Graveyard of Horror directed by Miguel Madrid
There is a world of difference in what Spanish filmmakers could get away with before the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in 1975, and what they could get away with after the subsequent introduction of the infamous “S” rating (denoting sex and violence) two years later. A pair of Spanish films that this viewer recently watched has served to demonstrate these differences very clearly. The 1977 film Satan’s Blood is replete with nudity (both topless and full frontal), orgies, rape sequences, beheadings and other gory carnage (as I have written elsewhere, it is a truly wild and memorable film, and I do commend it to your attention). On the other hand, the 1971 Spanish offering Graveyard of Horror (which originally appeared under the title Necrophagus and has also been released with the appellation The Butcher of Binbrook) is a much more conservative affair, with no nudity whatsoever (even in its several lovemaking scenes) and also nary a cc of blood on screen, despite the ghastly nature of the film’s proceedings. It is a picture that depends more on mood and the power of suggestion to get the job done, and I suppose that there’s nothing really wrong with that!
This viewer had no problem with the film’s first 1/3; its initial, comprehensible section. In it, we meet a young husband named Michael Sherrington (sympathetically played by Bill Curran), who returns to his ancestral castle by train (and that train is one of the film’s few hints as to its modern-day setting; with some very minimal changes, Graveyard of Horror could just as easily have transpired in the 19th century) only to encounter the most dismal homecoming imaginable. His brother, the earl, has mysteriously disappeared, and Michael’s young pregnant wife, Elizabeth, has died during childbirth. The earl’s wife, the Lady Anne (sternly beautiful Catherine Ellison), is acting very strangely, Elizabeth’s sisters and mother have become hostile, and the town’s two doctors seem to be withholding information. What’s left for any sane man to do but dig his wife’s body up and search for clues? But when Michael does so, he finds his wife’s coffin to be empty, whereupon he is knocked out by two figures in demon masks and attacked by some kind of hideous monster! All well and good. But then comes the next hour, in which Michael disappears, and which contains more head-scratching, bewildering and “WTF?!” moments than you might reasonably expect in any single film…
I must confess that I did not have the slightest clue what the hell was going on during Graveyard of Horror‘s final 2/3, and was thus pretty surprised to find that everything made perfect sense (well, maybe not “perfect” sense) by its conclusion. A repeat viewing revealed that the film does indeed cohere very nicely, with all the many character motivations interacting clearly (and lemme tell you, those three sisters-in-law are one complicated bunch of senoritas!). This really is a film that benefits from another look!
The picture has been directed by Miguel Madrid (on the Image DVD print that I just watched, he is listed as “Michael Skaife,” for some strange reason) for maximum freakiness, and employs shifts in time, a sepia-tinted dream sequence/recap of events, flashbacks, echo FX, unusual camera angles and quick cutting, all serving to disorient the viewer. Incidental music by someone listed as A. Santisteban abets the freaky mood marvelously, and is largely comprised of outré jazz, mainly utilizing a morbid-sounding organ and flute. Adding to the overall strangeness is the fact that, despite the film’s snow-enshrouded, wintry feel, some scenes seem to transpire at the height of springtime; the winter/spring dichotomy is at least as bizarre as any day/night/day shenanigans to be found in an old Ed Wood film. And then there’s that monster, which, when we finally DO get a good glimpse of it, near the film’s tail end, is as strange looking a construction as anything this side of “The Outer Limits!” The bottom line is that I doubt any viewer will be able to foresee what comes next, in this truly unusual horror outing. Despite the lack of overt violence and gore, it is a picture that does succeed in making a grisly impression.
As for this DVD itself, it features a somewhat battered-looking but serviceable print, with nice color and very adequate dubbing. And be sure not to miss the trailers for the six Filipino flicks included as extras, especially those for Eddie Romero’s famed “Blood Island” trilogy. Now THERE’S a bunch of movies that never skimped on the breasts and the blood!