Beast and the Magic Sword Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: February 25, 2020
Video: 1.66:1 and 1.33:1/1080p/Color
Audio: Castilian 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio
Run Time: 92 minutes
Director: Jacinto Molina (Paul Naschy)
A beleaguered Count Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy) travels to 16th century Japan in search of a cure for his lycanthropic affliction. (From Mondo Macabro’s official synopsis)
Once upon a time, a professional weightlifter and developing actor named Jacinto Molina Álvarez developed a script based on his love of Universal Studios’ Wolf Man movies, entitled La Marca del Hombre Lobo (Mark of the Wolfman). German investors were impressed enough to produce a film version of Molina’s story in 1968, directed by Enrique López Eguiluz and starring the screenwriter under the German-approved pseudonym “Paul Naschy.” La Marca del Hombre Lobo was a hit and led to an entire franchise of films starring Nacshy as the cursed werewolf, Count Waldemar Daninsky. Naschy expanded his empire to include a long series of horror films, in which the writer/actor/sometimes director appeared as other classic movie monsters and madmen.
Naschy put El Hombre Lobo to bed for five years following 1975’s Night of the Howling Beast (Spanish: La Maldicion de la Bestia; aka: The Werewolf and the Yeti), then soft-rebooted the character for the ‘80s with Night of the Werewolf (Spanish: El Retorno del Hombre Lobo; aka: The Craving, 1980). This pseudo-remake of the original Mark of the Wolf Man also borrows a number of elements from The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman (Spanish: La Noche de Walpurgis; aka: Shadow of the Werewolf, 1970). Despite now competing with Hollywood special effects spectacles, like Joe Dante’s The Howling (1981) and John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (1980), Night of the Werewolf stoked enough interest in the character for Naschy to make The Beast and the Magic Sword (Spanish: La Bestia y la Espada Magica), in 1983 during a stint producing, directing, and acting in Japanese/Spanish co-productions.
The Beast and the Magic Sword is arguably Naschy’s most sought-after picture. This was in part due to its lack of availability outside of Spain (it was one of the few El Hombre Lobo movies not to find its way onto the VHS format), but the film’s ambitious concepts alone were plenty to whet fan appetites. Even those unfamiliar with the franchise can probably appreciate the appeal of a Medieval-knight-turned-werewolf interacting with pre-Edo Period Japanese samurais. It’s exactly the kind of audacious mash-up antics that fuel B-horror and were much needed following Night of the Werewolf’s cannibalization of Naschy’s already boilerplate storylines. This film doubles as an origin story for our plagued wolfen antihero, which, coupled with the werewolf and samurai/ninja escapades (not to mention the flashy color palette) really gives The Beast and the Magic Sword a comic book appeal. It’s especially charming given that the first act is basically a hyper-accelerated early era Naschy costume horror drama, to the point that it sometimes feels like watching one of his older movies in fast-forward. The melodrama and swashbuckling violence washes over the viewer at such an incredible clip that the switch in location, style, and even pacing (the screenplay is crammed with so many characters, plot points, and set pieces that it never really slows down, but the Japanese-set scenes feel less hectic) comes as such a pleasant surprise that I almost wish I didn’t know I was watching a genre mashup. And now I suppose I’ve ruined your chance to experience the baffling change-up in real-time as well. Sorry.
The obvious comparison here is Roy Ward Baker & Chang Cheh’s The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (aka: The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula in its shortened form) – a 1974 co-production between Britain’s Hammer studios and Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers, in which famed vampire hunter Van Helsing (portrayed for the last time by Peter Cushing) joins forces with kung-fu-adept siblings to battle a reborn Dracula in early twentieth century China. Despite working with a fraction of the budget and a vastly smaller audience pool (both Hammer and Shaw Bros. were still dominant in British horror and Chinese wuxia arenas) or perhaps because of it, Naschy truly tries to deliver both the Eurohorror and Japanese action goods. The Beast and the Magic Sword is by no means the best example of either artform, but the two elements definitely compliment each other in more interesting and amusing ways – especially when they’re at their most logistically incompatible – unlike The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, which is a merely okay movie, in that it offers mediocre examples of what Hammer and Shaw Bros. could deliver on their own terms. That said, The Beast and the Magic Sword rarely feels like one coherent movie; rather, an Hombre Lobo story invading an unrelated samurai horror story. The difference is that it’s a good Hombre Lobo story invading a good samurai horror story. Given that Naschy was competing with early ‘80s American horror, while also trying to appeal to European and Asian audiences, means that his movie takes a more kitchen sink approach than Baker & Cheh’s, including more outrageous violence and sequences that simply don’t fit together in the most appealing way.
It took until 1996 for an aging Naschy to bring the character back again, for Licántropo, followed in 2004 by Tomb of the Werewolf, an unfortunate softcore entry written & directed by notorious American schlockmeister, Fred Olen Ray.
As mentioned, The Beast and the Magic Sword was never released on video (or, apparently, even in theaters) outside of Spain. The best option fans had was a PAL DVD from Vellavision, though it didn’t have English subtitles, so they’d either need to know Castilian or find a .SRT file. Mondo Macabro has gone the extra mile for this, the film’s HD, North American, and English-friendly debut, including a new 4K scan of the original film negative and the option to watch the film in either 1.33:1 full frame or cropped 1.66:1. It’s not unusual for Spanish films from the time to be shot open-matte and even presented that way in theaters, but the slight cropping looks better to my eyes. The choice is ultimately entirely up to the viewer, though I’ve included a couple of comparisons on this page to help. Overall, I’m very satisfied with the image quality, especially given the film’s pseudo-lost status and fact that it was cobbled together on a small budget. Furthermore, I’m willing to blame a lot of the most obvious shortcomings on the material itself – not necessarily due to the condition of the material, but the mistakes and choices made during filming. Naschy and cinematographer Julio Burgos aim for a soft and sometimes frosted look, which leads to side effects, like fuzzy fine details and snowy grain. The bigger issue is that the filmmakers failed to correctly pull focus a lot of the time, making for inconsistent clarity, especially in the European-set sequences (once the story arrives in Japan, clarity is much more consistent). These types of artifacts are sometimes magnified by digital noise, but there isn’t a lot of obvious telecine scan noise (I noticed it most during some shots of Daninsky’s transformation and battle with a tiger, a bit past the one hour mark). Color vibrancy and dynamic range is strong, which is especially important given the major style shift from Europe to Japan.
The Beast and the Magic Sword is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio and its original Castilian Spanish mono. Despite so much of the film taking place in Japan and starring so many Japanese actors, the entire track is dubbed so that everyone is communicating in Castinian, even when Spanish characters aren’t around. As I said, this movie was only really released in Spain. The sound is clear and well balanced for a single channel track, but does tend to show its age in terms of minor distortions, mainly aspirated consonant hiss. Still, the snake-like s-sounds aren’t a consistent issue and rarely affect the music (credited to Ángel Arteaga, but I believe there are a lot of library pieces used), which, along with the louder sound effects, benefit from the uncompressed sound quality.
Commentary by Troy Guinn & Rod Barnett – The co-hosts of the NaschyCast podcast offer up a typically engaging and informative commentary that covers Naschy’s larger career, break down the rather busy plotline, talk a bit about the careers of the rest of the cast & crew, and fill in some of the gaps in the film’s production stories. Some of their jokes don’t land, but I appreciate the attempt.
Introduction to the film by Paul Naschy (13:36, SD) – A rather lengthy monologue from the star and director recorded some time before his death in 2009 and originally seen on the Vellavision DVD. He calls it one of his greatest films and recalls the process of making the film, all set to relatively low resolution clips.
Gavin Baddeley on Paul Naschy (32:12, HD) – The ordained Reverend in the Church of Satan and author of FrightFest Guide to Werewolf Movies (FAB Press, 2019) discusses Naschy’s career history, putting emphasis on his Hombre Lobo series, for this video appreciation.
The Smile of the Wolf (Spanish: La Sonrisa del Lobo, 46:22, SD) – A Spanish language documentary from 2008 made by director Javier Perea that spans the Naschy’s career, but, again, focuses mostly on the Hombre Lobo series (including cameos). Interviews with the man himself are conducted from the grounds of an actual castle (I assume the one used for Night of the Werewolf) and are combined with film clips, stills, posters, and narration from Juan Pablo Ordúñez. In all, this is a decent primer that could easily be expanded into a longer career retrospective.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.