Paul Naschy Collection II Blu-ray review (originally published 2017)
Spain, like Italy, got a late start making horror movies. This belatedness was due to the region’s long-standing political struggles throughout the early years of motion picture filmmaking. The last and largest of these conflicts was the Spanish Civil War, which ended in 1939, when the fascist-led Nationalists rebels defeated the democratically elected Republic. Generalissimo Francisco Franco was instated as the leader and ruled an oppressive, sometimes violent, totalitarian regime from 1936 until his death in 1975. During Franco’s reign, Spanish cinema (all of their art and entertainment, actually) fell victim to strict, government-imposed censorship. This censorship didn’t entirely stop other countries from importing horror entertainment, however, and the genre slowly grew in popularity. The real onset of Spanish horror began in the early 1960s, when censorship restrictions were slightly diluted and gothic/fantasy terrors were finally permitted. During this era, a professional weightlifter and developing actor named Jacinto Molina Álvarez developed his own 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 Nashy as the cursed werewolf, Count Waldemar Daninsky, as well as a series of other horror films in which the writer/actor/sometimes director appeared as other classic movie monsters and madmen, including Jack the Ripper (Jack the Ripper of London, 1971), Count Dracula (Count Dracula's Great Love, 1974), and the Mummy (The Mummy’s Revenge, 1973). Naschy’s films and the more contemporary thrillers that followed were characterized by low budgets, broad melodrama, graphic violence (for the ‘60s/early ‘70s), elaborate (though not always impressive) production design, and screenplays that are at once familiar and bizarre. At their best, his work overcomes its narrative limitations and clunkier qualities with charming enthusiasm and unmistakable Spanishness.
See my review of Scream Factory’s first Paul Naschy Collection here, including Horror Rises from the Tomb (1972), Vengeance of the Zombies (1972), Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (1973), Human Beasts (1980), and Night of the Werewolf (1980), here.
Hunchback of the Morgue (Spanish: El Jorobado de la Morgue; aka: The Hunchback of the Rue Morgue and Rue Morgue Massacres, 1973)
Scream Factory’s first Paul Naschy collection was a good primer that covered popular and accessible high points from the man’s career. This second set features some deeper cuts, beginning with Hunchback of the Morgue, which is at once Naschy’s best and most underrated film. Aside from being especially attuned to his strengths as an actor, writer, and horror entertainment aficionado, Hunchback of the Morgue is a perfect example of Spanish B-filmmakers making recognizable Gothic horror traditions (some might even say clichés) their own. It can be difficult to convince non-fans of Naschy’s skills as a performer, since his schtick is so over-the-top and dependent on costume/makeup gimmicks, but it’s difficult to completely dismiss this incredibly sympathetic portrayal of Gotho. This mentally challenged, hunchbacked morgue assistant is driven mad by the loss of his true love and tricked into the role of a mad scientist’s unwitting assassin. Unlike Waldemar Daninsky, whose benevolent and violent tendencies are divided between his human and werewolf personalities, Gotho presents the actor with the greater challenge of embodying blind compassion and hair-trigger violence all at once. The character is still quintessential Naschy fodder, as he’s a consummate chick magnet, despite the movie also insisting that he’s a hunchbacked, scar-faced social outcast.
Hunchback of the Morgue is probably director Javier Aguirre’s best movie, too, or at least the best I’ve seen from his horror catalogue. He fully embraces the clashing tones, driving full-bore into classic, cobweb-logged labs and dungeons, modern gore gags, weepy romance, and comedic interludes. This stewpot offers a little something for every manner of exploitation fan, especially the ironic, MST3K crowd, who can laugh at the nonsense science and absurdly sincere dialogue (they may also notice some similarities to Joseph Green’s The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, 1962), and the gorehounds, who are free to revel in the almost surrealistically nasty blood ‘n guts (aside from one brief, disappointing sequence in which the filmmakers burned live rats, instead of using special effects/props). The only folks missing out are the T&A mongers, who are barely sated with a few pretty faces, some quick side-boob, and an otherwise unexplained scene where one of the doctors has to break up two female patients as they orgasmically whip each other.
Every single title in this set is making its world Blu-ray debut, beginning right here. I don’t believe Hunchback of the Morgue was ever released on VHS in North America and, for a long time, it was only available on DVD in Europe (through Anolis Entertainment in Germany, Artus Films in France, and Tripictures in Spain). The first R1 disc came from MYA Communications in 2009 and, thanks to the iffy rights issues of basically all of MYA’s titles, it went OOP pretty quickly. This new HD transfer is presented in the correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio and 1080p video. According to a title card that pops up at the beginning of each disc, Scream Factory obtained all of their HD masters directly from Victory Films in Spain and were unable to do their own in-house mastering. The results are more or less the same as the previous Naschy collection. Among the hits and misses, Hunchback of the Morgue is closer to a hit, at least in terms of overall cleanliness and clarity. Colors are as strong as can be expected from cinematographer Raúl Pérez Cubero’s warm, neutral palette, especially those bright red and purple flashes of stage blood and gore. Details are, unfortunately, pretty mushy, leading to overly soft blends and a general lack of texture. The saving grace is the image separation, which helps to delineate shapes. Print damage artifacts are constantly present, but usually minimal in size. The brief nude footage is in considerably worse shape than the rest of the film, likely because it was not included in the original Spanish-born scan.
Hunchback of the Morgue is presented with Castilian and English language tracks. Like their Italian counterparts, Spanish filmmakers at the time tended to shoot without synced sound. Unlike the Italians, however, most of the actors were speaking in their native language on set, so Spanish language tracks tend to feature more natural performances and better lip-sync. The two tracks are similar in terms of effects, music, and the balance between elements, but the Castilian dub comes out ahead, due to a slightly louder volume, less dialogue hiss, and the lack of low-level buzz/sputtering during a couple of dialogue-heavy sequences. Carmelo A. Bernaola is credited with the films score, but I believe it’s mostly source/library pieces, including a number of old German standards.
Commentary with Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn of NaschyCast – In this brand new track, the Naschy podcasters come loaded with behind-the-scenes factoids that they’ve collected over the years and delivered with the same friendly charm as their track on the previous Scream Factory set.
Spanish opening title, end credit sequences, and intertitles (2:11, :30, :19, HD)
Spanish and English-language international trailers
The Devil’s Possessed (Spanish: El Mariscal del infierno; aka: Marshall of Hell, 1974)
The Devil’s Possessed is a fine example of the way Naschy and long-time collaborator Klimovsky brought kink and exploitation to period melodrama. It’s comparable to [i]Hunchback of the Morgue[/i] in that could at first glance be confused with a Hammer production, but, at second glance, it has a more unabashed exploitation edge and takes more creative measures to overcome its miniscule budget. It’s not a horror movie, despite deriving plenty of influence from other Eurohorror costume dramas, especially Hammer’s Dracula series and Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (aka: The Conqueror Worm, 1968). Naschy’s script and main character, Barón Gilles de Lancré, were based on the historical misadventures of Gilles de Rais, an occultist, child-murdering French military leader, who was executed in 1440. In this version of the story, the evil Baron is driven to madness in his pursuit of the Philosopher’s Stone. His brutal reign, which includes kidnapping village maidens, blood sacrifices, torture, and (gasp) high taxes, drives his citizens to revolt.
Naschy’s dialogue is a bit banal and stiff, but the plot line is surprisingly elaborate as it delves into relatively intricate political machinations and takes some unexpected turns into Robin Hood territory. Klimovsky and the stunt team deliver scene after scene of swashing and buckling, all while bleeding the Spanish castle locations for every ounce of their production value. De Lancré is the closest Naschy gets to playing an out-and-out villain in any of the movies included in this set, but, even given the character’s cruel behavior, he’s still somewhat sympathetic, because he’s being used by a cabal of false witches and alchemists, among them co-star Norma Sebre, who steals the show as the Lady MacBeth-esque Georgelle. Since he was busy playing the baddy (and, apparently, not up to the task of engaging in elaborate fight sequences), Naschy delegated heroic deeds and romantic duties to Guillermo Bredeston, a charming and particularly athletic mainstay of Spanish television throughout the ‘70s. Naschy himself directed a more horror-laced historical torture-fest called Inquisition (1974) about a year after The Devil’s Possessed. It was released on Blu-ray earlier this year by Mondo Macabro and the two films make a nice double-feature.
As I implied above when I called it ‘rarely seen,’ The Devil’s Possessed didn’t have much of a home video release. All Seasons Entertainment reportedly released a VHS version of the film in 1986, but I was unable to find concrete proof of an official (i.e. not bootleg) DVD released outside of Japan. This 1.85:1, 1080p Blu-ray presentation is perhaps the strongest in the entire collection, including tighter details and more impressive textures. There are still issues with softness as there are in every one of Scream Factory’s Spanish horror releases (this is most obvious in the blurry wide-angle details and occasionally blotchy grain), but the issue is mitigated to acceptable levels. Colors are bright and neatly separated, especially the edges between yellows and reds – two hues that tend to get blocky when put up against each other on more compressed transfers.
The Castilian and English soundtracks are both solid, but quite different in terms of their tonal values. The Castilian track has a warmer sound, especially where Carlos Viziello’s score is concerned, and cleaner (fewer crackles and buzzes), more consistent dialogue. The English track, on the other hand, is sharper and doesn’t suffer from any muffling issues. Viziello’s music tends to lean towards typical adventure and period-friendly motifs, but also features some very strange, borderline abstract synth interludes.
Spanish and English-language international trailers
Spanish title sequence (1:10, HD)
Spanish end credits (1:46, HD)
A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (Spanish: Una libélula para cada muerto; aka: Red Killer, 1975)
Naschy and his Spanish B-movie brethren paid close attention to their counterparts in Italy, which included their own brand of giallo thrillers. For his part, Naschy dove head-first into the genre for Jack the Ripper of London, Javier Aguirre’s The Killer is One of the Thirteen (Spanish: El Asesino Esta Entre Los Trece, 1973), Carlos Aured’s The Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (Spanish: Los Ojos Azules de la Muñeca Rota, 1974), and Leon Klimovsky’s A Dragonfly for Each Corpse. Given how late the film was released in the giallo cycle (Italian movie trends were so short-lived that the genre was old news only five years after the 1970 release of Dario Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage), Naschy and Klimovsky hedged their bets by also mimicking elements of the poliziotteschi (Euro-crime) fad. Naschy plays a tough-as-nails cop named Inspector Paolo Scaporella. He’s Dirty Harry in the interrogation room and a loving, attentive husband to his wife (Italian star Erika Blanc) at home. He is confronted with the case of a righteous killer, who murders only the ‘dregs’ of society – junkies, strippers, prostitutes, and other ignoble types.
Naschy’s script, which was co-written by Ricardo Muñoz Suay (credited for dialogue), is a half-decent murder mystery that works better as a (possibly intended) pseudo-satire of Franco-era moralism. Between murders and fisticuffs, Paolo either investigates slummy, working class fascists or is dragged to social events, where bourgeoisie blowhards giggle as they recite intellectual literature. Naschy and Klimovsky match the Italians beat-for-beat in terms of convoluted narrative, sheer body count, and gliding cameras, but exchange the lurid beauty of most giallo murder scenes for brutality and eclectic weaponry. Over the course of the film black-clad mystery killer uses a hatchet, a Penguin-style weaponized umbrella, a golf club, the scimitar, and a triangular butcher’s cleaver (which we never actually get to see them use). The kills are bloody, but most of the really juicy stuff takes place just outside of frame. Klimovsky makes up for the lack of gross-out effects with full-frontal sex appeal. Overall, A Dragonfly for Each Corpse is a fast-moving and thoroughly entertaining film that predates similar ‘moral killer’ stories of Dario Argento’s Tenebrae (1982) and David Fincher’s Seven (1995), and may have inspired Sergio Martino’s The Suspicious Death of a Minor (Italian: Morte Sospetta di una Minorenne; aka: Too Young to Die, 1975), which also mixes murder mystery and cop movie elements, as well as a rollercoaster-based set-piece.
A Dragonfly for Each Corpse is yet another Naschy film that was never officially released in North America on any video format. Fans were forced to trade UK VHS bootlegs or import a Spanish DVD that was not English-friendly. This 1.85:1, 1080p Blu-ray debut is also another candidate for the set’s best. The garish, giallo-friendly costume and prop palette pops beautifully against the neutral backgrounds and rich black levels. Some of the textures appear soft and some of the gradations are a touch over-smoothed, but the patterned clothes and wallpaper all look great and the hard edges are tightly knit. Once again, there are brief, VHS-quality insert shots.
The Castilian and English tracks are almost identical, leading me to recommend English for the more consistent volume levels and the amusingly ham-fisted dub performances. The music, which sounds fine either way, is entirely recycled from other sources, likely other gialli, though I was unable to place any of it.
Commentary with author Troy Howarth – The first of two new commentary tracks with the author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films (pub: 2015), Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films (pub: 2015), and The Haunted World of Mario Bava (pub: 2014). Howarth’s approaches the material with a well-prepped lecture style while discussing the film’s mixed genres, its general production, and the larger careers of cast & crew members.
Exorcism (Spanish: Exorcismo, 1975)
Naschy’s films usually can’t be graded on a normal, objective scale of bad-to-good. They’re too oddball, campy, and uniquely silly to meet such standards. A good Paul Naschy movie is usually marked by its entertainment value, while a bad one is mired in boredom. Exorcism is one of the bad ones. As the title indicates, it was inspired by the international popularity of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973). In Naschy and director Juan Bosch’s defense, most of the Exorcist rip-offs of the 1970s were dull affairs that chose to put their energy into recreating the film’s gross-out, blasphemous shocks, rather than its more enduring themes and characters. Exorcism follows the template closely with Naschy portraying an empathetic Anglican priest who must confront his own faith when an innocent young woman is possessed by a malevolent spirit. It bucks the formula with gluttonous T&A and counterculture nonsense. The victim is aged-up for maximum sex appeal and the cause of her possession is changed from ambiguous demonic influence to the results of a hippie cult’s blood sacrifice. This may sound like a basis for ironic laughs, but Exorcism is hobbled by glacial pacing, stuffy high society celebrations, and tedious scenes of a very miscast Naschy slowly mounting an investigation. That said, I can guarantee that you’ll see naked cult ceremonies, poolside bikini action, topless make-out sessions, a German Shepherd attack, and plenty of grotesque possession makeup between the boring bits.
Bosch (who is credited as co-writer with Naschy and Jordi Gigó) was not as prolific a horror director as Klimovsky, Carlos Aured, or Naschy himself. His filmography is flecked with quickly-produced fad cash-ins, including a giallo called The Killer Wore Gloves (Spanish: La muerte llama a las 10, 1974) and at least seven spaghetti (paella?) westerns. Given his relative lack of experience with scary movies, the gorgeously Gothic imagery is a surprise, though this evocative visual sense should probably be credited to cinematographer Francisco Sánchez, whose work can be seen in a wide assortment of Spanish horror, from Aured’s Curse of the Devil (Spanish: El retorno de Walpurgis, 1973), to Klimovsky’s The Dracula Saga (1973) and Amando de Ossorio’s The Night of the Sorceress (Spanish: La noche de los brujos, 1974).
Exorcism was one of the easiest of Naschy’s movies to see on home video here in North America, including a VHS release from All Seasons Entertainment and a DVD from BCI/Deimos Entertainment (until now, this was the last of the defunct Deimos catalog’s Naschy titles not re-released by Scream Factory). Scream has chosen to go with the same 1.33:1 aspect ratio that BCI used for this 1080p transfer. The framing appears natural enough – it doesn’t block out important information on the sides and there isn’t too much blank space on the top and bottom. At first glance, the picture quality is nice as well, because the shapes and colours stand out so well against the deep black backdrops. Unfortunately, the footage seems to be the victim of DNR enhancement, which was probably done to cover up CRT/telecine scanner noise. Detail levels are decent, but the over-smoothed textures and waxy gradations are certainly problematic.
The Castilian and English dubs once again differ in terms of their tone and volume, though the results are practically the opposite of the Devil’s Possessed tracks. The Castilian dub is sharper, but more distorted and inconsistent, while the English dub is cleaner with more persistent volume levels, but also quite muffled. Alberto Argudo’s musical score is a highlight for the sake of its eclectic East-Asian-meets-mod-rock-meets-horror-synth nature.
Commentary with author Troy Howarth – Howarth’s second commentary is more of the same and just as good as his Dragonfly for Each Corpse track
Alternate clothed scenes (5:58, HD)
Spanish and English-language international trailers
The Werewolf and the Yeti (Spanish: La Maldicion de la Bestia; aka: Curse of the Beast and Night of the Howling Beast, 1975)
The eighth film in the long-running El Hombre Lobo series, Miguel Iglesias’s The Werewolf and the Yeti is among the most notorious and sought-after movies in Naschy’s catalogue, because it was banned on home video in the UK as part of the BBFC’s Video Recordings Act of 1984. As Naschy’s only ‘Video Nasty’ (and one of only three Spanish-produced movies on the BBFC list), new viewers may assume that The Werewolf and the Yeti is a particularly gruesome and harrowing entry. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your position – it's actually pretty tame. The Waldemar Daninsky films were usually designed as pulpy fare, and, despite some blood and nudity, The Werewolf and the Yeti is practically aimed at adolescents. Naschy’s script follows an anthropologist and psychologist version of Waldemar Daninsky to Tibet, where he has agreed to head an expedition into the mountains to investigate rumors of the abominable snowman. After becoming separated from the group, Daninsky stumbles upon two sex-starved Tibetan vampire women, who ‘nurse’ him back to health, then attack him, turning him into a blood-thirsty lycanthrope. The El Hombre Lobo movies tended to ignore continuity in general and The Werewolf and the Yeti was (I think) the third complete back-story revamp. At the same time, it’s [i]sort of[/i] a remake of José María Zabalza’s Fury of the Wolfman (Spanish: La Furia del Hombre Lobo, 1970), in which a college professor version of Daninsky becomes a werewolf after being bitten by a Tibetan yeti. In terms of story, it’s one of the series’ weakest (it also pales in comparison to Val Guest’s Hammer-produced The Abominable Snowman, 1957, which I suspect was one of Naschy's inspirations), but gets away with its lack of content, thanks to its breakneck pacing and unfettered Saturday morning serial tone. This can probably be attributed to co-writer/director Iglesias specializing in adventure films. The Werewolf and the Yeti was actually his only horror film (as far as I can tell), outside of Rape (Spanish: Desnuda inquietud, 1976), which is really more of a scandalously-titled psycho-drama. There’s not an excess of sex or violence (aside from a gruesome torture sequence), but plenty of enjoyable nonsense, face-slashing action, and sincerely-stated cheesiness to keep you entertained. The only real disappointment is that the promised werewolf-on-yeti battle isn’t delivered upon until the final minutes and it’s a complete afterthought.
Though temporarily banned on video in the UK, The Werewolf and the Yeti was a popular Naschy release on North American VHS, under the title Night of the Howling Beast (via Super Video). It may have even been the easiest of Naschy’s films to find on this side of the Atlantic (though I’ve personally seen more copies of World’s Worst Video’s House of Psychotic Women over the decades). On the other hand, there doesn’t appear to have been [i]any[/i] digital versions of the movie available before this Blu-ray collection. Unfortunately, this 1080p debut is the most problematic transfer in the set. The issues begin with its 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Unlike Exorcism, all available literature lists 1.85:1 as the OAR and the frame often appears cramped. My guess is that 1.66:1 would serve the compositions best (if you know better than me, please explain in the comments). Beyond this, Exorcism’s DNR and CRT issues are worse here and then multiplied by major over-sharpening, which leads to heavy edge haloes. The ‘good’ news is that the colors and complex elements are still relatively impressive when the footage is in motion.
Imdb.com lists the complete runtime as 94 minutes, but no home video versions run that long and I’m not sure where that number comes from. This Blu-ray’s 87 minute runtime matches all previous uncut releases and includes all of the violence edited out of known censored versions. They’ve even added a brief bit of pre-coital chest kissing, despite the footage being VHS quality.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio mono track comes out ahead with superior volume, tone, depth, and bass, along with slightly fewer distortion effects. The louder, cleaner quality brings out more intricate sound effects that remain hidden in the muffled Castilian track. The Werewolf and the Yeti is another film that used exclusively library music, so there is no credited composer.
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