Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Hunchback of the Morgue (1972) review
HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE 1972
Paul Naschy (Gotho), Maria Elena Arpon (Ilsa), Rosanna Yanni (Elke), Maria Perschy (Frieda), Vic Winner (Tauchner)
Directed by Javier Aguirre
Gotho, an abused and very sad man who also happens to be a hunchback, is in love with a young lady (Arpon). She is terminally ill and Gotho stays by her side all through the day. After she succumbs to her illness, a scientist claims he can bring her back to life if Gotho would help him in his experiments by supplying him with cadavers. The scientist creates a monster festering inside a vat full of viscera. Realizing the mad doctor has no intention of bringing his loved one back from the dead, Gotho destroys the lab and struggles briefly with the creature before both fall into a vat of acid.
Considered to be Naschy's masterpiece, the film is visually striking if nothing else. Like so many other Spanish horrors, the narrative is muddled and bewildering. Naschy is excellent in the role of the hunchback, Gotho. The scenes where children throw rocks at him, or is verbally abused by adults are quite poignant. The big problem is that Gotho is too quick to lop off someone's head or sever limbs from torso's for the audience to feel much sympathy for him. At the outset you see Gotho slicing off limbs from dead cadavers in the morgue he works in. These scenes are at odds with the ones that are supposed to create compassion for his character. If the film had only built up to the gory acts through Gotho's numerous scenes of ill-treatment at the hands of his persecutors, the film would have been more powerful and the characters more involving. But then, this is an exploitation movie and it definitely delivers the goods. Naschy did in fact win several awards for his performance beating out actors like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing at various film festivals around the world. An exuberant moment for Naschy no doubt considering the reverence he holds for both esteemed British actors.
Naschy talks of Lee on the commentary track exclaiming how unapproachable he is/was, and how Lee hates to talk about his many incarnations as Dracula. Lee would seem to have made peace with his disgruntled feelings towards his famous vampire role but even so, Naschy doesn't speak very kindly of him despite his respect for Lee. An interesting note on the commentary track, Naschy talks about Lee's involvement and touring with heavy metal bands, those two being Manowar and the Italian metal group Rhapsody of Fire.
Getting back to the movie, the set design is exquisitely gothic and suitably nasty matching the grim tone of the picture. The score, although extremely repetitive, is quite good. There is also plentiful gore; more than the usual Spanish horror movie although Naschy's THE MUMMY'S REVENGE (1973) is also loaded down with gore. The effects are good for the time. One scene in particular revolves around Gotho actually cutting away on a real bonafide corpse. Naschy says in the commentary that he was given permission to sever the head by the morticians but he could only perform one cut before becoming queasy. Another scene that is most talked about involves Naschy being attacked and bitten by live rats. This notorious scene cuts rather quickly so it is difficult to see anything but Naschy did have protective clothing on and had to be vaccinated afterwards. Not only relegated to Italian cannibal movies, animal cruelty extends to Spain as the rats in this sequence are burned alive by Gotho with a torch.
Rosanna Yanni, who was also in Naschy's splendidly gothic, but nonsensical COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE (1972), is involved with Gotho in a minor "romantic" subplot that is never really explored although a sequence involving the two making love revealing Gotho's paper mache hump is missing from this version, supposedly no longer in existence. This title has long been available from bootleg outfits with one listing the film as having "lots of hunchback sex". We do get a very brief glimpse of one of Yanni's assets here but if you blink, you'll miss it. I suppose Naschy fans will have to wait for a more complete version to surface. This German DVD from Anolis is lovingly packaged with plentiful extras, but at 78 minutes, the film still feels short despite the abundance of blood and guts thrown about.
Maria Perschy is wasted here and has little to do. The pretty Maria Elena Arpon, Virgina in TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971), also has little to do here as Gotho's doomed love interest. She's only in the movie for a brief time before playing a corpse the remainder of the film. She was apparently a trouper allowing the rats to crawl all over her face and body during the catacombs scene where the rats descend on Gotho.
The scientific jargon makes little sense and it's never made clear why the mad doctor wants to make a creature out of a tub full of guts in the first place. This bit of the storyline is very similar to FRANKENSTEIN and it was not unusual for Naschy to combine various monsters from the old Universal movies he loved so much. The monster itself looks remarkably similar to the one seen in the nutty Shaw Brothers exploitation classic THE OILY MANIAC (1976).
Naschy is still appearing in movies today. In the tradition of Christopher Lee having appeared as Dracula more than any other actor, Naschy has played a werewolf (and a Polish werewolf at that!) more times than anyone else. His movies may be wildly illogical and provide little else aside from visual entertainment, but Naschy obviously has passion for what he does. His performance here is one of the best he ever delivered despite the uneven way his character behaves which is at odds at making the audience feel for his plight. HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE (1972) is definitely worth seeking out for fans of Paul Naschy and sleazy European horror cinema in general.
This review is representative of the Anolis region 2 DVD from Germany. There is an English audio track in addition to Spanish and German language tracks. The commentary track with Paul Naschy has English subtitles.
DVD availability: Anolis Entertainment (Germany; R2), Tripictures (Spain; R2)