Home Video Hovel: The Paul Naschy Collection, by Dayne Linford

9 Aug

One of the best things about cinema over this last century, characterized by this art form perhaps above all others, is the way it has left thousands of little pockets, obscure cinematic worlds unto themselves, just waiting for you to discover them. In that vein, I recently dove into The Paul Naschy Collection, a set of five films featuring the talents of Naschy, a widely beloved, Spanish B-movie star, producer, writer, and director I’d never heard of before. Though often far from perfect, I personally found viewing these disparate films to be rather delightful, a fun dip into an aspect of cinema history that’s almost never touched upon.

Paul Naschy (born Jacinto Molina Álvarez) built a career for himself in the thriving market of Spanish B-movies, largely of the horror genre, throughout the 1970s and 80s. He’s perhaps best known for his long-running werewolf character, Waldemar Daninsky, featured first in 1970’s La Marca Del Hombre Lobo (not included in this set). Though best known as an actor, he eventually made his way into writing, producing, and even directing quite a few films. Of those included here, two were directed by him, all were written by him and feature his performances. It’s an eclectic set of widely varying films, which helps alleviate any fatigue between the genre and industry conventions of the time.

Horror Rises from the Tomb, written by Naschy and directed by Carlos Aured, concerns the modern-day return of Alaric de Marnac, played by Naschy, an evil, devil-worshipping warlock from the 1400s. Most of the plot concerns Marnac’s revenge on the descendants of those who executed him in ancient times. As a piece of B-movie filmmaking, it’s pretty fun, mostly as each character is picked off until the Final Girl (Emma Cohen) has to face Marnac and his evil mistress, Mabille (Helga Liné), also recently risen from the dead. This is one of the more typical films included on the set, and, as such, it’s fairly predictable and even drags at times. The leaps in logic with an absence of characterization would be expected, as might a scene of needless titillation when Marnac and Mabille descend on local youths in town, hypnotizing them into getting undressed and then killing them, because, you know, wouldn’t want to get blood on those clothes. It’s one of the more obvious moments of displaying skin for tickets, and plays like most obvious monetary decisions would. In other words, it’s boring. Beyond that, though, the film itself is pretty fun and makes for a nice diversion.

Vengeance of the Zombies, directed León Klimovsky, is billed as one of the weirdest Naschy films, and that…is an understatement. A family is being targeted in a series of killings, largely by people known to be dead, and one of their last members, Elvira (model and film star Romy), flees to the house of Krishna, a local Indian guru, played, yes, by Naschy, now in tan-face. Beyond that, there’s elements of voodoo, utilization of zombie conventions, and a little crime thriller/police procedural thrown into the mix. It’s by far the most eclectic film in the set, with a twisty-turny plot and some legitimately tense moments, plus an interesting-if-perhaps-unintentional discussion of colonialism, white desirability/vulnerability, and mixed-race romances. Klimovsky exhibits some of the most assured direction in the set, almost single-handedly making the zombie brides creepy through directorial technique, long shots, and excellent utilization of Juan Carlos Calderon’s score. Though a bizarre, sometimes schizophrenic film, it’s also one of the most well-constructed films of the set. It does fall apart at the end, but, with a set-up as esoteric as this, it’s hard to see how it could be done successfully.

Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, the second entry by Aured in the set, is hands-down the best film featured here. Naschy plays Gilles, a traveling ex-con who lands a laboring job working for three sisters, effectively trapped in their mansion following a fatal accident some years previous. Meanwhile, someone’s out and about killing young blondes and carving their eyes out. At the most basic level, this film displays the utility of the “meanwhile, back at the ranch” technique – two plotlines means you can leave one before the audience gets bored and then come back, creating tension and artistic value through mirroring. It’s pretty basic, but we are talking about Eurotrash B horror movies. This film also develops the sisters’ household well, each responding to the central trauma of their lives in different ways and responding to Gilles’ new presence in different ways, creating interesting levels of tension throughout the home as the killings continue and all (pre-carved) eyes begin to focus on the newcomer. I was particularly impressed by how strongly the film finished, a skillful directorial flourish by Aured accompanied by Calderon’s score, which rises to near-Morricone levels in that singular moment (Calderon did most of the music included in the set). It plays very nicely, and was the only film in the set by which I was quite satisfied after finishing.

Human Beasts, directed by Naschy, unfortunately does not bode well for his other directorial efforts. Though another unique entry in its plotting and eventual wrap-up, much of this film is quite clumsy, and it drags too much towards the end to earn the big reveal Naschy’s setting us up for. Naschy plays Bruno Rivera, who, we are told, is one of the best of the best of hitmen, and who, we are also told, is being hired by a Japanese criminal group of some kind of other (the booklet with the set says Yakuza, but the characters claim to be pacifists, so who knows), to steal jewels en route through Spanish backcountry. Though Rivera claims to love Meiko (Eiko Nagashima), the boss’s sister, he promptly betrays the lot, fleeing further into rural Spain in an attempt to get away with the money. The Yakuza-esque baddies try to hunt him down, prompting a gunfight in a Spanish forest that almost feels like Vietnam for its overuse of firepower and the aesthetic of cheap 80s film stock. Rivera kills everybody but Meiko, and gets injured himself, holing up in a Spanish farmhouse with a dark secret. Machinations, seductions, and attempted murders ensue, building up to a turn that, I’ll admit, I didn’t see coming, but I also didn’t feel was particularly effective, either. It’s an interesting diversion, but too clumsy and overwrought to maintain interest throughout.

The last film is Night of the Werewolf, one of the famed Daninsky films, and the worst on the set. Also directed by Naschy, this film is hard to judge, being clearly one of many films featuring the character and coming eleven years since Daninsky was first introduced. As such, it’s painfully light on any development of the central figure at hand, but then again, it’s also painfully light on any development at all. Ok, I’ll try to convey it. Elisabeth Bathory – yes, of serial killing fame – was executed super long ago and also apparently made Daninsky murder for her or something. That’s how they’re connected, and yes, they’re both apparently undying. Now, in the modern day, some sexy scientists have discovered where Bathory(Julia Saly) was buried and are going to take a look. Unfortunately, one of the sexy scientists, Erika (Silvia Aguilar), is actually (also?) a witch, and she’s going to betray her friends and use their blood to rejuvenate Bathory. In the meantime, some thieves accidentally rejuvenate Daninsky and get eaten. But Daninsky’s good, you see, and soon he and Bathory are aware of each other, but neither is yet powerful enough to stop the other. Also, in case you’re not yet lost, one of the sexy scientists, Karen (Azucena Hernández), is super pure and good, and falls in love with Daninsky, which means she needs to kill Daninsky so he can finally be laid to rest. Got it? If you’re thinking that’s a lot to pack into 90 minutes and it would take a great deal of finesse to pull off, you’re exactly right. And you’re even more right if you’ve guessed the requisite finesse is not to be found here. The overwritten plot, the head-to-head historical monsters, and the quick rush to some kind of conclusion make this film tedious. I love werewolf movies, and tend to be more forgiving, but this was beyond me. Too bad.

All in all, that’s the set. If it’s your kind of thing, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick it up. Regardless of interest, Vengeance of the Zombies and Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll are both worth seeing, though they won’t be making any top ten lists soon. For films made as cheaply as they were, though, they’re quite effective, and feature broad technical skill and a good grasp of storytelling, in the case of the latter, and batshit craziness, in the case of the former. Not bad for a first foray into the heyday of Spanish B-horror filmmaking.

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