BluRay/DVD Reviews

PAUL NASCHY WANTS TO SCARE YOU

By • May 22nd, 2007 •

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Anchor Bay DVD re-release by Victory Films and Deimos Productions

VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES (1972) Directed by Leon Klimovsky, Written by Jacinto Molino. Starring Paul Naschy, Romy, Mirta Miller and Vic Winner

NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF (1980) Directed and Written by Jacinto Molino (Naschy). Starring Paul Naschy, Julia Saly, Silvia Aguilar, and Azucena Hernandez. aka THE CRAVING.

Paul Naschy (Jacinto Molino) is often referred to as the Lon Chaney of European horror films, and has been making movies for forty years (he is still at work). He has done just about every classic Universal horror type, vampires, mummies, even a hunchback, but is best known for his recurring character, Waldemar Daninsky, a werewolf better known as Senor Lobo. A Naschy film usually has a gothic atmosphere with an endangered damsel or two, and a villain allied with unspeakably evil minions. A lot of attention is placed on makeup as there are no CGIs, and stage blood will be served by the bucket. There are two noteworthy aspects to these films: the outstanding physicality Paul Naschy brings to the screen as a former bodybuilder, and his ability as a writer to repeatedly recycle the genre.

VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIESwas made in 1972, a year when Naschy made six other films. The story takes place in contemporary London, where followers of the guru Krisna (Naschy) gather to hear his teachings. Among them are Elvira, who is devoted to the fakir, and her skeptical friend Lawrence, an expert in the occult. Later that night Elvira is attacked at home by a zombie, and her father is killed by a mysterious masked figure. She flees to Krisna’s country house, while Lawrence helps Scotland Yard investigate a series of voodoo-flavored killings that have the police baffled. Devil worship, murder, and the twisted revenge of Krisna’s evil brother follow.

All of this probably seems pretty familiar, and that is probably the problem with most horror films of this type. Naschy injects some new elements by throwing together Indian and Haitian motifs, but the film is something of a mess and the ending slapdash. The production values are about what you’d expect from an early seventies B movie, made worse by what just might be the worst soundtrack ever (check out the euro-pop funeral scene). The direction is sloppy, the many outdoor night sequences are underlit, and there are several continuity errors. Somehow, one suspects the cast had more fun making this than the audience does watching it.

RETURN OF THE WEREWOLF, on the other hand, has quite a few redeeming qualities. Made with a larger budget, and directed by Naschy, it is a far more polished film. The action starts in 16th Century Transylvania, where Elizabeth Bathory (Saly), the evil countess who maintained her youth by bathing in the blood of virgins, is sentenced to death, along with several of her followers, including the werewolf Waldemar Daninsky. Flash-forward to 1982 Italy, where three young anthropologists – young, supermodel-type anthropologists – plan a trip to Bathory’s grave. One of them, Erika (Aguilar), is pursuing her own agenda; she has been in contact with Bathory’s spirit and seduced by the promise of satanic immortality. Meanwhile, grave robbers at a Transylvanian castle have stumbled upon Daninsky’s grave and foolishly awakened the lycanthrope, a bad move.

A few days later, the three students turn up in Transylvania, and on the way to the castle are attacked by bandits, only to be saved by a mysterious figure with a crossbow, none other than Daninsky. Erika locates Bathory’s grave, while Karen (Hernandez) learns more about their host, Daninsky, who’s posing as the ruined castle’s owner. Erika resurrects Bathory by sacrificing Barbara, and becomes herself a vampiric servant. The upshot of all this is twofold: it’s not a good time to be a villager in Transylvania, many of whom will be either punctured or mauled, and there’s a power struggle brewing between Bathory and Daninsky, who’s a pretty decent guy between full moons.

The ensuing struggle has a lot of the standard set piece action one expects in classic horror films; in fact, we caught a few sequences that were eerily identical to those seen in the old Universal films. Unfortunately the movie stumbles badly coming down the stretch, Still, Naschy shines in just about anything he does in this film, and his werewolf is both vicious and athletic. The writing, direction, and production values are also a lot tighter than Vengeance, and the credit for that has to go to Naschy, wearing three hats here (he directed in full makeup; it must have been quite a sight). His supporting cast, while not flawless, is an improvement over the earlier movie. Naschy could have made better use of them if he had at least given his vampires some lines.

NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF has enough good things going for it that one doesn’t want to knock it too viciously; it’s certainly as good as many Hammer films, and does a lot more with less than recent forays into this territory such as VAN HELSING. These films are noteworthy also in the context of Spanish cinema; remember that they were created during the end of the Franco years and often were not distributed in Spain. Naschy’s problems are those encountered by anyone who wants to recreate the Universal horror franchise: how do you keep such a venerable tradition fresh? VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES might have the better answer – incorporate different traditions and portray the intersection of traditions as a genuinely scary thing. After all, almost everyone finds some aspect of globalism a little frightening. Alternately, a more thorough investigation of character might make these old archetypes more interesting to contemporary audiences. HOWL and GINGER SNAPS both rework lycanthropy into something new and interesting.

These reissued films then are perhaps more for the connoisseur of horror films than the casual viewer. The DVDs are nicely packaged in both dubbed and letterbox versions, with the original trailers. They also have enjoyable introductions by Naschy, who is, despite his material, a true original.

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