Monday, February 27, 2006

Paul Naschy: The Eurotrash Quadruple Threat

He writes! He produces! He directs! He stars!

Born Jacinto Molina, fans of Eurotrash werewolf escapades and kitchen sink cinema know him as Paul Naschy, the bodybuilder turned prolific, underappreciated exploitation icon. Beloved or dismissed with love him/hate him enthusiasm, Naschy's filmography is a stream of high-concept ideas bolstered by low-budget craftiness. His most famous flicks feature the stocky John Belushi lookalike as cursed werewolf Waldemar Daninsky (and/or a Daninsky relative), who turns up in a baker's dozen or more classics like NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST and SHADOW OF THE WEREWOLF. But to write Naschy off as nothing more than the Spanish Lon Chaney would be a mistake.

I'm almost ashamed to admit that during my own exploitation education I had some sort of subliminal prejudice against Naschy. Thanks to early, unsatisfying encounters with such flicks, I often found myself passing up entries in the Naschy-ography due to those damn oversized boxes they were often found in. Hard as it may be to believe, I'd willingly watch every Z-grade piece of crap from junkmeisters like Full Moon but bypassed Naschy's work under the mistaken belief that they were nothing more than Universal monster mash retreads set to a Spanish beat.

For shame, for shame.

My introduction to Naschy's world, or the start of my Naschyfication as I like to call it, arrived at the hands of famed cult director Fred Olen Ray who treated fellow trashhounds and me to a screening of THE UNLIVING, a modern-day werewolf pic starring the aging Naschy in the Daninsky role that made him famous.

Part werewolf flick, part softcore T&A boob-a-thon, THE UNLIVING entertained beyond expectations thanks largely to Ray's presence in the director's chair. While most low-budget auteurs wouldn't know a zippy horror flick with comedic moments from their asshole, Ray's throwback werewolf outing recalls video classics like BEVERLY HILLS VAMP and BAD GIRLS FROM MARS. Unfortunately, THE UNLIVING was edited and retitled TOMB OF THE WEREWOLF for its domestic video release, leaving fans hoping for an international edition with the boobs and blood restored.

My interest piqued, I started my Naschyfication in earnest by delving into his unique filmography with another lycanthropic effort, 1976's NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST. Considered by many to be his werewolf CITIZEN KANE, BEAST doesn't disappoint and may have actually ruined me for future Naschy outings.

Before the credits roll we're treated to an attack on a ski troop by what appears to be some sort of abominable snowman (hence the alternate title THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI) prompting the Spanish Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. to send Naschy and Co. to Katmandu in an effort to capture the legendary creature.

What follows is one of the most action-packed and outlandish werewolf outings in cinematic history with: Naschy being captured by a pair of bi-sexual werewolf babes; a roving bunch of bandits led by a king who likes to have the skin of chained nubiles placed on his back; old school time-lapse transformation effects; the ol' werewolf chained to the tree trick; caged hotties, crazy witches, sorcery, and much more.

While Naschy would visit and re-visit Daninsky several times during his career, one of my favorite creations from his fertile mind would have to be the sinister sorcerer Alaric de Marnac, central figure in the mind-blowing HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB (1972). After de Marnac's head is chopped off, HORROR fast forwards to the present day where Hugo de Marnac (Naschy) and his painter pal Maurice (frequent Naschy co-star Vic Winner aka Victor Alcazar) start getting paranormal signs that all is not right with their world.

And nothing puts your world right like setting out to the old family estate to search for the legendary corpses of Alaric and his sorceress sidekick Mabille de Lancre (Helga Line). After locating de Marnac's head everybody in the vicinity of the estate starts to go nuts... locals commence hacking up everybody in sight, chicks in flimsy negliees start parading through the woods, and creepy organ music starts playing. Constantly.

Like HOWLING BEAST, HORROR RISES isn't afraid to push the envelope in odd and unexpected directions. Alaric's head rejoins his body and he and the reanimated Mabille cruise for victims while Hugo and Co. start looking for ways to stop the horny pair, resulting in everything from an ancient talisman and supernatural girl-on-girl action to zombies (yep, zombies), shotgun blasts and dialogue like "You stay here. It's going to be disagreeable." Not a werewolf in sight, though.

Quite frankly, I felt cheated watching HORROR RISES - it's the kind of flick my buddies and I would've killed to see back in the late 80s and early 90s, sucking back brews and munching on greasy Chinese food.

Never one to turn his back on a good thing, Naschy resurrected de Marnac - albeit in cameo form - for 1983's PANIC BEATS, which recently got a spectacular DVD treatment from the fine folks at Mondo Macabro. (Unfortunately, much of Naschy's work remains unavailable on legitimate DVD, though recent news from the B-movie grapevine suggests that fans might be rewarded with long overdue releases in 2006.)

While de Marnac plays a central role in PANIC BEATS' twisting, turning plot, the flick is far less a kitchen sink horror outing than a Hitchcockian tale of murder and mistrust spiced up with some bloody deaths.

Naschy (who also wrote and directed the tale) again stars, this time as Paul, a once poor architect who is married to the wealthy Genevieve (Julia Saly). With his wife suffering from a "condition" that worsens by the day, Paul decides to take her to his country estate - already established as not being a good idea - in the hopes that the country air will do her some good.

Upon arriving at the estate Genevieve takes an immediate dislike to Julie (former Miss Universe contestant Paquita Ondiviela), the nubile and perky niece of the estates's longtime housekeeper. As time passes, though, she warms up to the ambitious, orphaned Julie and even begins to have feelings for Paul again.

With Paul in Paris on business, things start to take a decided turn for the worse for Genevieve and her "condition." Snakes appear in her bed, mace-wielding knights show up at her door, and Julie serves her hideous dishes that leave something to be desired in terms of plate appeal. Is Paul trying to scare his rich wife to death? Does Julie have plans on becoming the woman of the house? Has Alaric returned from the grave to seek his revenge? You won't get me to say, since BEATS is a fun little thriller loaded with plenty of blood and gore, topless babes, Eurobush, double crosses and unexpected jolts for fans of offbeat cinema.

Don't get the idea that Naschy simply relies on repeat characters to pad his impressive filmography. In fact, if pushed to make a choice, I might pick 1972's brazenly outrageous RUE MORGUE MASSACRES (aka HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE) as the highpoint of Eurotrash cinema, not just Naschy's finest effort.

Wearing a prosthetic hump with pride, Naschy headlines as Gotho, the local hunchback who works at the medical school. Put the words "hunchback" and "medical school" in the same sentence and it's no shock that Gotho is prowling the streets and alleys at night, conking drunken idiots on the head and hacking off their appendages in the med school basement.

When vicious, teasing students prevent Gotho from being at the deathbed of the one person who treats him with respect and dignity, it's no surprise that our lovable hunchback goes ape, kills another med student and steals the body of Ilsa, the departed focus of his unrequited love. Escaping to his underground lair decorated in Early Spanish Inquisition, Gotho passes the time by waiting for Ilsa to wake up and - in one notorious sequence - setting rats on fire.

And that's just the first twenty minutes.

With his university funding axed, mad scientist Dr. Orla (Alberto Dalbes) persuades Gotho to let him move his lab to the underground lair. Flush with the thought of his beloved Ilsa waking from her sleep, Gotho sets about building a sulfuric acid pit with retractable cover and running electricity for the good doc's various machines.

I'm not sure that any description I can provide will do the wild and fantastic MASSACRES justice, but let's just say that any attempt at a synopsis would have to include the phrases "hunchback love," "howling synthesized protoplasm," and "teenage lesbian S&M chicks."

Obviously I'd be lying if I suggested that each and every one of Naschy/Molina's 80+ flicks is a winner. For every mind-blowing HUNCHBACK there's EXORCISM, a slow, though not unsatisfying, effort that Naschy claims he wrote before THE EXORCIST. For every wildly offbeat tale like HUMAN BEASTS or the post-apocalyptic PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK there's overrated clunkers like BEAST WITH THE MAGIC SWORD (a sleep-inducing mix of samurais and werewolves that has an inexplicably strong following) or COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE, a Gothic vampire tale in which a beefy vampire (Naschy) talks and talks and talks.... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

As I said, much of Naschy's work is still unavailable on DVD, though more trickles out (legitimately or not) all the time. With collectors and video stores frequently unloading their VHS tapes via flea markets and eBay, you can always pick up one of his flicks for a few bucks and give it a whirl. Much like fellow Eurotrash icon Klaus "The German Olivier" Kinski, there's almost always something to recommend even in he most misguided of outings.

For more information about Naschy's career and news of upcoming releases, check out To chat about Naschy, Kinski, Dario Argento and other stars of the Eurotrash universe, check out Eurotrash Paradise at Yahoo Groups.

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