Somewhat accidentally, I ended up staying for another day in Spain of 1972 for last night's double feature. Also, I wasn't initially intending to make it a double, but once it became apparent that these two films share some obvious surface similarities, I frankly couldn't resist the urge to pair them up. Both movies are often cited as among the best that Spanish horror has to offer, so as you might imagine, I was super psyched to get going...
Horror Express opens with narration from one Professor Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee), who is reporting to the Royal Geological Society about some disastrous events that followed an expedition to Manchuria, and the films unfolds as what is presumably an extended flashback where Saxton is detailing the incidents in question. When we first see him, he is in the process of discovering a humanoid specimen that he hopes will prove to be the missing link needed to give further weight to evolutionary theory. After packing his new frozen friend in a crate, he soon boards the Trans-Siberian Express from China to Moscow, but not before a thief at the station gets killed while apparently attempting to open the crate; when he's discovered he looks rather ghastly, as his eyes are now completely white. This leads Father Pujardov (Alberto de Mendoza), a monk also travelling on the train, to suggest that the crate's contents are nothing short of unholy. Dismissing this as superstitious hokum, Saxton boards the train with his package in tow...
Also along for the ride is Saxton's colleague and apparent rival Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing), who gets very curious about the contents of the crate, especially as Saxton is being so secretive about it. I'll say no more regarding the plot than that, but as you've probably guessed, things do not end well. While this is a somewhat reductive way of summing the film up, you could say it's almost like Hammer went and made a mash-up between Murder on the Orient Express and John Carpenter's The Thing, as there's certainly elements of both stories present. But as always, I'm hesitant to say much more than that, as I wouldn't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it.
The cast are uniformly excellent, and there's some great chemistry between the principles. I got a good laugh out of an early scene between Lee and Cushing, where the former ends up essentially cock-blocking the latter when it turns out the two are sharing a compartment, and Lee won't take the far from subtle hint that Cushing would like to be left alone with a lovely lady who has invited herself in. And perhaps stealing the entire show (despite not having a huge amount of screen-time) is the Devil himself, Telly Savalas, who plays a ruthless Cossack captain called Kazan; I really get the impression that the actor was having a ball with this role, as he seems to deliver every single line with relish... like I say though, it's somewhat regrettable that he isn't in the movie longer, but it's worth the wait for his eventual appearance... this is admittedly a minor criticism though, as the whole film is such good engaging fun that I doubt you'll be bored for a second. And last but not least, and forming another link to yesterday's movie, Murder Mansion, is George Rigaud as Count Petrovski, who looks to me like a cross between Hugh Hefner, and Leonardo DiCaprio's character from Django Unchained.
Calling back to Mario Bava's Black Sunday (reviewed here), Horror Rises from the Tomb opens with the execution of a man and a woman accused of dabbling in the black arts, and as in the former film, the pair obviously take the opportunity to curse those who will soon spectacularly slaughter them before the dirty deeds are done.
Central to our story, and one of the prime movers of the plot, is condemned sorcerer Alaric de Marnac (Paul Naschy, in the first of two roles... a fact I didn't realise until very late in the film), who is to be decapitated and then entombed without his head, which will be kept separately from his body. Flashing forward to the present day (and again somewhat echoing Black Sunday, though the future in that one is still the past... if that makes sense...), we encounter de Marnac's descendant Hugo (also Naschy), who (to cut to the chase) goes to a séance where he asks to contact his long deceased ancestor. It's a case of be careful what you wish for though as this is achieved almost instantly. However, as Hugo is an arch sceptic he's quick to try and debunk the whole thing, though of course none of this stops him and his friends from retreating to his ancestral home in search of the treasure that is alleged to be buried there.
Needless to say, Hugo and co soon bite off more than they can chew when they end up resurrecting the dead sorcerer, at which point the shit starts hitting the fan in spectacular fashion. As with Horror Express, I wouldn't want to spoil all the little surprises packed into the film, so I'll halt the synopsis right there.
This was my introduction to Spanish horror legend Paul Naschy, and I must say I'm kicking myself for taking this long to get to the guy. This movie was an absolute blast and provided everything I look for in a fun Euro-horror outing... there's enough gore to satisfy any hounds out there, sleaze and nudity galore, thick gothic atmosphere, lots of gorgeous lighting (including a liberal amount of those groovy coloured gels), and last but not least, an anything goes attitude of "let's throw everything into the pot", all of which comes together to create a highly entertaining package. Needless to say, I'm extremely excited about the fact that I've literally just crossed the threshold into the world of Naschy, and have tonnes of stuff still to discover.
All in all, this was an absolutely amazing double bill, and easily one of the most enjoyable I've had for a long while. Both are great ones to watch if you're in the market for a good old fashioned horror romp that is fun, and also somehow both familiar and unpredictable in equal measure. Finally, there were a couple of curious connections I noticed between the two... but all I'll say is this (and this isn't giving anything away)... don't dig up the past, and beware glowing red stuff!