My first encounter with Paul Naschy was as a reference in The Howling. One of the characters in that movie was named "Jack Molina," which I discovered soon afterward to be Paul Naschy's Spanish name. It took me a few years to actually track down any of his films. The first was Frankenstein's Bloody Terror. I didn't know what to make of it at the time. I don't mean this in a derogatory manner, but Naschy's films seem like they come from a Mexican tradition. They have the same "throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and hope something sticks" aesthetic one finds in movies like, say, The Black Pit of Dr. M or The Brainiac. While there's certainly a lot to criticize in this approach, there's also an undeniable charm, too.
One can see this approach in full force in Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973, directed by Carlos Aured), written by Naschy as Jacinto Molina and featuring the actor in multiple roles. In spite of my desire for werewolf mayhem, Netflix insisted on sending me non-lycanthropic movies. There's nary a distant howl in this movie, but that's okay, I guess. This features every other full-dress Gothic trope you can imagine, sometimes appearing seemingly at random. Note: this is spoilerific. Not that it really matters with this film.
Horror Rises from the Tomb starts well. In the middle ages, a warlock and his concubine are taken into the wilderness for execution. Alaric de Marnac (Naschy) is accused of all manner of crimes, and members of his own family act as executioners. As you might expect, de Marnac curses his executioners and vows to return and wreak a terrible vengeance upon them. The only problem with his plan, though, is that his head has been chopped off and hidden away from his body so that they might never reunite. Fast forward to contemporary Paris, where two of the executioners' descendants are invited to a seance. These are Hugo de Marnac (Naschy again, natch) and Maurice Roland (Víctor Alcázar) who are both skeptical. The medium channels Alaric, who tells them where to find his head. As a lark, the two friends and their gal pals journey to the de Marnac estate to find out if the medium was for real. Unfortunately, she is, and soon, Alaric is back in business. He and his concubine, the lovely Mabille, reincarnate as quasi-vampires, indulge in human sacrifices, and command an entourage of zombies. This, on top of the hostile locals who refuse to help our heroes (and who, upon capturing a couple of fugitives, hang them on sight). This follows a "One Damned Thing After Another" plot construction, and when Hugo and his lover, Elvira, find the talisman that will defeat Alaric, it's seems totally random. But then, so does most of the movie.
Obviously, with so many balls in the air, Horror Rises from the Tomb is bound to drop a few. A lot of the movie--most of it, actually--seems constructed from the leavings of other movies. The opening should be familiar to anyone who has seen Black Sunday, while the zombie interlude reeks of The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. Like those Mexican horror movies I mentioned at the outset, this is what I call a "blender" movie, in which the filmmakers take a bunch of stock genre tropes, stick them in a blender, and hit puree. This also shares a total shamelessness in its approach and it covers for its lack of originality by barging through its plot with a "damn the torpedoes" forward motion. It doesn't hurt that the filmmakers have populated the film with stunningly gorgeous women. Or that they are often nekkid. There's also enough creative gore to satisfy the adolescent sadists in the audience. One particular scene has Mabille rip open the chest of a man to pluck his still-beating heart from his chest (the filmmakers then turn oddly coy when deciding whether to show our villains actually eating the heart, even though you can totally see where the scene is going). Naschy knows his audience and strives to give them what they want.
This is Naschy's show, as you might expect, and it points out the actor's strengths and weaknesses. Since he plays both one of the heroes and the main villain, you get a portrait of an actor who is phenomenal in villainous parts, but who struggles with "straight" roles. When Naschy is hamming it up as Alaric, you can't take your eyes off of him. When he's playing Hugo, he kind of fades into the woodwork. The movie wisely kills Hugo off, and leaves Víctor Alcázar to handle the heroic duties. But even he is upstaged, alternately, by Emma Cohen as our heroine, Helga Liné as Mabille, and Cristina Suriani. It's hard to hold the screen against gorgeous, often nude women, I guess. The real star of the movie is the locations, anyway. This movie covers a LOT of faults by filming in picturesque locations during the bleak heart of winter.
Sometimes the faults can't be papered over, though. When Naschy portrays Alaric as a head sitting on a shelf, I couldn't help but giggle. It's such an absurd sight that it takes one right out of the movie. It's fun, but it's fun in spite of the film, not because of it. Still, fun's fun, right? Seriously, if you can't have fun with Naschy's films, you're in trouble, so take it as it is.