Monday, March 28, 2011

Mediocre Gothic Thriller with a Goofy Title

Terror Creatures from the Grave
(aka "Cemetery of the Living Dead")(1965)

Starring: Walter Brandi, Mirella Maravidi, Barbara Shelley, and Alfredo Rizzo
Director: Massimo Pupillo (credited to producer Ralph Zucker)
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

An attorney (Brandi) answers an urgent request to prepare a will for a country doctor living at an isolated estate. When he arrives, his strange wife (Shelley) and neurotic daughter (Maravidi) tell him the doctor couldn't have written the letter as he's been dead for over a year. Before he can sort out the mystery, the doctor's old friends start dying as well, apparent victims of the ghosts evil sorcerers who spread a plague across the land 500 years ago.

We are informed during the main credits that "Terror Creatures from the Grave" was inspired by the writings of Edgar Allan Poe; it certainly bears more resemblance to them than several films that have claimed to be based on them (such as several Lugosi vehicles from Universal), I think I'll still have to go with the Real Thing over this movie.

The film's hero, an attorney visiting a house of secrets and madness, certainly feels like he stepped out of a Poe story, and Barbara Shelley, yet again playing another two-faced, treacherous bitch who causes not only her own downfall but also that of pretty much the entire cast, also could easily have been a Poe character, but the film never quite manages to be as creepy as a Poe story. It has some nice moments, but in general in plods along too slowly to generate any real sense of dread and fear in the viewer. The mystery of a dead man writing letters in intriguing, the array of characters present clearly set the stage for some Very Bad Things, but the film wastes too much time with overlong establishing shots and with too many meandering scenes for it to really add up to anything.

Except for roughly the last ten minutes. When the Plague Spreaders FINALLY make their appearance, we finally get some real spookiness. Although the climax is ultimately a bit rushed and relies a bit too much on the Deus Ex Machina, it's a pay-off worth waiting for. Steele's death scene is especially chilling and well-filmed.

(Oh... I don't think it's much a spoiler to reveal that Steele is the villainess and that she comes to a bad end. It's her place in most films she appeared in, and it's pretty obvious from the outset.)

There's nothing in "Terror Creatures from the Grave" that you haven't seen done better elsewhere, but it's main offense is its mediocrity. Fans of Barbara Steele will enjoy it more than most, but even for those it's not worth going to far out of your way for. But if present in one of those movie mega-packs, which is where I came across it, it's a bit of harmless filler that's worth checking out when you're in the mood of nightgowns and candlesticks and creepy castles.