...

Krishna has been doing research of his own in London, leaving Elvire to her own devices back at the ranch, and our mysterious cloaked fiend has been causing more mayhem. The mystery-man element annoys me when its handled like this, like a badly-plotted giallo. It's so obvious that the plot has been strewn with red-herrings that the audience have no fuckin' idea who it could possibly be, and that the killer's real identity hasn't even been seen on-screen yet. That really annoys me – it's lazy plotting. If you want the audience to try to guess who it is, don't leave the revelation of the bad guy to some fuckin' half-arsed deus ex machina ending. That just shits me. It's a cheat – and I've seen enough giallo to know that when the killer is unmasked at the end and you ask the TV, "Well, who the fuck is that?", that it's a total fucking disappointment, which to me renders the whole viewing experience null and void. You may as well end the film with, "and it was all a dream."

Krishna and Kala, his gal pal, get it on to the tune of yet more laughable music, this time of the 70s porn variety (and it's amusing to watch Naschy's fake tan change colour throughout the film, let me tell ya – his skin tone looks about as Indian as mine), and I tell ya, there's a reason why de Ossorio's films are better than Klimovsky's, and that reason is atmosphere. Man, regardless of whether its romance or terror, the music here never fits the scene the way that Anton Garcia Abril's scores for the Blind Dead films or The Loreley's Grasp did – remember those eerie scores that made the hair stand up on the back of your neck? Klimovsky must have been a complete rube to buy the music for this film – I can't even imagine WHAT movie this music would have been appropriate for – an Austin Powers film, maybe?

And so we hit the final reel, finally, and see a pretty good effects job on a character I'm not naming, but who we've seen before under different circumstances, and the whole thing comes together with that kind of giallo-meets-Scooby-Doo logic I've come to expect from films of this ilk. Yes, everything is explained – why those particular victims and such, motive, blah, blah – but I kept thinking of that penultimate scene in Psycho, where the psychiatrist wraps everything up neatly with a fuckin' bow on it. Don't tell me – show me. Speaking of which, there's still plenty to see here for your exploitation dollar, including the most ineptly, and slowly, choreographed fight scene of all time (including one part where a scythe mysteriously transforms into a pitchfork in between shots), histrionic acting from all and sundry – it really cranks up a notch or five by the time we hit the climax, ballet-prancing smiley-face zombies, even more wildly inappropriate soundtrack, a poorly attended voodoo black mass, a rooster get beheaded (unfortunately real, I'm sorry to say, from the look of things), expository dialogue from all and sundry, slow motion combat, more voodoo rites, a grab for immortality, poetic justice, false endings and an even more ludicrously awful use of the abysmally bad soundtrack (you'll know it when you hear it).

Look, I guess there's some camp value to be had watching Vengeance of the Zombies, but to me, that's really about it. I don't own any other Paul Naschy films (and consider that my video collection numbers in the thousands, much of which is Euro-trash from the 70s across a wide range of genres), and I think that this movie could well be the reason why. The plot is inane bordering on ludicrous, and the only reason why I haven't only given it one out of five is because it hasn't been an utter and completely inept stinker like Knight of the Peeper, or Dracula's Dirty Daughter, movies so bad I wanted to pry out my eyes after watching them so that I'd never get come home drunk and watch them again out of morbid curiosity – it is well shot, and the actors do the best they can with a script that could be bettered by something out of a first year high-school writing class – plus there are some decent gore gags. I can't see myself watching this ever again unless I have a lobotomy, and I hate saying that shit about any 70s Euro-trash horror, one of my favourite sub-genres of exploitation film. A dull, dumb film with little to recommend it. I guess maybe if you're a Paul Naschy completist you might get some kind of frisson from it, but personally, I'd prefer a night spent on the sofa picking my nose. Why did I review it then? Well, partly as warning for like-minded souls, and partly because I review anything I watch for this website if it's not already on the database. I think I might have to change my policy on that.
BCI deliver the goods here. Even though the film is presented full-frame (open matte presumably), the picture quality is awesome. The releases of theirs I've watched recently like The Loreley's Grasp and The Night of the Sorcerers have had razor sharp images re-mastered in high definition from the original negative, and the colours look equally as glorious here as in those other films. This definitely looks the business.
The sound is quite good, and better than some of the other BCI films I've seen of late, which ended up being distorted at high volume points of the soundtrack. The score has the distinction of being one of the most inappropriate and least atmospheric I have ever heard. It's a groovy 70s score which does not fit with the action being shown on screen – how can this have been deliberate? Or even seen as a good idea by the director? Note to self: do not trust a director who has been a practising dentist for fifteen years before turning on a camera.
Extra Features
Hmm, not a great deal, as per the other BCI releases of 70s Euro-trash horror I've watched recently. There's an introduction by Paul Naschy (couldn't they have interviewed him as well, or got him to do a commentary track?), the US theatrical trailer, the Spanish version of the credit sequence, quite a large collection of stills and promotional poster art, alternate scenes (scenes that excise the nudity that was forbidden on-screen in Spain at the time – if you've watched the film, you've seen the same scenes, just that the export version has boobs), and most relevant of all, liner notes about the film, its stars and its production by the always knowledgable and interesting author Mirek Lipinski.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Not one of the better pieces of Euro-trash horror I've ever seen, Vengeance of the Zombies is a) misnamed, b) completely unsure of what it's trying to do – is it a horror film? Is it a krimi? Is it a giallo? It has little real focus, and it shows, c) a mess, and a turgidly paced one at that, and d) certainly not the fright-fest that Naschy promised us in the histrionic introduction. Your money is better spent elsewhere. On fried chicken, or cigarettes.

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