Only recently has Spain been acknowledged for its accomplishments in horror cinema, having quietly produced several bona fide classics in the genre for almost 40 years. Probably no one is better known for his contribution to Spanish horror films than Paul Naschy; though best known for his lycanthropic anti-hero Waldemar Daninsky, he took a break from werewolves in 1973 to film this undead offering for director Leon Klimovsky.
Though the film was no doubt inspired by the international success of Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, Naschy, who also wrote the screenplay, is more interested in the voodoo and occultic aspects of zombiedom. In fact, Naschy seems to believe voodoo and Satanism are synonymous, though that may have been intentional--this was 1973, after all, when a certain Devil-oriented movie was breaking box-office records.
Naschy begins his story in London (a London in which everyone speaks Spanish, including the local Hindi mystic). Elvire Irving (played by the single-monikered Rommy) receives word that her cousin Gloria has been murdered and travels to the town of Llangwell, another English community where the townsfolk no habla ingles, to comfort her family. And even though her remaining family members are soon murdered after her arrival, Elvire doesn't bother to cut her trip short; she's got the barrel-chested Indian swami Krisna (Naschy, in one of three roles) to help dry her eyes. He's such a caring person that Elvire doesn't even notice the fact that not only has Krisna purchased a home in Llangwell, where three murdered families have to ties to India--and that the murders were committed with ceremonial Hindi blades. I probably would've chalked it up to coincidence, myself. But there's more to Krisna--too much more, really--than one suspects.
Elvire also doesn't seem too terribly concerned that Gloria and the other female victims are returning from the grave as pasty-faced, bug-eyed zombies, resurrected in a voodoo rite by a fellow in giallo-killer garb and a collection of cheesy Halloween masks. The zombies are used as pawns of this mysterious figure's revenge (which, since he's not a zombie, technically makes the film's title a lie), who's got a painfully convoluted backstory which each victim's family.
VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES has a good bit going for it--evocative day-for-night photography, eerie cemetery backdrops, and some well-executed setpieces. One in particular is a trippy dream sequence in which Elvire's sacrificed in a ritual to Baron Samedi, the movie's Satanic stand-in (a horned Naschy in freaky Devil makeup). The movie's lagging pace tends to dull the impact of these scenes, not to mention the horrendously inappropriate jazz soundtrack that destroys any chance to film has to be truly scary.
VENGEANCE is sure to please Naschy fans, or anyone else into oddball Eurohorror. Zombie freaks expecting some hardcore gut-munching will be disappointed, though there are a couple of messy decapitations and throat-skewerings, not to mention the death by lager can. And since the DVD uses the original Spanish-language track with subtitles, you can turn the volume and enjoy it without the worst film score ever recorded.