Spain has given us some terrific zombie movies over the years, from Jorge Grau’s masterful and atmospheric LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE to the more recent breathlessly thrilling [REC], with Amando de Ossorio’s BLIND DEAD series often seen as honorary Spanish horrors along the way. Paul Naschy’s VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES, however, is not like any of those. But to be honest it isn’t trying to be, having more in common with the dafter black and white B movies of the 1940s than the work of George Romero and his disciples.
In a London cemetery a naughty thieving couple are in a family crypt attempting to divest a female corpse of her jewellery. Before you can say ‘Daft Sticky End’ a man wearing a black cloak, hat and weird rubber mask has turned up outside, poured blood all over a wax effigy, and the corpse is rising, killing the couple, and going off for a wander as we get the main titles.
The music that plays over them is quite awful, by the way. And if you find it to be too much you may well have to plug your ears and concentrate on the subtitles, because there’s going to be a lot more of the most inappropriate music score for a horror film since Bill McGuffie decided that the best way to evoke the horror of Peter Cushing murdering prostitutes in CORRUPTION was to play a lot of loud sanity-challenging jazz. As if to prove my point, the establishing shot of London which follows is accompanied by the most horrendous frog-like burbling noise to be heard outside an amphibian theme park aimed at undemanding three year olds.
A blacked up Paul Naschy plays Krisna, an Indian mystic who has just bought a house in an isolated Welsh village. Young, pretty Elvire Irving goes to stay with him. I have to say the Welsh setting in this film isn’t entirely authentic. It was not so much the Spanish villa Elvire gets to stay in, nor the perfect Spanish spoken by all the locals that spoiled it for me, rather it was the fact that throughout the entire film not a drop of rain is to be seen in this so-called “Wales”. Elvire is presumably so shocked by the uncharacteristic weather that she promptly falls asleep and has a nightmare in which Paul Naschy As The Devil cuts her throat while assorted rejects from THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, including a girl painted gold, look on.
Meanwhile, back in real, actual London, our chap in black is busy murdering the usual collection of topless Spanish ladies (unless you’re watching the clothed alternative scenes on the DVD for some strange reason) and bringing them back to life again. Every now and then yet another Naschy turns up, this time a horribly scarred one, but eventually everything in the plot is explained, sort of, as it turns out that Paul is in fact playing twins in this one, one of whom raped a woman in India many years ago and was burned alive by four English families for it. His rather complex plan for revenge has involved ‘learning the most diabolical voodoo of all’. He’s also going to get immortal life, presumably as part of some sort of voodoo loyalty card kill-four-girls-get-a-life-free deal - the kind that Tesco might offer if they dealt in Caribbean religions.
It all ends in typical EuroHorror style, with the police turning up to find most of the cast dead and shooting pretty Maria Kosty for good measure, which it turns out is just as well because she’s also on the verge of creating her own zombie army. Seriously.
Quite a lot of fun as these things go, VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES features an interesting, if barking mad, revenge plot, a lot of really quite bloody murders (including a decapitation that hopefully got a round of applause in the grindhouses of the time), and some nice creepy scenes of zombies murdering people, especially at the start. Sadly most of the atmospherics is ruined by music that sounds as if it was rejected from CARRY ON UP THE SPANISH MAIN. I can’t remember ever seeing a film that features solely female zombies, nor one where they smile so much, nor, come to think of it, one where all their clothes are see-through to reveal they’ve taken the time and trouble to put on their panties but have forgotten their bras.
It’s unique. It’s Spanish. It’s Paul Naschy. And BCI’s DVD and Blu-ray of this are still available if you fancy checking out all the daftness for yourself.