Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
By William D. Carl
This week’s feature presentation:
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.
First of all, this movie has one of the greatest titles in the horror pantheon. Come on, who wouldn’t pay good money to see TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965)? There’s gonna be terror, creatures of some sort, and possibly some graves. This title is up there with some of Al Adamson’s best movie monikers, like HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS (1970) or BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR (1972). Fortunately, TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE is a much better film than anything Adamson ever attempted, and there’s actually quite a bit of truth in that unbelievable title. TCFTG is one of many European gothic horror films that found their way across the pond. These movies, made with little money but lots of imagination, were often stylish and bizarre. The women were beautiful and possessed only costumes with plunging necklines. The heroes were strong-jawed, masculine men with hair all over their bodies. The doctors were all mad. The castles (of which Europe has in large quantities—hurray for cheap locations!) were always decaying. And the zoom lens was quite often hyperactive. It was as if France, Spain, England, and especially Italy were attempting to out-Hammer Hammer Studios. Sometimes, they did, but often they fell short. Still, they were dripping with gothic atmosphere and sheer spookiness.
TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE has an ace in its pocket, however, as it stars the lovely Barbara Steele, Queen of Euro-horror and the main attraction of such other films as BLACK SUNDAY (1960), PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961), CASTLE OF BLOOD (1964), THEY CAME FROM WITHIN (1975), and the original PIRANHA (1978). Her face was all ice-queen, innocent one minute and warped with wickedness in the next, with cheek-bones that could cut glass. She often played more than one part in these films: the good sister and the bad or the burned witch and the woman she later possesses. And she could pull it off! She had a sort of otherworldly look to her that prevented her from becoming a true box office star, but she could work those horror movies (and the fans) like nobody else, becoming a cult figure later in life. She’s still working, too, having just starred in THE BUTTERFLY ROOM (2012), an Italian/U.S. co-production that is a disturbing psychological horror film.
Anyway, Barbara Steele is fabulousness personified, and if you’ve never watched her movies, go and rectify that immediately. Now, on to today’s feature presentation, TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE!
Filmed n gloriously moody black and white, we don’t even have to wait five seconds before we get our first fast camera zoom! A man having a drink in a tavern sees a hand outside the window (Zoom in on that hand!), and he dons his hat and coat and rushes outside into the streets of some unnamed village circa 1920 or so. He stumbles to his horse, and the animal decides it doesn’t like him any longer, rearing back and kicking the man in the face, opening up his skull in a gruesome scene.
As credits roll, so does a man driving a primitive automobile to a decaying castle (natch), Villa Hauff. This is strong-jawed, young attorney, Albert Kovac, played by Walter Brandi (BLOODY PIT OF HORROR,-1965, THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE, 1960, CURSE OF THE BLOOD GHOULS, 1962…oh the sheer joy of those titles!). He greets the daughter of the deceased Dr. Hauff, Corinne, played by the lovely Mirella Maravidi (I KILL, YOU KILL, 1965). Albert has been sent for to look over Dr. Hauff’s will, and he isn’t even disturbed that the man is now dead…or by the box of disembodied hands in the foyer! The daughter takes him to her step-mother, the doctor’s second wife, Cleo, played by the wonderful Barbara Steele. She informs him that Dr. Hauff has been dead for a year after falling down the stairs. So, who sent the message to Albert’s office?
A storm comes out of nowhere, and the attorney is invited to spend the night until the weather breaks. The women are at the villa to transfer Dr. Hauff’s corpse from his grave in the ground to the family crypt, per the dead man’s wishes. It turns out the good doctor was a practitioner of the black arts, a kind of sorcerer. And the villa was erected on the ruins of a fifteenth century hospital where the victims of the plague in the area all died after having their hands cut off so they couldn’t spread the disease.
Before going to bed, the attorney finds a recording from the doctor all about the plague victims that were buried in the garden. He also claims that he’s summoned the victims from their graves and now he is among them. Corrine bugs out, claiming she’s seen her father walking the hallways. Mom, however, doesn’t believe in the supernatural and calms her down a bit.
The next morning, Albert finds that an owl has flown into the engine of his car and destroyed it (What? Does this happen often in Europe?). During the day, Albert falls for Corinne, Corinne freaks out several times, seeing her father stalking the countryside, and various villagers shake their heads and mumble about the anniversary of Hauff’s death. The village’s new doctor is murdered, discovered by Corinne and Albert (who don’t seem very worried about it). The coroner states it is a case of heart failure, even though there are long scratches covering the man’s face and acid burns on his cheeks. The villagers believe anyone who was present at Hauff’s death (such as this new doctor) is marked to die. Sure enough, three of the five people who were in the house when Hauff tumbled down the stairs have died mysteriously. The fourth person on the list of witnesses is murdered and felt up by a pustule-ridden rotten hand. There is a fifth witness signature, but it’s illegible. Who will be the fifth victim of the Hauff Curse?
Albert, still hanging around after two days without a client, is present for the disinterment of Dr. Hauff’s corpse. The gardener opens the casket, revealing an empty grave. Cleo, wearing one fabulous hat, is stunned by the revelation. Albert figures out that the fifth name on the list is his boss, who was busy and didn’t come to the Villa Hauff when summoned. Only, now he really is coming to the moldering manse. When the attorney, Morgan, shows up, he is instantly attacked by Hauff. Only, nobody else sees it!
When night falls, all the secrets behind Dr. Hauff’s mysterious death will be disclosed. Passions will be ignited, and the handless plague victims will rise from their graves to avenge the doctor’s name while unleashing a virulent new strain of the plague. It’s a creepy, surreal finale that does include terror, graves, and creatures! Will anyone survive?
Only—if the plague victims’ hands were chopped off and displayed in the foyer—then why do they have hands when emerging from their graves?
TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE is full of spooky atmospheric touches like a maid with her own secrets, cobwebbed corridors, violent thunderstorms, curses, a mute gardener, sweeping music, one eerie song about pure water, odd dubbing, elaborate sets, and creepy sound effects. Despite the effectiveness of the movie, the director, Massimo Pupillo (BLOODY PIT OF HORROR) didn’t like the end product, so the film was originally credited to producer Ralph Zucker. In a weird twist, TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE played on a double bill in America with BLOODY PIT OF HORROR! Wouldn’t that have been a fantastic night at the drive-in?
TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE isn’t the best Euro-schlock-horror to be made in this period – it’s no BLACK SUNDAY – but it’s an eerie little film, buoyed by terrific atmosphere and the wonderful Barbara Steele.
I give it three owls in engines out of four.
© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl