The Frenchman’s Garden Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: August 10, 2021 (standard edition)
Audio: Castilian Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
Run Time: 97:23 minutes
Director: Jacinto Molina (Paul Naschy)
“The Frenchman” was what locals called the man who ran the bar and restaurant in the small town of Peñaflor, in rural Spain in the early part of the 20th century. But Juan Andrés Aldije Monmejá (Paul Naschy) was not your usual jolly innkeeper. He ran an illegal gambling den and pimped out the waitresses who worked for him, arranging abortions for them when the inevitable happened. Deciding that there were easier and quicker ways to exploit his customers, The Frenchman started slaughtering them, stealing their money and burying their corpses in the garden at the back of his inn. As his greed increased, so did the savagery of his murderous acts. It was not long before people started asking questions. (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, where he appeared as an extensive series of monsters and madmen, and eventually graduated from writer and star to director for Inquisition in 1977.
His second film as director was The Frenchman’s Garden (Spanish: El huerto del Francés, 1978), which also saw him widening his repertoire beyond the pulpy and Gothic realms of fantastical creatures, in order to focus on the true story of one of Spain’s most famous serial killers – Andrés Aldije Monmejá, aka: El Francés. Naschy and Antonio Fos’ screenplay follows the facts of the case pretty closely, or at least the facts as they were known, since the whole story had dissipated into legend 70 years earlier. In an effort to not disappoint fan expectations, Naschy’s name wasn’t used in the advertising, but Frenchman’s Garden really isn’t that much different than his contemporary-set, non-supernatural gialli, namely Carlos Aured’s Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (Spanish: Los Ojos Azules de la Muneca Rota; aka: House of Psychotic Women, 1973) and Leon Klimovsky’s A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (Spanish: Una libélula para cada muerto; aka: Red Killer, 1975), both of which were released before Frenchman’s Garden with Naschy’s face adorning the posters.
On the other hand, Frenchman’s Garden lacks the flash and whodunit pulp of a giallo (taking into account that many gialli aren’t murder mysteries, it doesn’t fit the template, for the record). At times, it dials in an elegant tone and Naschy’s direction is surprisingly subtle in its stylishness (one nice touch is the shadow that is cast across Naschy’s face to signify Monmejá’s thoughts turning violent), despite the film being every bit as horny as his boundary-pushing horror films. As the plot thickens, it begins to turn into a bodice-ripping soap opera with period trappings, which is something that Naschy’s fans might have found trying. And, perhaps, they still will. It’s still quite salacious, including loads of nudity, cat fights, a really shocking abortion sequence, and enough lascivious details to send the Spanish audience – newly free of dictator General Franco’s regime – clutching their collective pearls. It’s reasonably bloody and the graphicness of the violence increases as El Francés’ brutality increases, though only a brief shot of an exposed brain really competes with the goriest exploits of El Hombre Lobo.
Of course, Naschy can’t help but see at least a little good his monsters (with exceptions), even when they’re based on real-life scumbags, so it’s not surprising that, in dramatizing Monmejá’s life, he portrays him as an occasional antihero and romantic, who also happens to slaughter careless customers. A lot of the charm comes from the actor/director’s attempts to humanize Monmejá, while characterizing him as the ruthless, bloodsucking pimp we already assumed he was.
The Frenchman’s Garden has never been (officially) released on home video in the US. I’m guessing it wasn’t released in theaters, either, but Mondo Macabro doesn’t seem to want to make that claim on the back of the box. There also doesn’t appear to be a single DVD version released in any country, though a Spanish Blu-ray did premiere in late 2020 via Divisa. I can’t find a comparison of the two releases, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn both were taken from the same 4K scan of the original negative with each company doing their own digital restoration. This 2.40:1, 1080p transfer is similar to Mondo’s other recent Naschy releases. There are little tiny issues with digital noise that are sometimes magnified by Polo Villaseñor’s use of soft focus and diffused edge lighting. Otherwise, this is a sharp and attractive representation of the generally naturalistic film. The palette is limited to a lot of beiges and browns, sometimes with a slightly sickly green tint, and all of that, as well as the poppy reds and yellows, is consistent, even through the diffusion. Print damage is minimal and dynamic range is impressive.
The Frenchman’s Garden is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono and its original Castilian Spanish. It seems that it was never dubbed into English or, if it was, that dub has been lost. Like many films from the area and era, it seems to have been shot without on-set sound, so even the Spanish track is technically dubbed and the lip-sync is a bit off. Aside from a shred of hiss on some of the vocal performances and the general emptiness of the original tracks, there isn’t anything to complain about. Ángel Arteaga’s score, which mixes classical and flamenco elements, sounds particularly rich. The film opens with a soulful flamenco folk song about The Frenchman’s murders. The credits list it as “Romance” with composition and interpretation by Rosa León, a famous Spanish singer/songwriter/tv presenter, who later worked for the Madrid City Council as a member of the Spanish Workers Party, director of the Cervantes Institute, and wife of Jose Luis Garcia Sanchez. You didn’t need to know all that, but I learned it just now and thought it was impressive.
Commentary with Troy Howarth, Rod Barnett, and Troy Guinn – Most of Mondo Macabro’s Paul Naschy discs feature commentary tracks with NaschyCast podcasters Barnett and Guinn. The other one (Devil Incarnate; Spanish: El Caminante, 1979) featured a commentary from the author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films (Midnight Marquee Press, 2015), Howarth. This, I believe, is the first time all three have teamed up for a track. It could have been an overly busy affair, given the expertise level of the participants, but Howarth sort of takes the lead early on, leaving the NaschyCasters to fill in the blanks and keep things moving.
Interview with Paul Naschy (27:52, HD) – This 2003 interview with the late star covers the bulk of Naschy’s life and career as a performer, writer, and director. It includes clips and print art from the films he discusses.
Paul Naschy on The Frenchman’s Garden (3:06, HD) – Brief footage from the 2003 interview specifically concerning The Frenchman’s Garden.
Mondo Macabro trailer reel
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be seen by clicking the images.