Howl of the Devil Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: June 8, 2021
Audio: Castilian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Run Time: 96:56 minutes
Director: Jacinto Molina (Paul Naschy)
A stage and screen actor named Hector Doriani (Paul Naschy) feels himself living in the shadow of his dead twin brother, Alex, a famous star of horror movies. Alex’s young son, Adrian, now lives with Hector in an isolated mansion in the countryside. To keep his father's memory alive, the boy imagines himself visited by Alex’s spirit, incarnated in a series of classic horror characters from the past: Mr. Hyde, the Frankenstein Monster, the Phantom of the Opera, etc. Meanwhile, Alex’s former butler, Eric (Howard Vernon), now also works for Hector, bringing women to the mansion for sadistic sex games that always seem to end in murder. (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 Naschy as the cursed werewolf, Count Waldemar Daninsky. Naschy’s star faded a bit as the ‘70s drew to a close and he tried expanding his repertoire by chasing new trends (mostly sexploitation and the brand of gritty ‘real-world’ horror seen in American films, like Texas Chainsaw Massacre ), but, through it all, he managed to remain relevant, thanks to the popularity of his best films on international home video. He began the ‘80s by retooling his classic personas, including Daninsky in Night of the Werewolf (Spanish: El Retorno del Hombre Lobo; aka: The Craving, 1980), starting his own production company (Aconito Films), and making movies in other countries, for better, like the Japan co-production The Beast and the Magic Sword (Spanish: La Bestia y la Espada Magica, 1983), and for worse, like the Dutch-made, shot-on-video Shadows of Blood (1988).
1988’s Howl of the Devil sits on the better side of Naschy’s ‘80s output, because, despite an uncharacteristic mean streak it manages to recreate the charms of his classic films, while rarely falling victim to its modest-even-by-EuroHorror-standards budget. But what really sets it apart as a compelling piece of the man’s late filmography is how completely it pays homage to, well, the man himself. It is (in the final, not the preeminent sense of the word), the ultimate Paul Naschy movie. It is positively dripping with nostalgia for Naschy’s childhood and career highlights, all multiplied by the presence of his real-life son, Sergio Molina, as his in-movie son/nephew. Naschy’s many other attempted career revamps and self-homages tend to play out as silly and self-absorbed, but there’s a genuine sweetness to what he was doing here, as if he was saying good-bye to his fans with convergence of characters and checking a couple of remaining characters off of his bucket list.
Though forever connected to the El Hombre Lobo/Waldemar Daninsky series, especially here in North America, where those films had a large home-video presence, Naschy idolized the complete catalog of classic movie monsters. His role as Spain’s chief horror star afforded him the chance to play Jack the Ripper (Jack the Ripper of London [Spanish: Jack el Destripador de Londres, aka: Seven Murders for Scotland Yard; Jose Luis Madrid, 1971), Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf [Spanish: Dr. Jekyll y el Hombre Lobo; León Klimovsky, 1971]), Count Dracula (Count Dracula's Great Love [Spanish: El Gran Amor de Conde Drácula; Javier Aguirre, 1974]), and the Mummy (The Mummy’s Revenge [Spanish: La Venganza de la Momia; Carlos Aured, 1973). For Howl of the Devil, he reappeared as the Wolfman (under the Daninsky name), Hyde, Satan, Quasimodo (he played a similar hunchback in Aguirre’s Hunchback of Rue Morgue [Spanish: El Jorobado de la Morgue, 1973]), and took the chance to play the only two Universal Monsters he hadn’t yet portrayed: Frankenstein’s Monster and The Phantom of the Opera. Perhaps the strangest Naschy-ism is the fact that he’s playing identical blood relatives for, like, the third or fourth time in his career. The film does little to disguise the fact that it is a veiled excuse for the actor/director to play as many characters as possible. Between the Universal Monsters visiting a lonely boy that imagines them as his friends and the violent, dress-up sex games that Uncle Hector plays, the plot exists almost entirely to facilitate this.
The throwbacks don’t stop with Universal Monsters and El Hombre Lobo, though, because there’s also a mysterious, black-gloved killer on the loose. This connects Howl of the Devil to a series of Spanish gialli and gialli-adjacent thrillers that Naschy appeared in, including Carlos Aured’s Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (Spanish: Los Ojos Azules de la Muñeca Rota; aka: House of Psychotic Women, 1973) and A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (Spanish: Una libélula para cada muerto; aka: Red Killer, 1975). At this point, Naschy was also trying to cash-in on the slasher craze, ensuring that the gialloesque murder set-pieces were particularly gory. The killer (and characters from a nightmare) wears a rough approximation of Jason Voorhees’ hockey mask, character actor Cris Huerta portrays a sort of wino-flavored combination of Friday the 13th’s (1980) Crazy Ralph and Halloween’s (1978) Sam Loomis, and victims include pot smoking campers and a number of hitchhikers. The gore is appropriately ghastly and is pulled off pretty well, considering the lack of budget, and the many facial appliances Naschy dons throughout the film are charming in their excessive rubberiness (except the Fu Manchu make-up, since yellow-face is, of course, never charming). Some fans have wondered if this release was a censored version of the film based on rumors of a longer runtime, but, in spite of some ragged edits, I can’t imagine that anything was cut, because what remains is quite gruesome.
Howl of the Devil was never released outside of Spain. In fact, it wasn’t even really released in Spain – it skipped theaters and premiered on television there. The best chances Naschy fans in any country had to see the film after that were bootlegs, most of which seem to have been created using a Spanish TV rip and fan subtitles. There are disagreements as to if the TV edit was uncut or not, but it was definitely pan & scan and low quality. This new Mondo Macabro Blu-ray (the standard edition, following a limited edition earlier in the year) is at once most of the world’s introduction to the film and its 1080p, widescreen (1.85:1) debut. The transfer has also been remastered from a 4K scan of the original negative. The results are typical for Mondo’s Spanish horror releases, particularly their other recent Naschy discs. Besides some minor digital noise and posterization effects in the otherwise natural grain and wide-angle shots (both issues anchored in part by cinematographer Julio Burgos’ photography choices), this is a solid transfer. Details are tight despite the grain and the colors alternate nicely between naturalistic browns, greens, and flesh tones, and the gaudy colors of stylized horror sequences and hideous late ‘80s fashion. Black levels are rich, though there are some snowy moments during the darkest scenes.
Howl of the Devil is presented in Castilian Spanish mono and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 sound. Since it was never released outside of Spain, an English dub was never recorded, though it should be noted that the Spanish track was also dubbed in post, so lip-sync is always a little off, especially Caroline Munro, who is unfortunately wasted in a thankless role, is speaking English on set. Besides the unnatural aural quality of the ADR performances, which are, as per usual, pretty flat, and general lack of effects work, the mix is a slight improvement on some of the other Naschy releases, because it features less hiss and distortion. Fernando García Morcillo’s moody keyboard score is a big highlight for the film and quite warm, considering this is a mono track.
Commentary by Troy Guinn & Rod Barnett – The co-hosts of the NaschyCast podcast return for yet another Naschy movie commentary and come to film from the point of view that it is less of a fond farewell to fans and more of a bitter finale to the actor’s career. They discuss misogynistic content, implied necrophilia, the film’s difficult production, discussions they’ve had with Sergio Molina and Caroline Munro, Nascy’s commentary on himself, and note a number of references to Naschy’s other films (a million of them that I’d never have noticed).
Adrian Speaks! (36:22, HD) – Sergio Molina recalls working with his dad on the film, shooting around his grandparents’ house and a nearby park to save money, his understanding of how cult actors Howard Vernon and Carline Munro were hired, Fernando Florido’s special make-up effects, how Naschy worked as a director with cinematographer Julio Burgos, and other fun behind-the-scenes anecdotes from a child’s point of view.
1988 making-of short (27:08, SD) – A VHS copy of an otherwise lost behind-the-scenes featurette.
Mondo Macabro trailer reel
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