Written and directed by Carlos Aured, Paul Naschy and Leon Klimovsky
In some circles, Paul Naschy has been referred to as Spain’s answer to Lon Chaneys Jr. and Sr., Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Personally, I don’t see it. I’d sooner liken him to a Spanish Roger Corman with more of a penchant for acting, writing, and directing than for producing. His prolific catalog possesses an innate appeal to fans of Euro Trash Horror Cinema, and within that realm, the man established a devoted fan base. It is for that fan base, and for horror cineastes interested in seeing what all the hubbub is about, that Scream Factory has released the first Paul Naschy Collection (of at least two), on Blu-ray.
The release features five films, all of which star Naschy; were written, or co-written, by him; two of which were directed by him; and one of which he executive produced. These films, which range throughout the middle of Naschy’s career, along with liner notes by Naschy scholar Mirek Lipinski (of Naschy.com and Latarnia Fantastique International Magazine) and three commentary tracks by NaschyCast podcasters Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn, provide an impressive overview of Naschy’s contribution to Spanish horror cinema.
Generally speaking, these transfers present these films in the most complete versions since their international theatrical releases. This goes for their edits as well as their aspect ratios. Additionally, each film features DTS-HD Master Audio Mono tracks of both Castilian and English dubs. Per the various films, the extras feature still galleries, theatrical trailers, alternate title sequences, and Spanish clothed sequences. The latter supplements, which are included for two of the films, brings us to the unique history of Spanish horror cinema, which is briefly expounded in the liner notes and commentary tracks. Evidently, during the rule of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, nudity was forbidden in Spanish films. Thus, for the films produced before his death, in 1975, the numerous nude sequences which were shot for international distribution, were re-shot for the Spanish releases. As is the trend in America, graphic violence was not as much an issue as the nudity, but those two elements, combined with earnest performances, a few doses of Italian giallo influence, colorful villains, frequently clever scripts, and some memorable soundtracks maketh the quintessential Naschy experience.
“An outstanding overview of the work of a man whose name is not so well known outside of Spanish horror cinema.”
The first film, HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, centers around the execution and resurrection of a French warlock (Naschy) and his witch wife (Helga Liné). In Barnett and Guinn’s commentary track, the podcasters gleefully reveal that the script was hammered out (in longhand writing with illustrations) in two days by an amphetamine-fueled Naschy. Furthermore, they reveal that the script was basically produced as is, with a few supplemental bits of dialog added. While the distinctly gothic film is very charming in a variety of ways (from its equally creepy and cheesy organ-based soundtrack to its excessive exploitative elements [read: lots of boobs and blood]), its appeal is magnified by the enthusiastic commentary of Barnett and Guinn, who provide ample anecdotes about the production, regard it as a fine introduction to Naschy films, and reveal it as being a highly lauded and financially successful film in the realm of fantastique Spanish cinema.
Next up is VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES. This is easily the weakest entry in the collection. The convoluted story elements include: a mystical Indian spiritual leader (Naschy) seducing a troubled young woman (Romy), a giallo-esque murderer, a gaggle of nubile zombies, voodoo ceremonies, and whatever glue was required to stick it all together into a storyline. Barnett and Guinn did not provide a commentary track on this colorful trainwreck, but like HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, it features Naschy in multiple roles, a score by famous composer Juan Carlos Calderón, and gratuitous nudity and gore. Overall, it is very clunky compared to the former film in this collection, but for those who can tolerate extreme levels of cheese with their exploitation horror films, there may be redemptive qualities in this turkey.
Barnett and Guinn return to provide commentary on BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL (aka HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN). This tale has Naschy in the role of a mysterious drifter with a dark secret; he winds up being hired as a handyman on an estate owned by three troubled sisters (Diana Lorys, Eva León, and Inés Morales). A mysterious murderer then begins targeting blonde women with blue eyes, which the killer ritualistically carves out of the victims’ heads and preserves. Interestingly, the murders take a while to get to. Barnett observes halfway through the commentary that for a murder mystery there’s been a “distinct lack of murders,” to which Guinn brilliantly chimes in, “the distinct abundance of flesh has probably kept us from noticing the distinct lack of murders.” Other distinctions of the film include: impressive cinematography, another score by Juan Carlos Calderón, a bit performance by prolific Spanish actress Pilar Bardem (Javier Bardem’s mother), and graphic depictions of animal cruelty (most notably the bleeding of a pig).
The fourth film in the collection is HUMAN BEASTS. This is an interesting tale of love, betrayal, Yakuza gangsters, and a charitable family with a mysterious past. Though a bit rough around the edges, this tale is fairly engaging and has a marvelous and poetic twist. Furthermore, by this point in the collection, it should seem pretty clear to Naschy newbies that despite the budgetary constraints of these productions and the lack of finesse in Naschy’s writing, his characters and situations are generally compelling and the fantastical elements are executed with panache. Adorned with the aforementioned gratuitous elements, the oeuvre will either charm viewers or, well…or they would never have made it this far.
The grand finale is grand, indeed. NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF is the best film in this collection. As Barnett and Guinn’s commentary reveals, it is either the 7th or 8th film in Naschy’s Waldemar Daninsky werewolf series (the uncertainty in numbering has to do with one of the earlier films having never been completed). The character of Waldemar Daninsky is a tragic one; he is a Polish nobleman, whom had been cursed as a werewolf by the evil Countess Elisabeth Bathory (Julia Saly), and to whose fate he is ultimately bound. Incidentally, the character’s identity as a Pole is also tied to cinematic restrictions, as it was apparently verboten to depict people of Spanish nationality as being monstrous under Franco’s rule. In addition to political revelations such as the aforementioned, Barnett and Guinn’s commentary track provides ample information on the various productions of the Daninsky werewolf cycle, its various stylistic influences (Universal Horror films, various Hammer horror films, etc.), tropes within the series, and, ultimately, the duo explain that their ongoing affection for the saga — even as werewolf game changers AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and THE HOWLING were released the same year — endured because of their background as Monster Kids. They also reveal that this was Naschy’s final gothic horror film, and they quote Naschy’s memoirs to convey why this film was so special to him. I believe the same quote was included in the liner notes. It reads: “[NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF] contains all the coordinates of my own life, fitting together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle: the claustrophobic castle, the Gothic tombs, the ill-fated love affair, the menace of the undead, the ostracism of someone who is despised for being different and the all-pervading shadow of death. All these elements go to make up my personality and my work. Movies, even horror fantasy movies, can carry real depth of meaning because through fantasy we can convey a far deeper message than would appear possible at first sight.”
All in all, Scream Factory’s first collection of Paul Naschy films provides an outstanding overview of the work of a man whose name is not so well known outside of Spanish horror cinema. The informative and entertaining commentary tracks make the films accessible for neophytes and essential for Spanish horror aficionados. Furthermore, both the commentaries and the liner notes provide extensive information on numerous cast and crew members from these films, which ultimately contextualize this body of work as being an important chapter in the greater canon of horror cinema.