Saturday, July 22, 2017

191. Terror Creatures From the Grave

191. Terror Creatures From the Grave (1965)
Director: Massimo Pupillo
Writers: Romano Migliorini and Roberto Natale, adapted by Ruth Carter and Cesare Mancini, based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe
From: Pure Terror

A lawyer arrives at a villa with a letter requesting that he update the owner’s will. Only the owner has been dead nearly a year and, as the lawyer investigates further, was involved in occult activities that maybe haven’t ended.

A Barbara Steele movie! Barbara Steele is 110% goth and has amazing presence. She’s great as a femme fatale, a witch, a vampire, anything. She was a real-life Morticia Addams and your movie could be about puppies and clowns, but you drop Barbara Steele in, it’s immediately a goth classic that you misremember as having Vincent Price in it as well.

This, unfortunately, doesn’t use her to her full potential and, to give you a preview of the movie’s quality, the director had his name removed from it and replaced with the producer’s. However, the movie is not as terrible as that would suggest, either, it just isn’t all that it could be.

We open with a man nervously drinking in a closed bar. Someone slaps their hand against the window and he runs to get his horse. Only the horse gets spooked as he’s untying it and knocks him down, trampling him to death.

With the tone established and the body count already running, we go to the villa where the lawyer arrives. He has a note from the villa’s owner requesting the attorney Morgan come out to update the will. Morgan is traveling, so his colleague has arrived instead. He’s met by the daughter of the man and her step-mother and is told the man has been dead nearly a year. The only reason they’re at the villa is that his will stipulated that he be exhumed a year after his death.

The lawyer stays the night, but finds that he can’t leave the next morning because an owl got into the engine of his car. I’m sure that’s a thing, but it still seemed hilarious. He meets the town doctor and, with the daughter, goes into town. In the interim we learn that the man had been doing occult research and was convinced he could speak to the dead that haunted the villa. It had been the place of trial and punishment for the “plague spreaders,” people who were infected with the plague and deliberately took it to other locations. Their hands were cut off and are on display in the villa and their bodies are buried there in unconsecrated ground.

Your typical gothic horror moments arise: a townsperson tells them to leave as “the night of revenge” is approaching, the daughter starts seeing her dead father, and the town’s pharmacist/mayor is found dead. The doctor’s assistant had the paperwork written up before the death because he’d heard “the corpse collectors” in the night and knew it would be the mayor. The mayor had been one of five people present at the death of the occultist. Two are still alive: the man who warned them to leave and an indecipherable name.

That night, the man who warned them, who uses a wheelchair, secures a sword in his dresser and impales himself upon it. Something comes into the house and, with a putrescence-covered hand pulls the chair back, drawing the sword from the body. The sword is covered with the material which is also seeping from the man’s wound.

The grave is opened the next day and, surprise, there’s no body. The lawyer figures out the last name must be Morgan who happens to be showing up at the villa. Morgan sees the occultist, but the body is gone before anyone gets back. Turns out Morgan and Barbara Steele had been having an affair and they know what really happened to the occultist. It turns out he’d set up his revenge before his death with the help of the gardener.

The hour of the occultist’s murder hits and a mirror reveals the moment of his death where the five plus Barbara Steele tell him to leave town. His meddling with the undead is bothering everyone, but he has the dirt on each person in the room, so they kill him. The plague spreaders rise from their graves, but you never see them, and kill everyone except the lawyer and the daughter who escape when it starts raining because, as a nursery rhyme the occultist taught his daughter, the cure is “pure water.” The two leave to live happily ever after. THE END.

The movie just misses its mark on a lot of levels. It has some nice sets, a good enough tone, but it never executes with the precision you’d want. I started by excitedly noting that Barbara Steele is in the movie, but she’s not in it a lot. She’s sidelined most of the time and really only has one solid scene where she tells her step-daughter that she didn’t love the girls’ father. He’d basically tricked her into quitting her acting career to join him. Since that element was there, I was kind of disappointed that they wrote her as having an affair with Morgan. The occultist becomes just that much more monstrous if he’s coming back for revenge and to exercise control over this woman he deceived.

It’s telling that I don’t give character names for anyone. It’s because I don’t know them, and I just watched this and took notes. I refer to the occultist as “the man” because even IMDB doesn’t list his name and I don’t know if it was Hieronimusch, Geronimusch, or if those are even close. The characters don’t stand out so neither do their actions.

One element of the movie I did like was watching the lawyer play recordings of the man’s notes. You hear his voice talking about his research and experiments and, as he’s talking, it seems to cause the ghosts in the house to manifest. It’s very Evil Dead and that’s always a plus in my book.

There are nice ideas here, but in the end the whole thing’s kind of boring and gets wrapped up too coincidentally. I mean, rain will save the day? Good thing it’s always cloudy in movies like this then. So it’s not a recommend, but I don’t discourage anyone from watching it either. It’s merely okay. I’ve seen some websites claiming this is in the public domain, but it appears to have a valid copyright notice on it. If I hear otherwise, I’ll upload it to the Internet Archive because this is 100% midnight movie fare and would be great on a public access show or being riffed. At the moment, it looks like it’s not.

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