Director: Rubén Galindo Jr.
BCI Eclipse

Mexican-made horror films of the 1950s and 1960s were primarily influenced by American-made Universal Studios productions of the 1930s and 1940s. What occured was an explosion of eerie and sometimes campy monster romps and macabre fairytales that are fondly remembered to this day, courtesy of DVD companies like BCI Eclipse and CasaNegra. During the 1980s, it seems that Mexican horror took another turn in that they were now greatly inspired by the then current rash of slasher epics being churned out of Hollywood. The two films on this flipper disc, both directed by Rubén Galindo Jr., are prime examples of this. Some fairly imaginative and lively ideas are thrown into the mix, and these titles showcase just how much Mexican horror had changed over the course of the 30 years or so.

In CEMETERY OF TERROR (“Cementerio del terror”), Dr. Cardan (Hugo Stiglitz) had under his care a madman named Devlon (José Gómez Parcero), who had killed 17 people including his parents. Although Devlon is gunned down by the cops, Cardan firmly believes his late patient is some kind of demon from hell, so he pleads with the police captain (Raúl Meraz) to have his body cremated. At the same time, a trio of medical students and their girlfriends decide to steal a corpse from the morgue, and guess who they snatch? Bringing Devlon’s bulky remains to a cemetery, they perform a black mass over him, leaving him behind, thinking that their little ceremony has failed. But Devlon once again walks the earth, and is out for revenge on the carefree teens, now hanging out in a nearby abandoned house.

And that’s not all. CEMETERY OF TERROR takes place on Halloween night, so there’s also a group of younger kids (roaming the streets with lighted jack-o-lanterns) who decide to break into the graveyard for kicks. Dr, Cardan is now on a mad search to find his missing (un)dead killer patient, and if you think this sounds a lot like the plot for HALLOWEEN (1978), you are damn right, with Stiglitz in the Dr. Loomis role. Toward the end of the story, the film has a cemetery full of zombies who rise up from their graves to menace the meddling kids, and the make-up on these ghouls is very well done, looking as good or better than anything seen in the Michael Jackson “Thriller” video. Although the zombies are pretty frightening, they don’t munch on anyone, so don’t expect this to turn into a Romero or Fulci film. As a slasher movie, it’s quite unrelenting and quite gory, with Devlon (a psychotic, bearded menace rather than a masked one) clawing up people with nails as deadly as a set of piranha’s choppers.

By 1985, Stiglitz had long been a stalwart of Mexican exploitation cinema, having starred in René Cardona pictures like THE NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS, SURVIVE and TINTORERA, and he had previously battled walking corpses in Umberto Lenzi’s NIGHTMARE CITY. So it’s no surprise that here he’s cast as the hero who drives his car through the cemetery gates to save a bunch of screaming kids from the undead. Speaking of Cardona, René Cardona III (who like his father and grandfather, went into directing) stars as one of the corpse-stealing students. The ultimate American horror movie wannabe, CEMETARY OF TERROR is chock full of laughable acting, plot inconsistencies and erroneous stabs at U.S. culture, but great gore effects and decent make-up help boost this hodgepodge of second-hand ingredients to a level of shear novelty and entertainment value.

Made a few years later by the same director, GRAVE ROBBERS (“Ladrones de tumbas”) also deals with meddling teens who bring the evil dead back to life. In a flashback to the time of the Inquisition, a muscular Satanist is put to death for sacrificing women and trying to spawn the Devil’s son. Executed by his fellow monks, he vows that he will one day return to carry out his sinister actions. Flash forward to the 20th Century, and a group of youths who rob graves for a living. Dwelling down into a crypt deep beneath the ground, they find their fair share of jewels, but also remove the ax that was plunged into the Satanist’s body, thus bringing him back to life as a vengeful monster. At the same time, the police captain’s (Fernando Almada’s) daughter Olivia (Edna Bolkan, who also appeared in CEMETERY) and some friends are camping out in the woods where an indestructible centuries-old madman is now killing everything in his path!

GRAVE ROBBERS shows how much the special effects in Mexican horror movies had improved since the days of rubber bats and plastic fangs. This is a slasher film of the highest degree, and as the body count mounts, so do the excellent Tom Savini-type special effects. Heads and hands are lopped off, throats and skulls are gashed, and one poor girl has her face mashed through the bars of a gate. The film’s most over-the-top effect (likely inspired by the “Nightmare On Elm Street” series) has the monster’s arm thrust up from inside of a stomach of one poor guy, with the innards gushing out everywhere. The monster is seen hooded though most of the film’s running time, and his many killings are shown as POV shots, focusing on the gruesome actions towards his victims. Like Jason from the “Friday the 13th” series, he has little or no personality, but in the climax he is revealed to have a skull face not unlike the Lon Chaney Phantom. Although the bloodshed is plentiful, GRAVE ROBBERS (as well as CEMETERY for that matter) displays none of the T&A that its American counterparts do, mostly likely due to the Mexican censors, so fans of conventional slasher pics will find it lacking in that area. Followers of classic Mexican horrors will recognize the late Roberto Cañedo (as a priest) from films like DOCTOR OF DOOM and SANTO VS. EL ESTRANGULADOR.

Both CEMETERY OF TERROR and GRAVE ROBBERS are presented in decent full frame transfers. Both films appear to be composed for 1.85:1 theatrical showings (you’ll easily catch a boom mike dangling from the top of the screen at one point in CEMETERY), but the open matte compositions don’t suffer too badly. Colors are stable, and both transfers looks fairly sharp and well-detailed. CEMETARY does suffer from abrasions on the print source, but they are mostly relegated to the beginning of the film. Both titles are in their original Spanish language, with optional English subtitles.

Two films that until now were very obscure to English-speaking audiences, this is a good popcorn double bill that will satiate Mexi monster fans, and they are an absolute must for 1980s slasher movie completists! (George R. Reis)