Released in the U.S. theatrically by National General Pictures, this European giallo was given a gaudy promotional campaign featuring the image of corpse-like face complete with exposed brains and an out-of-its-socket eyeball. Add the tagline, “There’s No Place To Hide When… THE DEAD ARE ALIVE!” and theatergoers must have thought this was the second coming of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. No zombies here, but the film at hand is still an interesting murder mystery made with the macabre flair expected from director Armando Crispino.
Alex Cord (STILETTO, CHOSEN SURVIVORS) plays Jason Porter, an alcoholic American archeologist doing research on Etruscan tombs around Tarquinia, north of Rome. He's staying at the house of the celebrated orchestra conductor, Nikos (THE GODFATHER’s John Marley, playing, or rather screaming the role like an irate Leonard Bernstein!), his son Igor, and his much younger second wife Myra (Samantha Eggar, THE COLLECTOR, THE BROOD), a girl with whom Jason was once romantically involved with. Jason and his team discover the tomb of Tuchulka, an ancient Etruscan demon god.
Soon afterwards, a teen couple wanders into the tomb to make out, and are maimed and murdered by an unknown culprit. Later, the body of Igor's girlfriend Giselle is discovered in the riding stable at Nikos' lofty villa. Igor is also found with her, but he survives and is taken to the hospital. Circumstantial evidence points towards Jason since his severe alcohol problem causes him to have blackouts, and he always shows up whenever there's a bloody corpse around.
Although the police continue their investigation, there is an assortment of other likely suspects including an unscrupulous insect-burning guard who attempts to blackmail Jason, a curly-haired homosexual choreographer (played by familiar character actor Horst Frank, THE VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU, THE CAT O’NINE TAILS) and a troubled woman who wears wigs to hide the horrible burns on her scalp (a gruesome flashback explains that one). There also is a theory that the grisly murders are caused by the evil Etruscan god (supposedly, the script was based on a short story by Bryan Edgar Wallace).
THE DEAD ARE ALIVE is an Italian/West German/Yugoslavian production with an original European title that translates to "The Etruscan Kills Again." Director Crispino (who later helmed AUTOPSY) presents an intense giallo that can be very rewarding in a creepy, narrative-driven sort of way, despite its somewhat drawn-out 105-minute running time. The characters and settings are very unusual for a film of this sort, and it's got some of the bloodiest killings you'll see for something made in the early 1970s. There's also the nice touch of adding a supernatural element, in this case the Etruscan god that may or may not be causing the death and bloodshed, and this also allows it to get away with being classified as a horror picture. The one and only Riz Ortolani provides a superb score, mixing melodramatic romantic harmonies with the more dark and brooding sounds of impending doom.
THE DEAD ARE ALIVE saw a limited edition DVD release a decade ago from an independent company known as EUROVISTA. With a transfer culled from a passable 16mm Scope print, the disc has been out of print for years. Anyone who missed out on that release will not be sorry, because Code Red’s edition is culled from an uncut Technicolor 35mm source, and it looks quite nice. Presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, colors are luscious and distinct, and detail is sharp, with the print source having very little in terms of dirt and debris. The mono audio is well replicated with the English track on hand, and there's only an occasional unobtrusive pop to be heard. The only extra is a TV spot for FAMILY HONOR (which plays automatically, as the disc has no proper menu) and the end credits (unlike the opening National General credits) are from the Italian version. (George R. Reis)
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