EZMM 2023 Day 7.1: Grave Robbers (1989)

It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 20082009 (a bad year), 201020112012 (when we left the blog behind), 20132014201520162017201820192020, 2021 and 2022.

Here there be spoilers!

You know you’ve got yourself a wild one when the movie opens on an Inquisition-era satanic priest (Agustin Bernal), who happened to be the Holy Executioner getting ready to impregnate his screaming captive in order to give birth to the Antichrist, but then the good monks swoop in and break it up, strap him to the rack, and then slam his own ornate axe into his massive chest. But The Executioner’s not done! Before he dies, he curses the archbishop (who wielded the axe) declaring that whenever someone removes the axe from his chest, he’ll return to life and impregnate the virgin daughter of the archbishop’s ancestor.

This all took place in the Mexican town of San Ramón, and centuries later, in the late 1980s, a quartet of teen-ish grave robbers stumble upon his grave and supernatural zombie hi-jinks commence. It just so happens that the virginal descendent of the archbishop is the daughter (Edna Bolkan) of San Ramón Sheriff, Captain Lopez (Fernando Almada playing both the Captain and the archbishop) and is camping with her girlfriends near the cemetery.

If you didn’t know that this was made in the late eighties, it would only take one look at the outfits and the hairdos to identify when all this was going down. If it wasn’t the Boss T-shirt, the neon tights, the jeans tucked into socks, or the headbands, then the electronic drums and synth music soundtrack would give it away. If all that slipped by you, then once The Satanic Executioner woke up and started stalking his victims like he was Jason fucking Vorhees, it would be even more obvious.

Directed by Rubén Galindo Jr. and clocking in at a tight 88 minutes, Grave Robbers doesn’t overstay its welcome and is surprisingly entertaining. There’s not a lot of fat on this one, and once the Executioner starts killing, the time flies by. There are tons of nice practical gore effects, very creative kills, weird magical happenings, and lots of screaming and running. We have a person killed by having their head shoved between the bars of a stair railing, while quite a few people die by the axe, with at least one excellent flying head. There’s a magical hand bursting from someone’s stomach and then another hand that is part of a wall, reaching out to throttle someone.

And we can’t forget the flying knife that almost kills the local priest, Father Jerónimo (Roberto Cañedo) before he can rally the locals to hold a prayer service to help weaken the Satanic Executioner. Grave Robbers has a little bit of everything, borrows from nearly every horror genre, but ultimately is an extremely fun and original piece of tangential zombie cinema.

I mean, the Executioner’s zombie make-up is even pretty amazing and, dare I say, iconic? This is a makeup design that should have been everywhere from Halloween 1989 on. I’d be surprised if it hasn’t been stolen for other pieces of horror art ever since.

I can’t really say the performances are anything special, but nobody is bad. Ernesto Laguardia plays the lead grave robber, Manolo and even after he loses his headband, he gets to play the hero in the end. That’s mainly thanks to the constant urgings of his psychic girlfriend grave robber Rebeca (Erika Buenfil). And I’d be remiss if I didn’t give some praise to musclebound Raul, played by musclebound Tony Bravo, who with his sleeveless shirt and suspenders, puts up a good initial fight against the equally musclebound Executioner, before losing his head in a very dramatic fashion.

All in all, I was expecting Grave Robbers to be terrible, but it turned out to be one of the most entertaining films of this year’s Easter Zombie Movie Marathon. Now I want to check out Galindo’s earlier “raising a killer from the dead” movie, Cemetery of Terror (1985).

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