I might be overstating the importance of Paul Naschy (AKA Jacinto Molina) to Spanish horror cinema, or maybe I'm not. Looked at from the proper angle, one could argue that the sturdy stalwart IS Spanish horror cinema, and without him guys like Guillermo Del Toro would be doing something else. Even if my hyperbole-machine is malfunctioning, it's impossible to ignore the huge shadow Naschy casts on the genre in Spain. Would that his 1974 effort with director Juan Bosch - Exorcism (Exorcismo in Spanish) - could be more exciting than it is. Hey, with as many films to your credit as Naschy has, I guess they can't all be winners.
According to Naschy, Exorcism was written three years before that pea-soup titan The Exorcist was released. Similarities between the two are insignificant enough to partially acquit Exorcism from charges of cashing-in. Only a climatic bumpy ride on a bed, some little-used hideous make-up, and heavy drooling really tie the two together. Themes of fractured families and questionable morals also play into Naschy's script, (certainly not rarities in the horror genre) which focuses mainly on the travails of an independent daughter growing up too fast. In this case, she's mixed up with a boyfriend who's into drugs and naked satanic orgies (aren't they all?) Her brother is deeply opposed to this relationship, blaming the weird-beard lover for a car crash that almost takes his sister's life. Instead, she comes back from the near dead with a filthy mouth, anti-social leanings, and eventually bulging purple pupils. Yes, and many people close to her end up with their necks broken.
Only erstwhile religious confidant, Father Dunning (Naschy) possesses the ability to sort the mess out, a stinky stew that may involve the girl's deceased father, or Satan, or any number of suspicious servants. Yet, not even a juiced-up state-side version of one of those rituals (mostly chaste nude disco-dancing in front of an altar) and the still kind-of disturbing ultimate possession/ exorcism scenes can save Exorcism from being a talky bore. Stolid Naschy comes off like a well meaning but boring gym teacher in priest's clothing, and most of the action revolves around the man sitting around yakking with various characters about matters of faith-versus-modern-mores. Sure, the man can brew a weird cup of coffee, but what we really want are more incendiary copies (or original takes) on stuff that happened to poor Regan in Friedkin's movie.
Solid performances throughout, great production design, kinkiness and a little Beelzebub booby baring prove insufficient to rescue Exorcism from the trash-heap of Linda Blair-loving wannabes, leaving this effort only for hardcore Naschy fans or demonic possession devotees who must have it all.
Blue Eyes Of The Broken Doll:
Slick, smooth and Continental, there can be no better opening theme music for a hitchhiker of jazzy doom than is featured during the credits of Blue Eyes Of The Broken Doll. Inspired by Dario Argento's giallo productions, Naschy and Carlos Aured co-wrote, with Aured directing, this gory Spanish mystery thriller. While it doesn't reach the heights of some better gialli, Blue Eyes certainly gives it a good shot, with a little bit of gore, a few red herrings, a handful of stylish, suspenseful set-pieces, and Naschy's inimitable presence.
Mysterious, haunted drifter Gilles (Naschy) seems to be doing his best David Banner impression, drifting from village to village in France, looking for work and love while getting no respect. To his regret, he winds up playing handyman for three nut-job women in vaguely creepy old house. Sexual tension mounts and is released numerous times as Blue Eyes first veers into vertiginous, ultra-soft-core territory; the three sisters in the house seem intent on each taking a whack at Gilles. Not that obstacles aren't present; sister one has a mangled arm and mechanical hand, sister two is confined to a wheelchair, and sister three - even hotter than the rest and seemingly normal - is bound by mandatory fealty to the clan. Worse, while Gilles can't shake stylistic dreams of strangling women, some other loony is cutting girl's eyes out. Add suspicious doctors, shifty nurses, lurking townsfolk, irate ex-employees, and gung-ho gendarmes to the mix and you've got a recipe for mystery, boobs and bloodletting.
In fact this complete uncut version includes Aured's unscripted addition, the gruesome, gratuitous slaughter of a live pig - a truly gory bit that certainly heightens the horror. Excepting that, Blue Eyes bubbles along gleefully, when the 'psychotic women' aren't throwing themselves at Gilles, he's fighting off attackers, and everyone's acting like they've got something to hide. When the murders commence they're not graphic by today's standards, despite scenes of excised eyeballs dropping into bowls - and the iconic image of a woman being menaced by a garden claw winding up on the cover of McCarty's seminal book 'Splatter Movies.' Veering between a sincere (but ultimately off-target) stylized giallo and a more conventional, Continental Naschy thriller, Blue Eyes at least thoroughly satisfies with plenty of varied, lurid thrills.
Why so glum, Paul Naschy? Even if I hadn't read the Human Beasts liner notes after watching, (spoilers aplenty in the liner notes!) I still noticed a distinctly musty air of bitterness and despair wafting throughout this film. Sure, there's some comic relief in the form of a Pepe Ruiz's character, randy Don Serafin, but much of this weird crime-thriller/ horror movie hybrid focuses on various and sundry bad people behaving badly, with little room for understanding or redemption.
Going from boring talk to breakneck gunfire in a short 15 minutes, Human Beasts (AKA El Carnaval De Las Bestias) surely starts with a bang or two. But when our sullen hero Bruno Rivera (Naschy) finally ends up getting some much-needed rest in a mysterious villa, wouldn't you just know the two daughters of the villa's owner immediately hop into the sack with Rivera - wait for it - leading to another bang or two. Hey, this is a Paul Naschy movie, isn't it? Further adding to Blue Eyes Of The Broken Doll deja vu is the fact that the Beast villa is the same distinctive villa from that other movie.
Sadly, after the guns and the flesh, this odd Spanish/ Japanese co-production ambles around without much focus; innocent people die, good folks are driven mad with the desire for revenge, a mysterious presence lurks about the house and crazed pigs get a little gastronomic retribution.
This laundry list of offensive material loses out to weak gore effects, while a lack of focus diffuses things further. Plus, Naschy's wet-blanket themes seem less in the service of creating a coherent plot and more concerned with simply expressing a negative view of humanity. I'm all for nihilism as long as there's a sharp narrative trajectory to carry you along, but as Human Beasts swings from crime caper to lurid, groundless shocker and back (with racially-charged, humorous sado-sex thrown in for good measure) Naschy's disappointment with humanity bleeds over into the seats. In other words, not even a platter of sleaze can save the viewer from being disappointed as well.
Horror Rises From The Tomb:
Pretty much everything but the kitchen sink rises from the tomb in this, a movie probably closer to what most horror fans think a Naschy film should be like. No fewer than three-and-a-half types of horror movie goons menace Naschy and his friends, while all manner of bodily harm is wreaked and all manner of body parts are revealed for your delight. Two things might occur with such a heady miasma, ultimate disaster or ghoulish delight. If your head's on right, you'll probably feel the latter effect when Horror Rises From The Tomb.
An atmospheric 15th century fen and hillside forms our introduction; knights and clerics lead a chained pair to the killing tree. The lovers - vampire/ warlock and witch - deem it right to lay the usual family curses before receiving the axe, so to speak. Flash forward to find Naschy and his jaded friends unconvinced by a sťance they attend, during which they request the presence of our long-dead warlock Marnac. So outraged are they by this display of charlatanism they take it upon themselves to disinter the ghouls, just to prove the medium's a fake. Bad idea Naschy!
Let the bubbling frenzy begin, as Marnac (looking strangely like Jack Black) begins a-hypnotizing folks, raising his witchy lover from the dead, raising zombies, liberating heads and hearts from bodies, and sexing up a lady or two for good measure. Beautifully atmospheric, this is the kind of movie that would have seriously warped my mind as a kid. Now arriving uncut on DVD, the scares, gore and atmosphere pack considerably less punch, but still manage some tense, mesmerizing sequences and even a jump scare upon occasion. Gore is of the bright-red-blood variety, with gory applications laid over obviously still living bodies, so even though these kills are gruesome and transgressive, our generation will find them more fun than revolting. The fact that many grue-filled gashes are on naked bodies just seems to be value-added.
In tone, Horror Rises is fairly dour, no-one cracks a smile - what with all the zombies and ripped-out hearts, a writing and directing choice working well in the movie's favor. Serious performances not only hold the careening script together, they make all the lovely flesh on display seem much more naughty - fraught with tension as warm, quivering bodies face the blade. Really it's quite nice, every character willing to doff the duds for screens' sake, and for Marnac and Elvira to be so eager to bed their victims, no matter how you slice it, everyone ends up a winner.
Clearly Horror Rises From The Tomb is over-the-top, and a shining example of sleazy Euro-trash cinema. Released in 1972, everything about it seems dated and lacks original impact, but a naked body slashed to raise a corpse - no matter how unconvincingly performed - still crosses a boundary. Satisfying Joe Bob Brigg's requirements, Horror delivers the blood, beasts and breasts, with atmosphere and '70s-inflected gothic style to spare.
Vengeance Of The Zombies:
This collection's final slice of cinematic lunacy from Senor Naschy ends things on a high note of low art. While the icon's introduction to the movie paints it as one of his most horrifying efforts (come to think of it, seems like each introduction makes that claim for its respective movie) hardened genre fans and their ten-year-old kids won't be too traumatized by this loony effort. In truth Naschy's zombies are a creepy crew, but this budget melodrama full of brightly lit bedrooms and crackpot attitude is more-than-ready for the MST3K treatment, which of course means that fans who like their horror both ways should be delighted.
We don't want to destroy any plot twists, and believe it or not, this one has plenty, so we'll keep things loose. After watching a seemingly well-to-do couple engage in a little desperate, futile grave robbing, we wind up in London-town, where a backdrop of the most indistinguishably catchy pop jazz finds Naschy in his first of three roles for this feature. Playing Indian Krisna, the auteur holds burning coals in his hands, inspiring his admirer Elvire (Romy) to follow him to a creepy small town where all sorts of mysterious stuff occurs. Elvire suffers horrible nightmares, some dude in a Guy Fawkes mask sneaks around engaging in bargain basement voodoo, and a bunch of half-naked female zombies drift around in slow-motion bugging out their eyes and behaving very poorly.
Even with such horrorific nonsense and an obviously suffering budget, Vengeance manages to latch on to a form of linearity, with an understandable conclusion that makes you feel like you've been on a little delirious journey. Plus, Naschy manages to set the action in the same house used for Blue Eyes Of The Broken Doll and Human Beasts, so if you ever feel disoriented or scared, you've got that familiarity to fall back on. Rock-bottom gore effects get much needed support from gruesome makeup used to disfigure Naschy's other role. (Actually, Naschy also cameos as Satan himself in a lurid dream sequence.) Real exploitation geeks will be heartened or sickened by a live chicken sacrifice that bolsters tenuous voodoo verisimilitude, and no one can deny disturbing/ alluring qualities given off by zombies. These distaff undead are a bit past their prime, but still-full and heaving bosoms beneath diaphanous robes are kind of sweet, even though grayed-out faces (the only body parts made to look dead, by the way) looming freakily at the camera will give you serious pause.
Just when you think you can't understand anything else that happens, lazily relaxing into a desire to only see more nude zombies and cheap decapitations, Naschy ties it all together, explaining things through his amazing dual-performance. His Krisna is so subtly and convincingly made-up it took me more than half the movie to finally accept that it really was Naschy beneath those flowing locks and robes. Certainly he betrays none of the usual Naschy-style stoicism, just convincing asceticism in a mostly subtle acting job. I think it was when he began groping his topless assistant that I fully caught on. His alter-ego character Kantaka, however, more than makes up for it with ghoulish histrionics as a Freddy Kruger-esque Houngan intent on taking over the world. To lead us out from this hellish nightmare world, Naschy programs that reassuring pop-jazz tune over a peppy end-credits sequence. You'll be humming the tune as you try to go to sleep, even if you have no idea what the singer is mumbling about.
Blue Eyes Of The Broken Doll (AKA House Of Psychotic Women) also comes in fullscreen, 1.33:1 ratio, with nice bright colors, a decently sharp image with better than average detail levels, and good black levels as well. Some edge enhancement crops up here and there, but it's the only real digital transfer problem.
Human Beasts arrives in 1.85:1 widescreen ratio, with the same mastering treatment as all other features in this set. Colors are nice and rich, too, though the image seems a bit soft and has slightly more grain and noise than others in this set. I'll toss most of the softness up to a stylistic choice, however.
Horror Rises From The Tomb gets the 1.85:1 ratio, looking just as nice as the best examples in this collection, while Vengeance Of The Zombies goes back to the 1.33:1 ratio we all know and love. This one looks quite nice as well, though grain is a little more prominent during those strange slo-mo zombie sequences, many of which take place in a dark graveyard.
Exorcism also sports a 29 minute Interview With Paul Naschy which is quite thoughtful and comprehensive (in Spanish with subtitles). About three minutes of Alternate 'Clothed' Versions of Nude Scenes used for the original Spanish theatrical release focus only on two actual scenes, which are obviously more chaste. Good for needless comparisons, I guess. Give me the old B&B (boobs and bush for my non-PC friends) and leave the clothes for the squares, I say!
Blue Eyes Of The Broken Doll gets a Commentary Track with Naschy and director Carlos Aured, moderated by Angel Gomez Rivero.
Human Beasts also includes The Vampyre, a short film directed by Alejandro Ballesteros and Antonio Curado, and starring Naschy.
Horror Rises From The Tomb also offers up a Commentary Track with Naschy and director Carlos Aured, moderated by Angel Gomez Rivero, as well as more Alternate Clothed Sequences for prudes and completists.
Vengeance Of The Zombies also enjoys those Alternate Clothed Sequences.