Sunday, December 30, 2012

Naschy Quite What I Expected

Not long ago Mr. X and I were having a phone conversation about movies and the name Paul Naschy came up. It was a name that I vaguely recognized but one which I had no clear conception of. Actually my first thought fell to some kind of low budget monster affairs, an idea with no real basis. Well Mr. X set upon getting me educated by sending me six..count ‘em..six of his films.

If, like me, you are merely a dillitante of horror cinema, then you are probably not very aware of Naschy’s contribution to the genre. Initially a writer, Naschy worked in the Spanish film industry. As a youth he had seen a single Universal monster movie, "Frankenstein Versus The Wolfman" and it proved very memorable to him. Spain did not really have a tradition of horror films and in 1968 Paul cooked up his own take on the genre. He made a movie that in Europe was called “Mark Of The Werewolf”. He and the producers were having trouble casting the lead when it was suggested that Paul take on the role himself. In this groundbreaking feature Naschy establishes a characterization that would be echoed throughout his long career. Paul had a unique skill for giving his monsters a gentle and humane side. In “Mark Of The Werewolf” he makes the anguish of becoming a monster exceedingly poignant. The movie wouldn’t be released in the US until the 70’s and for bizarre reasons not worth going into here, was titled “Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror”. Yes the movie has both werewolves and vampires but Dr F’s famous zombie is nowhere to be found.

“Mark Of The Werewolf” was a success in Europe and soon he was Spain’s primary producer of monster and supernatural films. He became know as the “Lon Chaney of Spain” by virtue of the numerous and varied horror roles he took on. These include the mummy, Dracula and several werewolves.

Paul in his prime was a handsome fellow and had a somewhat (to me) familiar look. I finally realized why. Imagine a cross between the face of a young Marlon Brando and Joaquin Phoenix…. *that’s* Paul Naschy

The production values for these movies are extraordinary, rivaling the best that Hammer studios had to offer. He was also aided in having access to authentic, gothic locations in his native land, most of which had never been seen on film before.

Of the six movies I watched the one leaving the biggest impression was called “The Hunchback Of The Morgue”. He portrays the title character whose circumstance pushes him into murder. Again, as with that first werewolf character, he imbues the hunchback with a noble and gentle aspect, making his situation all the more sad. I must confess that the movie actually shocked me, not once but twice. The hunchback rescues the corpse of his beloved before it is due for dissection. He brings it to a secret vault, hidden below the grounds of a hospital. Placing her on a table, he lovingly speaks to her as if she were
still alive, promising to watch over her. He returns a few days later and to his horror (and mine) finds a bevy of rats gnawing at her face! That fright is trumped moments later when he friggin’ sets the buggers on fire with a torch. I should note that there is NO citation in the credits stating “no animals were harmed in the making of this movie”. They really lit the lil’ bastards ablaze! bbrrrrrrrr* choke * good lord!

If you have any affinity for the genre then by all means seek out the works of Mr. Naschy. One caveat though…make sure the films are of 60’s or 70’s vintage and stay away from anything made in the current millennium. Paul was coaxed out of retirement for some US fare that in no way reflect his glory years. 
Pat Hilger

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