Popular cinema in Italy went through a variety of cycles during its peak ’60s and ’70s eras: peplum, spaghetti westerns, poliziotteschi, Nazisploitation, gialli, etc. Anyone who could scrape a few lire together would throw their hat into each of these cycles, resulting in a glut of product for each trend. That said, quantity does not equal quality and combing through any of these trends means will reveal an erratic level of quality control.
Case in point: Terror-Creatures From The Grave was an entry in Italy’s popular gothic horror cycle with some notable assets, particularly the presence of horror icon Barbara Steele, but it doesn’t live up to the heights of Steele’s other Italian gothic horrors.
The film begins with Albert Kovac (Walter Grandi) being dispatched to a rural estate to take care of a will… only to discover the man who sent the letter died almost one year ago. The man’s wife Cleo (Steele) acts suspicious, his daughter Corinne (Mirella Maravidi) is convinced he still haunts the grounds and the home has a strange backstory involving the plague and the murder of several men spreading it. The anniversary of the man’s death brings mysterious killings, a revelation about his death and perhaps the return of the undead.
Terror-Creatures From The Grave has a lot going for it, at least on the surface. The plot has all the right elements for a gothic horror potboiler, the presence of Steele is always a plus and there is also lovely black-and-white photography from future Woody Allen cinematographer Carlo Di Palma.
Unfortunately, it also has some problems that hold it back from rating highly in the Italian gothic pantheon. The script plays like a more like a slow murder mystery than a horror film for its first two acts, with an overtly elaborate plot that bogs it down. Setpieces are doled out sparingly until the end and it seems confused on how to handle them: the plague-riddled zombies are kept offscreen a la Val Lewton but the film also throws in a few spurts of gore. Steele fans are likely to be disappointed as she is merely a member of an ensemble instead of a central figure and a bit underused a result.
In short, Terror-Creatures From The Grave is not the rock-em, shock-em horror effort that its title suggests. The cast does solid work, the photography is slick and the mansion location is appropriately spooky but there is a paucity of imagination and showmanship that sap the excitement out of its premise. Thus, it is probably best left to the Italian gothic completists.