Terror-Creatures from the Grave

July 25, 2011 at 12:04 am (9 Heads, Terror-Creatures from the Grave) (, , , , , , )

Terror-Creatures from the Grave – 1965 – Italy

The stupidly titled Terror-Creatures from the Grave is an Italian gothic shocker “inspired by Edgar Allen Poe”—whatever that means. Long ago, this was my first Barbara Steele flick and it’s still dear to me. Thankfully it’s damn fine cinema too.

In a non-sequitur opening, a man is messily stomped by a horse. Following, a lawyer is summoned to a dreary villa by the villa’s master. Arriving, he finds a fearful young woman and her aloof stepmother (Barbara Steele). As lighting crashes, the stepmother informs the lawyer that the master “has been dead…for a year!” Stranded at the villa during the storm, the lawyer hears a phonograph cylinder detailing the former master’s occult experiments. The villa was once a quarantine ward for plague victims and their malign spirits still menace the property. The master’s reputation as a spiritualist and his suspicious death further the intrigue. Mystery and horror mingle as an affair and murder plot are uncovered just in time for plague-eaten living dead to go on a rampage.

A great cast (beyond Barbara), unsettling music (with Theremin), shadowy photography, and atmospheric locations enhance this classic (if hackneyed) premise. The villa, in a bleak countryside of windswept trees, is cluttered with paintings, tapestries, sculptures, and other art objects ranging from eerie to exotic. The display case of sore-ridden mummified hands is a nice touch. The adjacent village is similarly grim with cramped cobblestone streets and crumbling buildings—all enlivened by elegant yet stark lighting.

Terror-Creatures from the Grave balances shocks and suspense effectively. There’s grisly material aplenty: faces with bubbling seeping boils, a wheelchair-bound man who charges into a sword to commit suicide. But gore is used sparingly with great impact. Supernatural presences are only hinted at until the ghastly climax, and even then the titular terror creatures are never seen.

In the league of the Italian greats (Black Sunday, Castle of Blood), Terror-Creatures from the Grave demonstrates style and understanding of the macabre. Time has forgotten this flick and the widely available DVD version was transferred from a mangled print with missing frames and patches of distorted audio. That’s especially sad since it’s my favorite of its type. See it and appreciate its grotesque beauty.

Rating: 9/10 Shrunken Heads. Be sure to dig the haunting lullaby-like theme song.

4/26/2016 Update:

Terror Creatures from the Grave features a spooky house, stormy weather, anxious secretive characters, a deadly curse, superstitious townies, and a mysterious letter from a dead man.  These tropes fit perfectly with the film’s pervasive gothic ambiance. I like that the monsters (the living dead) are never seen. I also really like the film’s main musical theme. It is beautiful, haunting, and very catchy.

Rating: 8/10 Shrunken Heads. What kind of maniac has a display case of boil-covered severed hands in the entryway of his house? Watch this film and find out.

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