Thursday, November 29, 2007

Naschy Strikes Again as HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE!

Though the late, great Klaus Kinski will always be nearest and dearest to my trash film loving heart, my exposure to the whacked out world of Paul Naschy continually reminds me of why I love these damn movies in the first place. While I don't love absolutely everything I've seen (the snoozy COUNT DRACULA'S GREATEST LOVE and overrated BEAST WITH THE MAGIC SWORD perplex me to this day) his flicks all have a decidedly off-kilter sensibility that makes them like a carnival funhouse – you just never know what's around the corner.

Take the fabulously entertaining HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE for instance. After a credit sequence set to a jaunty brauhaus score that belies the horrors to come, we arrive at the local tavern where everything's big – the beers, the boobs and the idiots. Udo, the most drunken idiot of the bunch, decides to head home by himself, a bad move in this med school town where Gotho the hunchback (Naschy) is on the prowl.

Sure enough, Gotho pounces on the drunken lout and the next thing you know he's hacking the poor guy's appendages off in the basement of the med school. Udo, as it turns out, was the boyfriend of Ilsa (Maria Elena Arpon), a terminally ill young woman who grew up with Gotho and is one of the few people to treat him with respect and dignity. While others look down upon, tease, throw rocks at and generally mistreat the hunchback, Ilsa loves his visits. Which means she's not long for this world.

When vicious, teasing med students keep him from being at Ilsa's side when she dies, Gotho goes wild and kills another drunken med student and steals Ilsa's body from the morgue. Escaping to his subterranean lair decorated in early Spanish Inquisition, Gotho wiles away the days waiting for Ilsa to wake up. Oh yeah, and keeping the rats off her. (In one of the flick's most notorious sequences, Gotho lights the rats on fire to keep them off Ilsa's body. And thanks to the animal rights standards at the time, well, let's just say that these are not animatronic rodents.)

And that's just the film's first twenty minutes! The flick – with story and script by Naschy – gets super crazy with the introduction of Dr. Orla (Alberto Dalbes), a university professor researching what every crazy scientist researches in these flicks: How to create life from death.

With his university funding axed, Dr. Orla pounces upon Gotho's love for Ilsa and promises to "wake her up" if the hunchback will let him move his lab down into the caverns. Poor Gotho just wants his Ilsa back, and if he has to build a sulfuric acid pit with retractable cover and wire an underground cave for electricity, by golly, that's what he's gonna do.

Yes, Gotho is a multiple murderer obsessed with a dead woman. Yes, he's got a crazy ol' hump and a "gorilla's face." But there's something quite lovable about this deformed, love-sick, homicidal handyman.

At this point, HUNCHBACK detours into more craziness than I can possibly describe. Let's just say that Dr. Orla continues to walk the fine line between brilliant and insane, the Spanish Mariette Hartley (Rossana Yanni) gets herself a little Hunchback Love and there's a howling Synthesized Protoplasm locked in a cavern cell. And I didn't even mention the teenage lesbian S&M chicks at the local women's reformatory!

HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE is fun-filled Eurotrash with off-the-wall plot twists, a nicely layered performance by Naschy, and enough B-movie grue and gratuitous violence to please gore fans. I've seen the flick a couple times now and while I've always appreciated Naschy starring performance I've really grown to love Dalbes as the nail-biting and out of control Orla. His obsession with the mutant protoplasm drives the flick's second half and he eats up his scenes with gusto.

I'm really hoping that HUNCHBACK will follow in the footsteps of HORROR RISES, NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF and the upcoming HUMAN BEASTS and get a world class video release from the folks at BCI.

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