Paul Naschy Collection: Volume 1 Blu-ray review (originally published 2017)
Blu-ray Release: June 20, 2017
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono English and Castalian
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Times: 90/89/90/93/84 minutes
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.
Horror Rises from the Tomb (Spanish: El Espanto Surge de la Tumba; a.k.a. Blood Mass for the Devil, 1972)
An evil warlock named Alaric de Marnac (Paul Naschy) is beheaded in medieval France and his witch wife hung for crimes against humanity. Hundreds of years later, the warlock’s distant relative, along with a group of treasure seekers, discover the head. Soon, the evil head is possessing people into doing its bidding, which includes reuniting it with its long lost body.
Scream Factory’s new collection starts off on a high note with what I’d classify as Naschy’s second best movie, behind Javier Aguirre’s The Hunchback of Rue Morgue (Spanish: El Jorobado de la Morgue, 1973). Naschy and director Carlos Aured fill every corner of the film’s tight 89 minutes with graphic violence, wacky happenings, and scenery-chewing performances – enough to ensure that neither genuine Spanish horror fans or those watching the movie for ironic, Mystery Science Theater-type laughs will find the time to be bored. The screenplay, by Naschy himself, is a hodgepodge of random genre references (a possession film, a treasure hunting adventure, a haunted house movie, a rural horror movie in the tradition of Deliverance and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a vampire movie without blood-drinking, and even a prototypical slasher movie) that moves forward quickly (almost too quickly, considering the number of ridiculous smash cuts between events), and ultimately amounts to joyful claptrap that is at once too plot heavy and narratively barren. Naschy does deserve some praise for integrating George Romero-like shuffling undead into his story several years before Dawn of the Dead (1978) made them a Euro-splatter mainstay, even if they don’t show up en force until the final act. The level of violence lags behind the absurd goriness of Hunchback of Rue Morgue, so the zombies don’t stop to eat any flesh either. Still, there are plenty of beheadings, split skulls, slashed throats, heart removals, and burning corpses – all of which are pretty convincing for the era. This was Aured’s second (of many) film as director and his second film working with Naschy, following Curse of the Devil (Spanish: El retorno de Walpurgis, 1973). Without having seen all of his work, I can only guess that this was his best, though cinematographer Manuel Merino and the set designers deserve credit for how unexpectedly good-looking this particular movie is.
Note that Panic Beats (Spanish: Latidos de pánico, 1983), which Naschy wrote and directed himself, is considered a semi-sequel and also features a resurrected Alaric de Marnac.
Every film in this five movie collection was previously released by the now defunct BCI/Deimos Entertainment on DVD with new anamorphic transfers, which were mastered in HD from the original negative (according to the DVD box art, at least). Some titles ended up on double-feature Blu-rays, as well (see below). Horror Rises From the Tomb was not one of those titles and was, unfortunately, also available on budget disc from Brentwood (who is actually the same company as BCI), other grey market companies, as well as non-anamorphic special edition from Mondo Crash Cinema. The Deimos release was superior to those and most likely basis for this 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer. The results are very good and the problems I have are not really Scream Factory’s fault. Details are sometimes limited by the relative fogginess of the photography, but elemental separation is tight and the close-up textures are relatively clean. Color quality is vivid, especially the bright reds used for costumes and gore effects, and the grading is even-handed, leading to deep, but rarely oppressive black levels. The problems lie mostly in the scan itself, which is rife with telecine/CRT artifacts in place of what should be film grain. At its worst, this causes some dancing edges and is occasionally magnified by a bit of compression, which creates blocks throughout the softest gradations. Fortunately, the issue isn’t nearly as aggressive as the telecine seen on Scream Factory’s Italian double-feature releases and it’s pretty easy to overlook when the footage is in motion.
Horror Rises from the Tomb comes fitted with both its original Spanish (Castilian) and English mono dubs; each presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. This alone gives it an advantage over the Dolby Digital DVD versions. Much of the film was shot without sound, so actors appear dubbed, no matter what track you choose, but the actors tended to dub themselves, giving the Spanish track a slight advantage. In this case, the Spanish track also has advantages in its tonal quality and general clarity. In comparison, the English language dub features clean dialogue, but notably lower volume. In some cases, the sound effects and Carmelo A. Bernaola’s musical soundtrack are particularly muffled, too. On the other hand, these are pretty silly movies, so the often inappropriate English dubbing sort of adds to the whole experience.
Commentary with Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn – This is a new Scream Factory exclusive track with the hosts of the NaschyCast podcast. The participants put a lot of effort into researching and preparing their discussion. Arguably more important, they approach the commentary process with a personal slant that makes for a more entertaining and unexpected track as they delve beyond the usual stuff, like historical context, and into the film’s weird mythology. Unfortunately, it appears that Scream was unable to secure the rights to Deimos DVD’s Naschy and Aured track, which was moderated by Angel Gomez Rivero.
Alternate ending sequence (2:37, HD, no audio)
Alternative ‘clothed’ sequences (5:49, HD) – Due to Franco-era censorship rules, Spanish movies tended to shoot two versions of any scene featuring nudity. Most countries got the fully nekkid versions, while the local theaters got the more modest scenes.
Vengeance of the Zombies (Spanish: La rebelión de las muertas; aka: Rebellion of the Dead Women and Walk of the Dead, 1972)
A masked murderer is stalking victims on the streets of London. The police are baffled by his strange rituals and apparent lack of motive. Could his occult practices be related to those of Krishna (Paul Naschy), a local Hindi guru and ladies man, or is something more sinister afoot?
We follow one of Naschy’s best with quite possibly his strangest and silliest movie, which, given his filmography, is really saying something. Vengeance of the Zombies makes Horror Rises from the Tomb look like a measured effort with its absolutely bonkers attempt at coopting several dozen overlapping genre conventions at once. Naschy’s exposition-heavy script is a rampantly narcissistic exercise in which the actor portrays not one, not two, but three roles – a benevolent Hindu mystic (in full brown-face, complete with turban), his evil and scarred twin (in full, scarred brown-face), and Satan himself. When he’s not stroking his ego, the star and director León Klimovsky (who also worked with Naschy on The Werewolf vs the Vampire Women [Spanish: La noche de Walpurgis, 1971] and Dr. Jekyll and the Wolfman [Spanish: Doctor Jekyll y el Hombre Lobo, 1972]) do their best to adopt the stylishly modern imagery of their ‘70s Italian and French counterparts (apparently with a fraction of the budget at their disposal, which is really saying something, considering the average budget of an Italian horror movie). This includes a series of murder set-pieces that are clearly modeled on Mario Bava and Dario Argento’s popular gialli films – right down to Naschy’s black coat, hat, and gloves – and the Jean Rollin-esque use of dreamy slow motion wherever the ghostly she-zombies are concerned. And I haven’t even mentioned the strange, stilted attempts at softcore porn that, due to Spanish censorship standards, always seem end just before the characters can touch each other. Vengeance of the Zombies is a mess, but an eclectic mess, made with integrity.
Content warning, though – Spanish films from the period had very lax rules when it came to animal cruelty. In this case, the offense is comparatively minor and only a single chicken is beheaded.
Vengeance of the Zombies was released on budget DVD, Deimos SE DVD, and a double-feature Blu-ray with Night of the Werewolf (also via Deimos). Again, this 1080p transfer – framed at the preferred 1.33:1 aspect ratio – appears to derive from the older HD master. The image quality is similar to the previous disc in that it is sharp and much cleaner than the older DVD versions, but also rife with CRT noise, assuming that you’re looking [i]really closely[/i]. That said, there’s also more real film grain here and many of the artifacts are inherent in the original material. For instance, the darkest sequences have minor enhancement along the stronger edges, which could be a condition issue rather than a compression-related one. The vivid color palette is especially important, considering the flashy ‘70s fashion/production design and the occasionally abstract lighting schemes used during ‘scary’ sequences.
The original Spanish and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtracks are closer in tone this time. Neither has a distinct volume advantage this time and effects/music tend to match rather precisely. In both cases, the vocals can sound ‘hissy,’ but there aren’t any other major signs of compression. Juan Carlos Calderón’s unusual musical soundtrack blends typically creepy horror string cues with tribal beats, calypso rhythms, and super danceable funk tunes. When I first reviewed the film almost 10 years ago, I found the score intrusive, but I’ve grown to like its absurdity, especially the opening/closing title easy rock theme, where a chorus of men mumble ‘dow d-d-d-dow’ over and over in place of actual lyrics. In other strange news, none of the English dub actors use English accents, despite the movie taking place in London...
Spanish credit sequence (4:41, HD)
Alternate clothed sequences (2:53, HD)
Spanish and US trailers
Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (Spanish: Los Ojos Azules de la Muneca Rota; aka: House of Psychotic Women, 1973)
An ex-convict named Gilles (Paul Naschy) hitchhikes to a small French town and is hired as the caretaker on a large estate owned by three sisters. One sister is confined to a wheelchair, another has a ‘mechanical’ hand, and the last is a sinister nymphomaniac. Soon after Gilles’ arrival, a mysterious serial killer begins slaughtering blonde, blue-eyed women.
From its black gloved killer to its elaborate murder scenes, convoluted revenge plot, dream-logic exposition, surrealistic flashbacks, and elongated, doll-themed title (itself likely a reference to Mario Bava’s Five Dolls for an August Moon, 1970, and Aldo Lado’s Short Night of the Glass Dolls, 1971), Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll is every inch a Spanish-flavoured giallo. It wasn’t the only or even the first of its kind, having been released after José Luis Madrid’s Jack the Ripper of London[/i] (Spanish: Jack el destripador de Londres; aka: 7 Corpses for Scotland Yard, 1971), Eloy de la Iglesias’ The Glass Ceiling (Spanish: Spanish: El techo de cristal, 1971), and Alfonso Balcazar’s An Open Tomb...An Empty Coffin (Spanish: La casa de las muertas vivientes, 1972), among others, but it was Naschy’s purest attempt at genre immortality, following his mere dabbling in Vengeance of the Zombies. Along with director and co-writer Carlos Aured, he combined Argento’s murder mystery conventions and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane-like dysfunctional family theatrics into another charmingly narcissistic fantasy, where a troubled loner can find himself in the company of beautiful and dangerous women that want nothing more than to fight over his body. The difference is that he actually sells his sexy side here, exerting some genuine, rugged charm while interacting with the female cast (at least during the early scenes, before he starts strangling them to establish a red herring...). Aured’s direction is erratic, but in keeping with the average, B-level giallo. He has plenty of style where it counts, namely while shooting around the palatial central estate and during any of the expressionistic murder sequences.
Content warning, again: This uncut version of the film includes a brutal pig slaughter sequence. While, according to Aured, the poor porker was already on his way to be slaughtered, whether the filmmakers were recording it or not (they shot it on a functioning farm), the scene is presented in a cynically exploitative manner.
Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll was pretty easy to find on VHS in North America under its alternate House of Psychotic Women title (I remember the VidAmerica ‘World’s Worst Videos’ release, myself), but was scarce on DVD outside of Spain until the Deimos release. This Blu-ray debut (derived from the Deimos remaster) comes fitted with another solid, but not un-problematic 1080p, 1.33:1 (the preferred AR) transfer. Contrast levels and hue saturation are somewhat inconsistent from scene to scene, while the actual hue qualities (skin tones, green vegetation, bluish neutral colors) and black levels remain more or less the same. This is normally due to the harsher lighting schemes of the dark interiors, where hard white light blasts out delicate grading. It also punches up during sex scenes, which means that it was probably the effect of shooting sexy and censored versions of those scenes. Grain appears relatively accurate and the telecine noise is only a notable issue when it comes to the subtler blends. Print damage isn’t a major problem, but this is a pulsier/more flickery transfer than the others in the collection.
The DTS-HD Master Audio mono Spanish and English soundtracks are again quite similar. I’d argue that the tone and depth of the English dub is the better of the two this time around. Though it has a bit more fuzz at high volumes, dialogue tracks are better integrated and Juan Carlos Calderón’s music has a stronger presence. In comparison, the Spanish dub, which features arguably superior performances, seems compressed when it comes to dialogue, leading to warbling effects when characters speak too softly. Calderón does a decent impression of Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai’s patented giallo sounds by mixing jazz and more traditional suspense cues, though the filmmakers tend to overuse the main theme in an effort to fill aural space with music. The composer and, reportedly, Naschy himself deserves credit for using a nursery rhyme melody during scary sequences a couple of years before Dario Argento and Goblin did the same for Deep Red (Italian: Profondo Rosso, 1975).
Commentary with Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn – The NaschyCast duo returns with another, possibly better track. There isn’t a huge difference in the approach, tone, and content type, but, having established a lot about Naschy as a personality and filmmaker during the Horror Rises from the Tomb track, Barnett and Guinn are free to dig more deeply into Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll’s specific qualities, as well as supply information about the giallo genre. One of my favourite moments comes when they quote and discuss Kier-La Janisse’s highly recommended book, House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films, which, contrary to the title, is not specifically about Aured’s film, but the history of psychotic/neurotic women throughout the genre. They acknowledge the emotional and female-centric perspective that Janisse brings to the film and make it a part of their bigger discussion.
Spanish credit sequence (5:09, SD)
US and Spanish trailers
Human Beasts (Spanish: El Carnaval de las Bestias; aka: The Carnival of the Beasts and The Pig, 1980)
Bruno (Paul Naschy) is a well-worn mercenary hired by a gang of Japanese militants to teach them the ropes. During the training process, Bruno and a young merc named Mieko (Eiko Nagashima) fall in love. Despite his affections, Bruno decides to double-cross his new friends during a diamond heist. Following a firefight, he finds himself on the lam, injured, and pursued viciously by Mieko. Almost dead, he is found and brought to the home of a mysterious doctor and his two attractive daughters.
In the years following Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, Naschy continued making mostly supernatural horror movies with ties to Universal and Hammer horror, but, as the ‘80s approached and gritty American horror became popular worldwide, he was forced to change with the times. Human Beasts (not to be confused with Sergio Grieco’s 1977 Italian cop flick, Mad Dog Killer, which is sometimes known as The Human Beast) was more or less his answer to the rural and survival horror movies that led to a glut of post-Friday the 13th slashers. Beyond that is the mean-spirited tone of nihilistic and violent non-horror stories, like Sam Peckinpah westerns, Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry (1971), and the Italian-made spaghetti westerns and poliziotteschi that those films inspired. The major difference between those films and this vaguely yakuza-themed rural horror flick – aside from the lack of focus that always coincides with Naschy’s movies – is that there isn’t much in the way of obvious political subtext (perhaps due to the fact that it was a Japanese co-production?). The story takes a solid half-hour to get going, but has a startlingly balanced structure for a Naschy production. This becomes a double-edged sword, because it is at once less narratively frustrating than the other movies in this set, but less amusing for its lack of overcomplicated plotting (aside from the ridiculous exposition at the beginning) and nonsensical twists. The star acts as writer and director this time and does a pretty good job conveying action and tone. His creativity ebbs and flows, depending on whether he’s focusing on straightforward elements – like action or exposition – or dabbling in more surrealistic imagery. Not surprisingly, his artistic side is more interesting than his utilitarian side, even when he’s diving off the deep-end with allusive zooms and impressionistic framing. When it works, Human Beasts is a lewd, violent, soap operatic nightmare that will show neophytes a completely different side of Spain’s favourite Wolfman.
Content warning: Guess what? Human Beasts takes place on a pig farm and almost features another slaughter scene. Fortunately, the actual bloodletting occurs after a cutaway and Naschy leaves the rest to our imagination. The pigs also get their revenge later in the film’s best and goriest sequence.
Human Beasts is probably the closest thing to a real rarity that this collection has to offer. There was apparently a Big Box VHS release in the US from All Seasons Entertainment, but North American fans had to wait for Deimos’ DVD to see it in its correct aspect ratio. This 1.85:1, 1080p Blu-ray debut features one of the collection’s roughest transfers, but this is befitting the film’s rugged imagery and tone. This is magnified by cinematographer Alejandro Ulloa’s use of diffused lighting and foggy photography, making it difficult to judge whether the transfer is overly-soft or the movie is just supposed to look like this. What I can say is that the telecine effects are thick enough to be obvious even in motion, and it seems to me that the people who mastered the transfer employed DNR in an effort to smooth out some of the noise. As a result of all of these factors, detail isn’t particularly impressive, especially not when it comes to fine textures and background patterns. It’s still definitely a step up from the DVD version, thanks to brighter (though not always consistent) colors, stronger black levels, and more dynamic range.
Both the DTS-HD Master Audio mono Spanish and English dubs of Human Beasts seem to have been more heavily damaged than their counterparts. The English track has its own particular issues with warping and warbling, implying that the material was stretched-out and possibly even ripped. This time, Spanish is the way to go, in terms of not only performance, but overall consistency and accuracy, because it includes occasional Japanese dialogue (the Spanish subtitles are burned into the print), whereas the American studio opted to dub everything into English. Human Beasts’ score was taken from library source music, including, I suspect, some from Italian horror movies, though I can’t quite put my finger on which ones (my best guess is something Fabio Frizzi worked on). The opening and closing sequences use Morricone’s “Dies Irae Psichedelico" from Roberto Faenza’s Escalation (1968 – thanks Shazam!)
Night of the Werewolf (Spanish: El Retorno del Hombre Lobo; aka: The Craving, 1980)
In the 1600s, Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy) is sentenced to an execution along with a coven of witches under the service of the Bloody Lady of Čachtice, Elizabeth Báthory. Daninsky, aka: the Wolf Man, has a silver dagger plunged through his heart, an iron mask nailed to his face, and is left to rot in a tomb for centuries. Finally, in the 1980s, the dagger is removed by grave robbers and Daninsky returns to his grim life, fighting against Báthory in a desperate struggle for atonement.
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. This pseudo-remake of the star’s 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) and stirs the formula up for the new decade. Armed with a decent budget and beautiful Spanish castle locations, Naschy did his best to bring a bit of class to his signature character, as well as appeal to international audiences. He succeeds at the former. In purely visual terms, it might be Naschy’s greatest achievement as director, especially when it comes to long, loving shots of ancient architecture. Unfortunately, this may also be the boringest of the entire Waldemar Daninsky series. It seems that Naschy spent too much energy making the film look good and not enough developing and interesting story. The overly-familiar plot and characters are drawn extra thin between all-too-brief scenes of sex & violence, as the director hangs onto every precious ounce of atmosphere and production design, making little effort to move the story forward. Night of the Werewolf is so slow and old-fashioned that it’s sort of mind-boggling to realize that this film was completed less than a year before Joe Dante’s The Howling (1981) and John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (1980) – both immediate and contemporary satires that utilized genre-changing special effects techniques. Naschy’s lap dissolves and ‘timeless’ morals must’ve seemed laughable to American audiences when it was finally released stateside in 1985.
Vestron Video released a VHS version of Night of the Werewolf under its dopey American title, The Craving. Following that, North American fans either had to import the non-anamorphic Spanish DVD from Tripictures, or wait for the Deimos release, which included an anamorphic DVD and the aforementioned double-feature Blu-ray with Vengeance of the Zombies. This 1.85:1, 1080p transfer is probably the best in the set due to its stronger element separation – specifically throughout the busy backgrounds – and eclectic color quality. This is good, since, again, Night of the Werewolf is a very good looking movie, having been shot by ace cinematographer Alejandro Ullca – the guy behind Jess Franco’s outré, black & white The Diabolical Dr. Z (Spanish: Miss Muerte, 1966), Luciano Ercoli’s sexy giallo, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (Italian: Le foto proibite di una signora per bene, 1970), and a number of Sergio Corbucci’s action-packed spaghetti westerns. Dark sequences look quite good, despite some inconsistencies that are caused by our old friend, scanner machine noise. The telecine effects are a more obvious problem for the brighter scenes, where they flatten textures and cause edge enhancement issues.
This final pair of DTS-HD Master Audio mono Spanish and English soundtracks match the trend, in that each has its advantages and disadvantages. This time, the Spanish track comes out ahead due to louder volume levels, superior lip-sync, and more prevalent sound effects. The English track has less distortion and the performances aren’t too bad, but it is also clearly compressed, despite the DTS-HD MA codec. Once again, Naschy utilized library music for the score and used Stelvio Cipriani's “Too Risky a Day for a Regatta” from Ovidio G. Assonitis’ [i]Tentacles[/i] (1977) for the opening and closing title song. The music sounds considerably better on the Spanish track.
Commentary with Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn – The final NaschyCast track is another good showing that covers the film, the El Hombre Lobo series in general, and the careers of just about every important cast & crew member.
Two deleted scenes (2:35, HD)
Spanish credit sequence (3:57, SD)
Spanish and US trailer
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