León Klimovsky, 1973
Starring: Paul Naschy, Romy, Mirta Miller, Maria Kosty
After women are killed around England, they are raised from the dead by a mysterious masked man. He uses them as murder weapons, to get vengeance on miscellaneous men for some unknown offence. Meanwhile, an Indian guru, Krisna, and his girlfriend travel from London to an isolated estate with one of their followers, a troubled young woman named Elvira. While Krisna is attempting to help the smitten Elvira, Scotland Yard is investigating the string of zombie-murders. The detectives, with the help of an occult expert, figure out that the murders are somehow based around Krisna’s estate.
Bizarre and delightful, Vengeance of the Zombies doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it really is a lot of fun. Fans of Eurohorror will definitely want to seek this out, though anyone who expects a rational plot is probably going to be confused or disappointed. Star and writer Paul Naschy is great in three roles here – as the guru Krisna, a pretty racist and kind of creepy Indian stereotype, as an incredible looking Satan, and as Krisna’s evil, deformed brother Kantaka. Though it isn’t clear until closer to the end of the film, he is responsible for the wholesale slaughter. Kantaka wears a mask for much of his screentime, so his burn scars (and resemblance to Krisna) aren’t evident till late in the game. He is certainly one of the more entertaining characters and nearly every single one of his scenes involves murder, black masses, voodoo rituals, and other kinds of insanity.
If, like me, you absolutely love voodoo-themed zombie films, then Vengeance of the Zombies is for you. Make no mistake, it is wildly entertaining, though in a so-bad-it’s-good and unintentionally hilarious way. There’s some truly incredible dialogue, rivaling some of the better lines from A Dragonfly for Each Corpse. One of the zombies kills someone with a soda can and there’s some other unexpected gore. Scotland Yard is amusingly accepting of the zombies’ existence and they are essentially only in the film to intercede in the sadly lame and predictable ending.
Along with Live and Let Die and Sugar Hill, voodoo deity Baron Samedi is a presence. The script is a bit confused about what tradition it’s following and blends Satanism, Kali worship, and voodoo together. Allegedly, after seeing the film, some people were so convinced that they reached out to Naschy and asked him to be their cult leader. I have a little trouble believing that, but the scenes of Satan worship do look pretty wonderful.
There’s some great atmosphere here. The black-clad female zombies were clearly designed with cheap effects, but their movements are surprisingly effective. As with the female vampires in Naschy’s Werewolf Vs the Vampire Woman and Count Dracula’s Great Love, the zombies move in slow motion, often through fog and shadows, giving their scenes a feeling of eeriness. The dream sequences are also quite incredible, featuring Naschy as a grinning, oppressive Satan with some great make-up, demons, a woman painted gold and stirring a cauldron, and more strangeness.
There are some nice scenes surrounding the supposedly cursed “Devil House,” which is where Elvira has her nightmares. For the most part, they are unexplained, but I assume that they came from the house, much like the excellent British film Curse of the Crimson Altar from just a few years prior in 1968. Vengeance of the Zombies shares enough plot elements with that film that Naschy must have seen it and been inspired by it. On a similar note, Naschy’s obsession with Universal horror made me think of the underrated Bela Lugosi-vehicle Night Monster (1942), which also involves a swami and some mysterious occult horror that takes place in a manor house in the isolated countryside.
Naschy regulars Mirta Miller (Count Dracula’s Great Love), Aurora de Alba (The Mark of the Wolfman), and Antonio Pica (Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll) all put in decent performances, and Romy (The Killer with a Thousand Eyes) is nice to look at. Her character, Elvira (the name of Naschy’s wife and several of his female characters over the years), honestly seems pretty useless throughout the film. Though the action often comes to her – as well as some pretty incredible nightmares – she doesn’t do a whole lot other than look pretty or distressed.
Vengeance of the Zombies is far from perfect. Naschy’s script, as always, is completely incoherent and there are some dull parts, primarily when the detectives sit around Scotland Yard discussing the case. The soundtrack from Juan Carlos Calderon is absolutely insane. Whether Naschy intended to take this film seriously or not, the soundtrack completely prevents that with some funky, jazz-fueled interludes delivered at exactly the wrong times – or the right times, if you’re looking for a laugh.
Somewhat surprisingly, considering its obscurity, Vengeance of the Zombies is available on both DVD and Blu-ray; the Blu-ray is a double feature with Night of the Werewolf. It comes highly recommended to fans of Naschy, Spanish and Eurohorror, and anyone who likes nonsensical genre films. Parts of this film must be seen to be believed.