Panic Beats Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: March 9, 2021
Audio: Castilian LPCM 2.0 Mono
Run Time: 93:11 minutes
Director: Jacinto Molina (Paul Naschy)
Desperate to salvage his crumbling financial empire, Paul Marnac (Paul Naschy) decides to kill his heiress wife, Genevive (Julia Saly) and enlists the help of a sexy and ambitious younger woman, Julie (Frances Ondiviela). Unfortunately, one murder is not enough to satisfy Julie's blood lust and greed. As the corpses pile up, she heads for a confrontation with an ancient and unstoppable evil. (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 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’s star faded a bit as the ‘70s drew to a close and he tried expanding his repertoire and chased 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). Panic Beats (Spanish: Latidos de pánico, 1983) lands in the former category and is generally on-par with the two Hombre Lobo movies (The Beast and the Magic Sword is the best of the three, for the record) and, like them, is considered a semi-sequel to an earlier film; in this case, Carlos Aured’s Horror Rises from the Tomb (Spanish: El Espanto Surge de la Tumba; a.k.a. Blood Mass for the Devil, 1972), which is one of the star’s very best films. The connection here is the resurrected evil warlock Alaric de Marnac, who Naschy portrays in both movies.
Panic Beats revisits the specifically Spanish Gothic moods of those great ‘60s/’70s movies, though, as a director, Naschy isn’t quite so fixated on moody textures as collaborators, like Aured and Javier Aguirre. The modern side of this particular tale takes precedent, as seen in the haunted chateau backdrop, which looks like a typically garish, upper-class Eurotrash home with a handful of medieval family heirlooms hanging on the wall. In a way, this makes Panic Beats feel cheaper than Horror Rises from the Tomb or The Hunchback of Rue Morgue (Spanish: El Jorobado de la Morgue, 1973), but that’s arguably the fun of this brief era in the director/star’s career. What makes movies like this one work is the earnestness in which the inherently ridiculous material is treated. By ‘83, most American and even Italian horror was sarcastically winking & nudging at its audience, especially anything calling back to Gothic haunts and curses, but Naschy dials directly into the melodrama of the situation, creating an unabashed, increasingly complicated soap opera that takes occasional breaks to earn its exploitation market stripes with violence and nudity.
The serious tone and commitment to histrionics (the lead female cast – Julia Saly, Lola Gaos, and Silvia Miró – are absolute frenzied and vampy all-stars in this regard) are wholly unique not only to Spanish horror, but Naschy’s brand of Spanish horror in particular. Aside from a predictable escalation in free-floating misogyny (some might argue that there’s a difference between Naschy simply playing a misogynistic character and the film being sympathetic of that character, villainous though he may be), the attempts to compete with the new breed of genre filmmaking while also holding fast to the classics that inspired him are charming, whether they succeed or fail from scene to scene. It’s not entirely without a sense of humor, either, and to Naschy’s credit, the various nightmare hallucinations and murder scenes are effectively grotesque, even when they aren’t exactly chilling. He wasn’t quite up to Lucio Fulci’s level of gross-out nightmare imagery (basically no one was or is), but he and (credited) make-up artist Fernando Florido make a good show of it.
Like The Beast and the Magic Sword, Panic Beats was not initially released in theaters or home video in North America. Outside of the typical bootleg tapes, it was officially introduced to US fans via Mondo Macabro on DVD in 2005. The back of this Blu-ray debut states that the 1080p transfer was mastered from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative and I have no reason to doubt the claim. I don’t have the old DVD sitting around for direct comparison, but the detail levels, dynamic ranges, and color vibrancy all improve on standard definition limitations. In fact, when cinematographer Julio Burgos’ moody photography isn’t wrapping the scene in smoke and fog, details are satisfyingly tight, edges are clean without haloes (aside from some stylized shiny bits, which appear to bloom on purpose), and the higher resolution helps boost contrast. If you’re really looking for a problem, there are what appear to be telecine noise effects throughout some sequences, which leads to slightly unnatural film grain and some fuzzy tonal transitions (the heaviest grain actually looks quite natural to my eyes). This is or at least was a common issue for Italian and Spanish films from this era. It’s something Mondo Macabro has managed to avoid for the most part as they’ve upgraded their DVDs to HD and they deserve credit for not making it worse with sharpening or DNR. Regardless, it’s pretty difficult to notice when the film is in motion, so I can’t imagine too many complaints from fans.
The original mono Castilian Spanish soundtrack is presented in LPCM 2.0 sound. I assume that most of the dialogue and sound effects were still being dubbed in post in 1983, but the lip sync and tonal qualities are uneven enough to assume as much. Some sequences exhibit more vocal hiss than others and some of the (very) minimal incidental noises are muffled, usually depending on location. The uncompressed quality helps normalize things a bit, but generally benefits Moncho Alpuente & Servando Carballar’s score better than the dialogue, producing genuinely impressive bass and smooth instrumentations that have enough depth to be mistaken for stereo-mixed music.
Commentary by Troy Guinn & Rod Barnett – The co-hosts of the NaschyCast podcast offer up another free-wheeling track that supplies listeners with the pertinent Panic Beats factoids amid discussion of Naschy’s larger career, quotes from critics and collaborators, and thoughtful, but loving analysis of the film itself. This might actually be the busiest commentary I’ve personally heard from the duo. There’s essentially zero downtime or unnecessary tangents.
Paul Naschy on...His Life in Cinema (28:38, SD) – A 2005 featurette that was last seen on Mondo Macabro’s Panic Beats DVD. Naschy discusses his influences, the various phases of his career, choosing his pseudonym, directing for the first time, and making Panic Beats.
1997 Interview with Paul Nacsny (36:26, SD) – More with the star/director, possibly taken from EPK footage recorded for the release of Francisco Rodríguez Gordillo’s Lycantropus: The Moonlight Murders (the poster is in the background and the release year lines up).
Mondo Macabro previews
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