Cemetery of Terror (Mexico, 1985)
My selection for any October Horror Movie Challenge is usually a mix of films I’ve been meaning to watch, ones with interesting blurbs, and a few wildcards picked pretty much at random. Cemetery of Terror comes from that final category.
Despite dating from the mid-eighties, when I watched every horror film I could, I don’t think I’d even heard of Cemetery of Terror until last month. Jon Cohorn of Modern Horrors recommended it when I threw a list of random films his way. While our tastes don’t always align, he’s yet to steer me completely wrong. And although I can’t see Cemetery of Horror becoming an enduring favourite of mine, it’s a wild enough ride that I’m glad it found a place in this year’s line-up.
In the opening scene, Devlon, a serial killer with oddly short fingers, is gunned down by the police.
We then spend far too much time watching a group of male medical students tricking their dates into partying at an abandoned house. Happily, this is interspersed with the antics of Dr Cardan, a psychiatrist who looks like he’s just been thrown out of Studio 54 for doing lines off his orderlies. Cardan was Devlon’s doctor, and duty of care apparently does not stop with a patient’s death. He is obsessed with cremating Devlon’s body for occult reasons. While other authority figures refuse to help him, surprisingly few point and laugh.
With festivities at the abandoned house going poorly, one of the students finds a knock-off Necronomicon and decides the best way to bring the party to life is necromancy. They steal a corpse from the morgue, take it to the cemetery, and raise it from the dead. Of course, this corpse turns out to be Devlon.
Learning of the theft of Devlon’s body, Dr Cardan steals a police car and drives around town aimlessly for the rest of the film, hoping to bump into his quarry at random.
As if all this weren’t enough, the local police chief’s kids decide to go trick-or-treating at the cemetery, as kids do…
Finally, things start getting bloody. The undead Devlon tears his way through the students like wet tissues, using invisibility, telekinesis and his oddly pointy fingers. When the children stumble across the bodies, there is much running around and screaming. This only gets worse when the dead start rising from their graves.
Will the children survive? Will Devlon get his bloody revenge, whatever that is? And will Dr Cardan ever stop driving around in circles?
While the make-up effects aren’t always the best, Cemetery of Terror does not skimp on the gore. There are plenty of nice little touches. When one of the kids recovers an axe from a corpse, we see bits of brain dangling from the blade for the next few scenes.
At the same time, this is a goofy film, although I’m not sure this was deliberate. Dr Cardan almost feels like comic relief, although he is played entirely earnestly. In one scene, uniformed officers turn up at their chief’s house with a couple of random kids, asking whether they’re his; when he says no, they just announce that they’ll take the kids home. No one seems to think to ask the kids about any of this.
The train wreck of a party the students throw is lovely. The filmmakers do a perfect job of capturing the sheer bloody cackhandedness of teenage fumblings. There is nothing glamorous or erotic here, just pure awkwardness.
Speaking of awkward, the zombies in Cemetery of Terror move oddly, as if they’re not really that bothered about catching their victims. You may have seen shuffling zombies, and may have seen running zombies, but have you ever seen ambling zombies?
One last thought: for a cheap, gory horror film, Cemetery of Terror involves significantly more water skiing than you might expect.
In other reviews, I’ve talked about how I’d rather watch a lively bad horror film than a well-made but dull one. Well, I don’t think too many people would call Cemetery of Terror good, but it is a lot of fun. I don’t mean this in a “so bad it’s good” way, more that it sets out to entertain and doesn’t worry about getting messy on the way.
There is something endearing about seeing such a ridiculous film take itself seriously. An ’80s American horror film of this type would probably have been knowingly campy, but here it’s played straight. Much of the weirdness comes from the film’s enthusiastic amateurishness rather than any will to be weird.
All this makes Cemetery of Terror feel like an Italian horror film from the ’70s. Looking over my notes, I jotted in the final act, “What if Lucio Fulci had made The Goonies?” While that may not represent the entirety of the film, it’s not wholly inaccurate either.
If you’re in the market for some dumb, bloody fun this October, you could do far worse than Cemetery of Terror. And if you bump into Dr Cardan, tell him to turn his satnav on.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Werewolves Within (USA, 2021)
- Crystal Eyes (Argentina, 2018)
- Super Dark Times (USA, 2017)
- Thirst (Australia, 1979)
- A Ghost Waits (USA, 2020)
- Cemetery of Terror (Mexico, 1985)
- I Came By (UK, 2022)
- 100 Monsters (Japan, 1968)
- Sea Fever (Ireland, 2020)
- Mill of the Stone Women (Italy, 1960)
- Glorious (USA, 2022)
- All the Moons (Spain, 2021)
- Broadcast Signal Intrusion (USA, 2021)
- Incantation (Taiwan, 2022)
- The Gore Gore Girls (USA, 1972)
- Luz: The Flower of Evil (Colombia, 2019)
- Butterfly Kisses (USA, 2018)
- The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Italy, 1971)
- Saloum (Senegal, 2021)
- The Addiction (USA, 1995)
- Good Madam (South Africa, 2021)
- The Freakmaker/The Mutations (UK, 1974)
- The Long Walk (Laos, 2019)
- Errors of the Human Body (Germany, 2013)
- Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
- Caveat (Ireland, 2020)
- The White Reindeer (Finland, 1952)
- His House (UK, 2020)
- Tourist Trap (USA, 1979)
- Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden, 1922)
- Flux Gourmet (UK, 2022)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!
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