Blu-ray Release: August 8, 2023 (Standard Edition)
Audio: Castilian 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio
Run Time: 92:39
Director: Jacinto Molina (Paul Naschy)
Dr Hugo Arranz (Paul Naschy) is celebrating his 50th birthday with his wife and daughter when they are terrorized by a gang of violent street thugs. Initially, the gang are after jewels and cash, but, once they have their helpless victims tied up and defenseless, their thoughts turn to violence. Arranz survives the attack and recovers after a stay in hospital. Abandoning his medical practice, he seeks vengeance on the men and women who destroyed his life. (From Mondo Macabro’s official synopsis)
Following a downturn during 1980s, when his star had faded alongside other luminaries of Spanish cult cinema, Paul Naschy (real name: Jacinto Molina) began the 1990s with more disappointment when his new film, Horror in the Wax Museum (Spanish: Horror en el museo de cera) had to be abandoned, left uncompleted, and unreleased. It was a sign of what was to come for Nacshy and his next film, The Night of the Executioner (Spanish: La noche del ejecutor, 1992), would be his last as a triple-threat actor, director, and writer. He lived for another 17 years and continued acting (appearing in no fewer than seven posthumous releases), wrote couple movies for himself to star in – including Francisco Rodríguez Gordillo’s Lycantropus: The Moonlight Murders (Spanish: El asesino de la luna llena, 1997) and Christian Molina’s Rojo Sangre (2004) – and he even technically co-directed Empusa (2010) with Carlos Aured (both men died before the film was finished and was completed by an uncredited third director), but Night of the Executioner would mark the last time he had complete control of a project.
Along with these facts and its lack of ability (more on that in the Video section), it’s an interesting entry in Naschy’s filmography, because it wasn’t a horror film, but a late-in-the-game rip-off of Michael Winner’s Death Wish (1974) – or perhaps more accurately the significantly sleazier Death Wish II (1982), because Night of the Executioner is a relentlessly and single-mindedly trashy motion picture experience. It’s not just the cruelty, prolonged rape, and humiliation of the opening scene or the gory inserts, but the home invaders themselves, who sport the greasiest hair, sweatiest faces, and make-up to accentuate their pale skin and sunken eyes (one of them is a literal Nazi pimp). Unlike a lot of vigilante and rape/revenge movies, the villains’ crimes don’t end with the killing of the hero’s family, either. While Naschy heels up, they run around town wreaking havoc, chopping off dicks, forcefully ODing a guy with heroin, beating, murdering, and/or raping three older women, and shooting a very cute child. Their boss even dons S&M gear for good measure.
Along with being sleazy, Night of the Executioner is a uniquely anachronistic film, taking inspiration from a decades-old fad and not really doing anything to modernize or comment on it (outside of references to Charles Bronson and other American action movies, like Rambo: First Blood Part II  and Predator ). Naschy himself, who is the main reason to watch the film, instead of a million other Death Wish-alikes, counts as one of these anachronisms, as he’s plainly too old for the role. The plot accounts for this with his character celebrating his 50th birthday, but Naschy was actually 58 at the time – a hard 1989 version of 58, not a 2023, personal trainer and chef 58 – and, despite a workout montage assuring us that the former professional weightlifter is still in his prime, what we see on screen clearly demonstrates otherwise.
On the other hand, Naschy’s lack of action readiness is the main charm here. Given that it was (mostly) his last movie as a writer/director/star, Night of the Executioner takes on a nice ‘last hoorah’ quality. Sure, El Hombre Lobo is using an obvious stunt double for the fight scenes, but there’s still more dignity in his performance than, say, Charles Bronson’s final go as Paul Kersey in Allan Goldstein’s Death Wish V: The Face of Death, released two years later when the one-time Hollywood star was 73. Naschy is giving it his all and taking out criminals with throwing knives to boot.
Night of the Executioner sat on a shelf until 1999, when it premiered on Spanish television and never made it to US theaters or VHS/Beta tape. There was an official Spanish DVD (from Filmax?) and a pretty unofficial looking US DVD that you can find on eBay that I’m almost positive is just a bootleg. So it wasn’t entirely unavailable before Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray debut, but it was definitely hard to find. This disc features a new 4K restoration of the original camera negative and is presented in 1080p and a 1.37:1 aspect ratio. Given how dark and dingy José Enrique Izquierdo’s cinematography is and the film’s made-for-video aesthetic, this is a fantastic transfer that does everything it can to drag out detail and texture from the gloom without compromising said dingy look. Despite the soft focus and diffused lighting schemes, edges are neatly delineated and grain isn’t overwhelmed with noise or blocked up with other digital artifacts. The ongoing issue is color clarity, but I really believe that the bleeding and inconsistencies are inherent in the original material.
Night of the Executioner includes only a Castilian Spanish soundtrack in its original mono. If there ever was an English dub, it has been lost to time. My guess is that it never existed, though. This is one of the few films where Naschy, whose voice is a bit higher than you’d expect, dubbed his own performance, so that’s a nice plus, even if he doesn’t have too many lines (his tongue is cut out in the first 10 minutes). The mix is a bit empty and there’s a bit of hiss, but nothing out of the ordinary. Fernando García Morcillo’s keyboard score is oddly off-tempo, but gets the job done. His best turn is actually using a minor key variation of “Happy Birthday” to signify Naschy’s grief and growing fury. It’s a bit on-the-nose, but Night of the Executioner isn’t exactly a subtle film. Naschy’s character’s other theme is a reworking of Handel’s Keyboard Suite in D Minor, which is another nice touch.
Commentary by Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn – The cohosts of the Naschycast offer up a good-natured, well-researched, and honest appraisal of the film, while also breaking down the state of Naschy’s career at the time, the shared themes of vigilante movies (anchored on Death Wish), the loss of Horror in the Wax Museum, and the other work of cast & crew members.
The Executioner’s Son (36:17, HD) – Naschy’s son Sergio Molina, takes a look back at his father’s late ‘80s career and posthumous legacy, the state of Spanish cinema at the time, failed/lost projects from the period, the making of Night of the Executioner, inspiration taken from Death Wish and Eloy de la Iglesia’s Quinqui films, the “honesty” of Naschy’s work (for better or worse), and acting in some of his dad’s movies as a child.
Working with Jacinto Molina (20:38, HD) – An interview with actor Pepe Ruiz, known in some circles as ‘the Spanish Dick Miller,’ who talks about his education, his journey from amateur to professional actor, a number of projects and collaborators throughout the years (including some film clips), and his lasting relationship with Naschy.
Manolo Zarszo: Golfo, Vaquero y Atómico (24:19, HD) – Actor Manuel Zarzo wraps up the interviews rambling enthusiastically about his career and all famed actors and filmmakers he worked with over the decades (“dead, dead, dead, dead…”).
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