Spanish Monsters and Mayhem
by Kristin Battestella
Spend a late night with this retro trio of scares de España featuring saucy creatures, vampires, and wild heists...
Graveyard of Horror – Heavy digging gets the camera dirty as lightning flashes and hearts pound in this immediately atmospheric 1971 Spanish twister likewise known under such juicy titles as The Butcher of Binbrook and Necrophagus. Dreary stonework, torches, ancient family castles, and gothic style set off the gloomy narration telling of desperate escapes and late wives. When our scientist returns home on the train – with an old lady who has a dead pig dripping blood in her suitcase for some random reason – his in-laws aren't exactly forthcoming about the fatal circumstances. They blame him for choosing his career over family, but shady doctors and a suspect death certificate acerbate the cemetery scares and dug up coffins. Hooded and masked figures roam the family vaults, and rumblings underneath the loose earth lead to creepy hands, monstrous eyes, growling, and screams. The bizarre is well done with what we don't see as the metamorphosis experiments gone wrong unleash mauling creatures to terrorize the kids playing in the snow. Sacrifices and boiling barrels get rid of the bones and heady evidence while the jealous ladies look over their shoulder as secret love letters and saucy dalliances come back to bite, stab, and slice them. Of course, all the nonsensical back and forth is terribly confusing and stereotypical dubbing with no original language and subtitles option hampers all the lookalike people. Zooms upon everyone's squinting eyes and heavy handed voiceovers laughably assure viewers know to be suspicious! I'm not even sure I know what's really happening here, yet somehow the spooky mood and eerie visuals provide a few fun surprises for a late night viewing.
Human Beasts – Paul Naschy (The Werewolf vs The VampireWoman) writes, produces, directs, and stars in the delicious sounding 1980 Spain/Japan co-production Carnaval de las Bestias. A knife sharpening Naschy at a candlelit dinner introduces the gangs, ferries, international intrigue, and diamond heist planning as grim portraits, skeletons, and chanting music set the macabre mood. With theft training, massage parlors, and a whiff of romance, this has a little bit of everything! Location transitions and exposition on the hold up technicalities move fast, and the decoy motorcycles, gunshots, and blood lead to double crosses, broken hearts, and vows for revenge. A girl can only take so much amid shootouts, sieges in forested ruins, and explosive booby traps. Perilous pursuits, river rapids, scorpions, injuries, and buried fortunes escalate as the action stumbles into suspicion and horror. Seemingly demure ladies come to the rescue, daughters of a doctor with a fine home, medicine, nudity, and seduction. Brief flashbacks of the love gone wrong mix with the voyeur point of view – someone is always watching, peering through the cracks between sisterly cat fights, horny veterinarians, and the master whipping the topless maid while she begs for more. A lot's happening for a seemingly low budget foreign production, but the gothic revival furniture, creaking rocking chairs, ticking grandfather clocks, antiques, and statues accent the amateur archaeology, scenic locales, and rural festivals. It's also nice that the Japanese people don't speak Spanish when no one else is around just for the sake of the audience. Squealing pigs, curing hams and sausages, more pills for the patient – our family doesn't care about our crook's past, he just needs to eat up and get healthy! What's a little spilled wine, thunderstorms, knives, and gory meat hooks? Ghosts aren't what they seem but dangerous staircases lead to attic surprises, leather aprons, and killer mysteries. Graveside visions of the doctor's late wife, nightmares, tolling bells, skulls – good girls go saucy and screams rise from the pigpen as the animals finish off the bodily evidence and it's wild stuff! While recent films often miss the mark in trying to get this mix right, the interwoven steamy, action plots, horror history, and cleaver scares here are surprisingly fun and well done.
A Naschy Bonus!
The Vampyre: Images from a Nightmare – This short twenty-four minute 2007 film starring Paul Naschy in one of his final appearances is included on the Human Beasts DVD. Although the credits and onscreen intertitles take up a few valuable moments and stereotypical strobe is overused, quotes based upon Dr. Polidori lend authenticity to the obviously low budget lighting and inadvertent shaky cam as a naive poet stumbles upon the sinister Lord Ruthven. Top hats, cloaks, candles, cobblestone streets, shadows, and iris tricks provide period flair and nods to silent horror, and even the faux Victorian ladies clothing looks okay as they strip down while under the vampire's spell. The Swan Lake music and little dialogue continues the silent homage, but the fade ins and outs between scenes that only last a few moments make this not so much scary, just weird – a group of odd, existential, arty, creepy vignettes as the titular neck nibbles mount. Despite feeling somewhat light on the actual The Vampyre story, this can be fun for fans of Naschy or viewers who like good gothic atmosphere. I feel like this is the kind of thing that should be projected on a billowing curtain at a spooky party.