‘Terror-Creatures from the Grave‘ is an Italian gothic-horror that was released in 1965. Imagine the Hammer Horror studio relocating to Italy in the 60s and making films there, and you won’t be too far off the mark from what you are getting here.
‘Terror-Creatures from the Grave‘ is also known as ‘5 Graves for a Medium’, which may not be a better title but is certainly a more accurate one.
Despite being made in 1965 and featuring a light smattering of unnecessary nudity (and one brief sex scene), this vaguely zombie-ish horror has more in common with 1930s mystery horrors like The Old Dark House (1963) than its undead contemporaries.
The film is loosely based on an Edgar Allan Poe story, and the film sets up the premise as we follow a lawyer who is summoned to a remote castle to record the last will and testament for a dying man. When he arrives he finds things are not quite as he expected – the man is already dead and his widow and daughter from his first marriage are already there at the castle.
The plot starts as a haunted house thriller and develops into a murder mystery as visiting lawyer Albert Kovac (Walter Brandi) puzzles first over whether or not Dr Hauff really is dead, and then over who might be killing the only people who saw the body.
At some points it seems as if there is nothing supernatural going on here at all as the late Doctor’s loyal gardener Kurt seems to have been doing the killing (occasionally using the Doctor’s corpse to add verisimilitude) to avenge his master’s death. But then in the final act the title finally comes good as the Doctor’s ghost summons forth the plague carriers who were executed and buried in his house centuries ago, and uses them to infect the remainder of those who wronged him.
*Spolier Alert!* – It turns out that the five witnesses to his death were in fact his murderers, who hated him for his dabbling in the occult and for the fact that he had blackmail information on all of them.
The mystery plotline is nothing too taxing, although the sheer number of people involved and the ‘is it/isn’t it’ supernatural element keep you guessing about what’s going on in an engaging enough way.
The film features horror Queen, Barbara Steele in a nicely chilling role; icy hostess, wicked stepmother, willing adulteress and manically eager killer.
The other main asset is its photography which, like the central premise, vividly recalls the atmospheric Universal films of the thirties. I wouldn’t say that cinematographer Carlo Di Palma is up there with the great Karl Freund but he does a magnificent job on what had to be a very low budget. The lighting is impeccable, the nocturnal scenes, and especially the multiple death scenes, are cloaked in creeping shadow. If the acting of some of the principals strays into the melodramatic, the script strays into the cheesy, and the expositionary voiceover is just plain irritating, the look of the film at least keeps you coming back.
It’s a shame then that the film does have one major flaw. At the big climax the plague-ridden zombies drag their decomposing, diseased and pock-marked bodies from their graves to infect the living, it’s the moment towards which the whole movie has been building and at which it has been hinting since the start. But my description of it is all assumption, we never actually see any of this. The closest we get is the severed hands of the plague carriers moving about in their glass display case in the castle’s hall. Instead the screaming victims are killed by a handheld point of view shot, which just isn’t that satisfying. Generally speaking I’m a fan of not showing the audience too much, what you can’t see is often more frightening than what you can, but you can’t build to a revelation and then not have it. The more the characters scream at what they can see, the more I wish I was standing where they are!
Director Massimo Pupillo had such serious reservations about the finished film that he took his name off and it is producer Ralph Zucker (no relation to the Airplane guys as far as I’m aware) who gets credit. I don’t think the film was as bad as Pupillo feared, but not shooting a proper climax probably came back to haunt him.
Over the years the movie has also been released as Cemetery Of The Living Dead, Coffin Of Terror, Tombs Of Horror, and Cinque Tombe Per Un Medium.
Word of warning for pure zombie fans: Whilst there is lots to enjoy here, you won’t be seeing many zombies. As mentioned above, the undead’s presence is pretty much conveyed by ‘point of view’ film sequences and the odd glimpse of a rotten hand. If you want some pure gothic and atmospheric zombie action then you should check out Hammer horror’s under-rated and often overlooked ‘Plague of the Zombies‘ (1966) instead.
Watch the trailer for Terror-Creatures from the Grave
Watch the full movie.
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Written by: Robin Bailes