Vengeance of the Zombies (1973)
I would not call Vengeance of the Zombies a zombie film any more than I would call Dawn of the Dead a screwball comedy. Just as a couple pies-in-the-face do not define the latter, five or six zombies do not make a zombie film. But I’m going to stop rambling and get right to the dirt because it does not seem right to waste energy on a film of this quality. Even as far as C-grade trash goes, Vengeance of the Zombies is bad and (even worse) boring.1
Let’s start with the plot, shall we? There is this masked guy running around using voodoo to bring the dead back to life when perfect potential victims are nearby. He amasses an undead army (don’t get excited; as I said, there are only a handful of zombies in the whole film) to help him in his scheme to avenge those who once avenged him. There is also a woman, Elvire, who eventually becomes a potential victim.
The problem with the plot is that it cannot decide who to follow, the killer or Elvire. In a half-assed attempt to add some mystery to the film, the filmmakers chose to primarily follow Elvire, who simply experiences a few strange things such as bad dreams and curious characters. However, the film arbitrarily cuts to the killer whenever he makes a kill so as to add a little gore — a last-ditch effort to provide some excitement along the way. The viewer is therefore left wondering, during a number of kill scenes, Who are these people and why are we watching them? Though we learn the reason for these killings at the end of the film, these kill scenes are nothing more than tangential because there is no real reason for us to have seen them; the shift in perspective in no way benefits the story itself. In fact, nothing in this film benefits the story.
To make things worse the writer, Spanish cult horror star Paul Naschy, slaughters the number one no-no of storytelling in any medium — endless exposition. The characters constantly feel the need to explain, in detail, all that they are doing and plan to do. Take this seduction scene: A woman walks into a man’s office. After the man expresses concern that a guard might have seen her, she begins this riveting dialogue: “I have the key to the private door. No one saw me enter. […] That idiot husband of mine — I told him I was going to play cards with the Carters tonight. And, as you can see, I’ve come ready [disrobes] to play with you!” Someone please tell me what the point of that is.
If that’s not enough, consider this monologue: Elvire’s spiritual advisor, a man who calls himself Krishna (played by Naschy), explains to her another character’s past (I cannot really say who without minor spoilage). His entire speech is back-story, and it lasts an excruciating two minutes. We all know that monologues can be powerful; however, they have to be witty, interesting, or moving, they have to be delivered with some sort of flare, and they have to be about something or someone we care about. It also helps if the visuals are interesting, considering one person is talking for an extended period of time. I cringe to even call this verbal exposition a monologue because it fails all of these criteria; it is about a character we do not know, it is spoken with the energy of a cucumber, and during the entire thing, we merely watch Krishna walk around a room. In the whole film there is not a bit of dialogue that is enjoyable. I’m a guy who wants to like the films he watches, especially those of a favorite genre; however, when a film cannot grasp even the basics of the art, I am capable of no reaction but complaint.
The action is no better. Sometimes we can rely upon the dynamics of gore to save an otherwise incompetent film, like in Blood Feast. Apparently director Leon Klimovsky was feeling lazy when he made Vengeance of the Zombies. In this movie there is but one creative kill, and it does not even make sense: a man’s throat is cut with a soft drink can. Now, this may sound cool, and perhaps it could have been, but the kill consists of nothing more than an opened top of a can pressed against the neck — no slicing motion, barely even a twist (not to mention the fact that the “dead” man blinks a moment later). Most every other kill is carried out in the most generic way possible, such as strangling, stabbing, and throat slitting, save for one character that is forced to slit his own throat. There is no tension to strengthen these gore scenes, either. There is no eerie silence or ominous score (in fact, just the opposite; I’ll get to that in a moment), no unnerving visuals — nothing.
A laughably absurd soundtrack also pervades the movie. Cheap seventies elevator jazz belongs in only two places: blaxploitation flicks and Quentin Tarantino pop-nostalgia moments. In fact, insofar as a ranked list of the most inappropriate places for this type of music would go, zombie films would probably place slightly above Civil War documentaries. There is actually a funeral scene with this music in the background, and — you choose which is worse — a satanic ritual riding to the tune of … bebop? Add to this the fact that it often cuts out abruptly during changes of scene, and you have one genuinely stupid soundtrack.
On top of all of this, the movie also fails in that one area in which even many of the zombie genre’s worst entries succeed—the zombies themselves. These are, without a doubt, some of the most boring zombies ever placed in a film. They are adorned with no more makeup effects than pale, pinched faces — no blood, no rotting skin, no flesh wounds of any sort; they don’t even stagger or moan. If you didn’t see them rise from their graves, you would think they were nothing more than goth women in a trance.
There is no redeeming quality to be found in Vengeance of the Zombies. It treads on and on, and the viewer is left catatonic. The movie fails in every way conceivable. I tried to think up a witty way to end this review, but I’m turning back to what I said earlier: it’s just not worth the energy. This film is crap.
1. The copy of the movie used for this review was put out by Mill Creek Entertainment and was likely edited slightly. Deimos Entertainment has published a complete version of the film on DVD as well as, unbelievably, a Blu-ray double feature in which Vengeance of the Zombies is paired with Night of the Werewolf. However, given the overall quality of the film, extra footage is unlikely to provide anything but prolonged viewer torment.