Entrenched in the soil of a native land whose cultural heritage included a formidable amount of civil strife, bloodshed, and folklore, Mexican horror draws its strength from elements of its culture's paradoxical love and fear of both violence and the unknown. Celebrating supernatural terrors from without and the monsters that lurk deep within everyman, Mex-horror blends lusty sensationalism with surprisingly introspective themes of morality, emotional turmoil, and spirituality. Its fog-laden, blood-drenched images terrify and titillate even as they suggest archetypes of more universal (if ambiguous) significance -- terrors rooted in the psyche. Despite the surface gloss, technological superiority, and intellectual snobbism with which we arm ourselves, seeking to convince one another (and our secret selves) that we no longer fear that which we can't see or explain, we're all still very much children afraid of the dark (and just as often ourselves). These same fears and anxieties, lusts and fantasies, are the meat and blood of Mexican horror cinema. These movies that are as fun to watch for their innovation and gusto as they are for unintentional humor, scaring as often with atmospheric subtlety as with graphic violence. This is particularly true in Cemetery of Terror and Grave Robbers, two rarely seen yet incredibly effective examples of the genre.

Moody and horrifying, wreathed in shadows of funeral finery, the two features comprising the second instalment of BCIs Crypt of Terror are intelligently written and capably acted. Carefully plotted, emotionally intense stories, both films are supported by professional production design, deliciously decrepit settings, and engaging characters. Sharp, inspired direction by Ruben Galindo, jr. moves the action along at a relatively quick pace without sacrificing a suitably horrific mood, creating with the help of first-rate technicians an undeniable sense of dream logic. Proving that Mex-horror is more intelligent than often claimed, both Cemetery of Terror and Grave Robbers combine unashamed supernatural shocks with themes that encourage contemplation. In a genre pregnant with heavily-muscled men and sensuous snake-like women, the first of these uncut, re-mastered nightmares appeals to both the kid and the adult in our skins, satisfying that secret, sometimes acknowledged, more often denied, internal hunger for the horrific. Someone once made the astute comment that horror movies are fairy tales for adults. And this is precisely one of the levels in which Cemetery Of Terror -- a movie of insanity, sexual sadism, and crippled perception -- succeeds.

In a plot as sensationally contrived as it is disturbing, medical students finding a satanic book at a deserted mansion decide to evoke the corpse of a serial killer. Stealing Devlon, a recently murdered madman from the local morgue, the students perform a black magic ritual at a cemetery on Halloween night. Meanwhile, Devlon's doctor, Camilio Cardan attempts to convince the town sheriff to burn the corpse, believing that Devlon was a devil in human guise. When the medical students' ritual seems to have no effect on the corpse, they abandon Devlon's body, and in characteristically B-movie logic decide to party at a nearby house. Children travelling to the cemetery for some rural Halloween fun discover, to their horror, that the teenagers prematurely abandoned their ritual, for Devlin has risen from the gates of hell on the night of the dead, and he is eager to share bring death to those who so disturbed his sleep. A Halloween night of horrific mishaps, trick-or-treaters aren't the only monsters walking the streets, and the trick for these students will to be to stay alive . . .

This enjoyably campy if sombrely intended ménage of satanic ritual, boys behaving badly, and surprisingly gory violence is both a trick and a treat, merging contemporary viscera and full-color havoc similar to European horror films of the period while, at the same time, suggesting a haunting atmosphere similar to the suggestive chills of Universal and Hammer fare. A bold, bloody faerie tale for adults, the story asks us to enjoy the very elements that it uses to disturb us. At the same time, its subversive story, careful direction, and commendable performances make it an unflinching expose of corruption - breakdowns of mind and spirit reflected by ravishments of the flesh. While gothic in atmosphere (approaching the surreal in terms of a lush, decrepit setting), a rush of amazing brutality throbs beneath the surface of quieter moments. Suspense lurks beneath even the most innocent dialogue and character development. Undeniably frightening, intensely sexual, and unsettlingly beautiful in its depiction of behaviours that should make us queasy, Cemetery of Terror exhibits an impressive ability to make the terrible desirable and the repulsive feel seductive. Further, the direction and slow pacing of the movie questions the nature of reality, unfolding in the hazy distortion of a dream. Like the best examples of surrealism or expressionistic theater, the plot, while occasionally lacking sense or believability, evokes a sense of hidden reality.

This sense of the supernatural wreaking vengeance on the present is continued in the second feature, Grave Robbers. An unassuming little fear fable drenched in menacing atmosphere, Galindo's direction again helps create an atmosphere of palpable dread in what can easily be seen as a Mexican addition to the teens-in-peril cycle of films so popular in the United States and Europe during the 70's and 80's -- albeit with greater heights of suspense and an admirable aura of malignance surrounding the characters and bleeding from the deteriorating sets. Believability and psychological tension are heightened by the organic reactions of a talented cast whose facial expressions express sheer terror when facing the demonic -- authentic without being forced, resisting the parody so often employed in this genre.

This midnight movie centers around the cliché if well handled themes of arrogance and retribution as a group of rebellious adolescent tomb raiders discover a hidden torture chamber from the days of the Inquisition, and in a bad stroke of luck, accidentally release an undead satanic priest from the chains of death. The tomb, once a place of unconsecrated evil, host to unholy rituals and torture, is rich with gold and precious jewels. Celebrating new-found wealth, the teenagers realize too late that they have unleashed a corpse with unholy power who now wants both his treasure . . . and their lives! Fleeing from the scene (but not before a number of peasants are murdered in deliciously graphic ways), the grave robbers are blamed for the murders and hauled off to jail. Meanwhile, four adolescents enjoying a camping trip are attacked by this hatchet wielding zombie. Can the local sheriff put this undead evil to rest with the help of a nearby priest or will they all surrender their lives to the sharp end of a hatchet blade?

Every bit as pulpy as it sounds, this minor masterpiece of the modern macabre is drenched in atmosphere and strained coincidence. The former lends believability and the grand resonance of a traditional grand gothic, playing upon our collective terror of the unknown, and using this awe of the supernatural to lend further power to the characterization that the script tries commendably to develop amidst shocking scenes of bloodshed. The overly large amount of coincidence in the story, and the foolish reactions of the cast, meanwhile, do no great damage to a story played primarily for adventure.

Not surprisingly, generous amounts of violence, spectral horror, and sensationalistic grue share the spotlight in this occult opera. What does surprise is how this celebration of raw sensation, including such questionable treats as defilement, dementia, and revenge achieves moments of serious drama. Fear, the universal language, is well represented by settings whose occult imagery and physical deterioration mirror the emotional corruption of the youth/new world so apparent in the youngsters of the story. The camera itself makes love to the monuments of funeral finery, taking time to capture secluded country landscapes, foreboding graves, and lonely interiors. Dread and beauty are merged, creating a disturbing hybrid of charnel house and decadent splendor. When the movie's shocks come, they are intense and quickly paced. These 'Boo!' moments of 'funhouse' fear are every bit as effective today, I suspect, as when they were first filmed.

Proving that emotion, desire, and ambition are more than enough compensation for lack of CGI FX, million-dollar budgets, and high cocaine bills, these disturbing twins of terror are as fun as they are, at times, surprisingly serious. If their narratives occasionally lean close to shlock, than this too is part of their charm. After all, part of the enjoyment we get from watching a magic act is figuring out how the illusionist 'does' it, and if we can see behind the rubber and plastic -- past the 'seams' -- where reality and fantasy briefly untangle, this only adds to our pleasure.

Cemetery of Terror and Grave Robbers are both presented in prints that spill the rolling fog, bleeding corpses, and stalking nightmares into your lap. Colors are bright and vivid. Unfortunately both films are full of surface grain, lines, and occasional speckling. Not half as clear as Night of the Bloody apes or Curse of the Doll People, one suspects that the visual fault with these titles may be found with damaged source prints, not the responsibility of BCI. Nor do these surface defects seriously hamper the viewing experience. As with Crypt of Terror (1), this is as good as these films have ever looked, and while someone may come along in five years or so with better prints (which I doubt), for now, these editions are the ones to own. Demented candy-coated nightmares of sweat, blood, and skin, these uncut and re-mastered prints clean up the battered images of the originals while retaining the steamy, doom-haunted feeling of their initial cinematography. Audio is for the most part clear and concise, with both features presented in their original Spanish language tracks with English subtitles.

When watching Cemetery of Terror and Grave Robbers, we are children again, listening to a scary story in the dark. Not that its all fun. No, beneath the fearful frolic and ghoulish games lurks a sense of honesty -- a belief in some of the supernatural shenanigans, rooted deep in the culture itself. This relationship with the uncanny lends further authenticity to the themes, and helps patch up any bleeding lapses of logic. Creepy classics of lumbering zombies, satanic ritual, and the grimly beautiful, the torrid treasures within this crypt are reason for monster fans -- and devotees of fantastic cinema in general -- to rejoice!

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by BCI
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review