Thursday, December 3, 2009

Paul Naschy: Werewolves of Poland & Other Monsters


An overview of actor, writer & director, the late Paul Naschy

I'm a bit late getting around to this, but as has already been widely reported within horror film circles and forums around the net, Paul Naschy is dead at 75 after having succumbed to cancer Monday night, December 1st. He was buried Wednesday in the Spanish city of Burgos, the hometown of his adoring wife, Elvira Primavera.

Having lived a long life filled with struggles, exuberance and sometimes harrowing events, Naschy (Jacinto Molina) became enchanted by the horror genre in both book and film during the early 1960's helped along by authors such as Stoker and Lovecraft. But prior to this fascination with the macabre, Naschy had found time to be a gymnast, a seven time weightlifting champion (beginning in 1958) and a stint in the Army among other equally memorable highlights. Naschy also narrowly missed representing Spain in the 1964 Olympics. Due to politics and ineffectual decision making by those that disliked him, Naschy was unable to partake in the renowned sporting event.

Naschy the mad guru in VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES (1972)

Having always been passionate about movies of various genres, especially westerns, the enterprising Naschy made THE FURY OF JOHNNY KID in 1967. Not long after, his passion for sagebrush sagas was being usurped by creepy castles and supernatural creatures of the night. He also was overjoyed to be given the chance to work with one of his idols, Boris Karloff, on an episode of the American television program, I SPY in 1966.

Naschy became immersed in films deeply rooted in Gothic trappings; not just the shadowy and fog enshrouded stages of the Universal horrors, but those from Britain's Hammer Films. It was in 1967 that he wrote the script for THE MARK OF THE WOLFMAN, a production that almost didn't get made and a script that was met with much trepidation from doubtful producers. "It started going around that a hair brained muscleman was on the loose with the idea of making a vampire movie, with a werewolf in it to boot, when everybody knew that only the Americans or the British could make that kind of picture."

The oddly US titled FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR from the original MARK OF THE WOLFMAN (1968)

Seeking advice with Amando de Ossorio, the future director of TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971), told Naschy he was too muscular to be an actor. However, hope finally came when the ambitious performer got word that both a Spanish and German production company held interest in mounting his wolfman production. However, several problems arose.

First, his wolfman couldn't be Spanish and any religious, sexual or graphic violence had to be toned down. Soon after, the Polish wolfman, Waldemar Daninsky was born.

When the project was nearly derailed after Lon Chaney Jr. was unable to partake in the lycanthropic role, Naschy was fated to appear as his most recognized character in Spanish horror cinema. MARK OF THE WOLFMAN was also notable in that it was professed to be the first werewolf picture to feature the lead monster with upper fangs (maybe the first European one). With the impending international release of the actors maiden monster movie, it was around this time the nom de plume of 'Paul Naschy' was born. Spying the name 'Paul' in a newspaper and utilizing the name of one of his weightlifting friends, Imre Nagy, the name Paul Naschy would adorn countless Spanish horror pictures for the next two decades.

Holding back the vampires in the cult favorite, WEREWOLF SHADOW (1970) aka WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN aka LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS

Next up would be the troubled production of THE NIGHTS OF THE WEREWOLF (1968), a film that has since become lost and apparently only a few stills taken from the film are in existence. The picture dealt with a diabolical scientist trying to control Daninsky, the werewolf. Then came ASSIGNMENT TERROR (1968), another rocky production that became a bizarre mix of science fiction and horror. Among the cast was Michael Rennie (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL) and spaghetti western actor, Craig Hill (I WANT HIM DEAD).

Naschy, the hunted from HUMAN BEASTS (1980)

I am curious if this film wasn't some sort of inspiration for Fred Dekker's THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987) as Naschy's ambitious movie featured a vampire, a mummy, a werewolf and Frankenstein's monster. It was also during this films making the iconic writer and actor would meet a mysterious woman who would introduce Naschy to a night of true horror that would later lead to some devilish entries bereft of Naschy's usual collage of monsters.


THE FURY OF THE WOLFMAN (1970) followed and featured a story akin to the lost production of THE NIGHTS OF THE WEREWOLF. Involving another evil scientist, it also featured a female werewolf in this less than stellar picture which went through two different directors culminating in one of the actors most disastrous cinematic endeavors.

More werewolf movies followed such as the atmospheric and internationally successful fan favorite, WEREWOLF SHADOW (1970), DR. JEKYLL & THE WEREWOLF (1971) and CURSE OF THE DEVIL (1973) among others. But it was a terrifying real life encounter with devil worshippers that no doubt inspired Naschy for his subsequent writing (and acting) chores on such pictures as HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB (1973), DEVIL'S POSSESSED (1974) EXORCISM (1975) and much later, PANIC BEATS in 1982.

Naschy exorcises a possessed young woman in EXORCISM (1975)

In 1972, Naschy would undertake his sole interpretation of the legendary character of Dracula in COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE. Yet another production rife with problematic occurrences, it nonetheless is a bizarre, yet extremely atmospheric motion picture which many fans adore although I find it on the nonsensical side.

Gotho cuts a corpse from HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE (1972)

The same year would see Naschy tackle a role near and dear to his heart. THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE saw the esteemed horror veteran play the character of Wolfgang Gotho, the hunchback of the title. The film dealt with this pitiable fellow loving a woman beyond death. In the film, Gotho helps a mad scientist on the pretense that he will restore his beloved to life. However, only once the deranged doctor brings his own horrific creation to fruition.

Rats eat away at Gotho's dead girlfriend in HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE

The film is notable for a sequence wherein Naschy allows a pack of starving rats to bite him for the authenticity of the scene. The actor took the precaution of wearing protection from the creatures, but still felt pain from their ravenous teeth. Another harrowing point of note is that originally a real corpse was used for the decapitation sequence. Naschy became queasy upon making the first cut so a fake head was created for the scene.


The film won numerous awards for the actor and led to his meeting both Peter Cushing and Terence Fisher. The latter was interested in using Naschy in an updated version of DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE, but that promising team up eventually fell by the wayside.

A typical conclusion this one from NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF (1980) aka EL RETORNO DE HOMBRE LOBO

Next was one of the man's wildest excursions into the world of horror movies. Naschy himself proclaimed he must have been on some kind of drugs for his participation in this production. The film in question is VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES (1972) and it's excesses can be perceived as either working in its favor, or against it. You be the judge. Naschy revisited zombie territory with BEYOND THE LIVING DEAD the following year. It was recently released on R1 dvd under one of its alternate titles, THE HANGING WOMAN.

The stunning Helga Line and Paul Naschy remove the heart of one of their victims in HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB (1973)

Naschy would also add a violently gory mummy movie to his resume with THE MUMMY'S REVENGE in 1973 as well a Giallo entry entitled BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL the same year. The latter was more famously released as HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN. Also this year would herald one of the man's most memorably gruesome pictures, HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB. Here, Naschy plays a sadistic sorcerer decapitated along with his female accomplice (played by beauty, Helga Line). He returns centuries later to exact revenge on the descendants of his executioners.


1975 saw Naschy return to werewolf territory with one of the most lively, bloody and action packed of his lycanthropic monster movies. NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST was an unusual entry in that Naschy's character of Waldemar Daninsky does not die at the end. Ripe with gore and action, the film features impalements, throat rippings, flesh eating and a nasty scene of skin flaying. The plot deals with an expedition to see if the legendary Yeti exists, but the group run afoul of Mongolian bandits led by their evil queen.


The actors transformation into the wolfman is unusual this time out as he and a companion become lost and end up in a cave with two gorgeous women. After having sex with both, our hero awakens to find the two girls feasting on his friend. Being bitten in a scuffle, these two cannibalistic women endow Naschy with the powers of the famed Polish wolfman. By the end of the film, the Yeti makes his belated appearance scuffling with Waldemar in the snow for a minute or two before 'The End' is plastered on screen.


The actor soon turned to directing and churned out a film dealing with the French Inquisition entitled simply enough, INQUISITION in 1976. In 1980, the writer/actor continued his directing gig with one of his favorite roles and another wolfman movie, THE NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF (aka EL RETORNO DEL HOMBRE LOBO). Essentially a remake of his 1970 classic, WEREWOLF SHADOW (aka THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN), the film definitely appeals to the actors dedicated fan base and is brimming with atmosphere. However, as with most of the man's works, that, and his sometimes lively performances are the only saving graces. The finale features a dynamite confrontation between Waldemar and the vampiric Bathory.

Naschy pursued by HUMAN BEASTS (1980)

Also in 1980, Paul Naschy would embark to Japan for a series of Spanish/Japanese co-productions (not all of them horror films) beginning with a tale of crime and cannibalism with HUMAN BEASTS. 1983 would bring to life one of the filmmakers best loved motion pictures and one considered his best movie by many fans. The Spanish/Japanese co-pro of THE BEAST & THE MAGIC SWORD. Considering Japan had their own heritage featuring lycanthropy, it was a bizarre, yet natural marriage between the European and the Nippon style of fantasy filmmaking. Shot at Toshiro Mifune's studios, the large scale production wasn't without its problems which brought some headache for Naschy as both writer and director. When the film premiered, Akira Kurosawa was among the guests and duly congratulated Naschy on wonderfully capturing the Japanese period atmosphere of the time.

Naschy as the Devil from VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES (1972)

Taking something of a hiatus from the fantasy horror genre, Naschy returned to the well of horror with what became one of his most lavish, yet difficult and problem plagued productions to date. HOWL OF THE DEVIL featured the talents of both Caroline Munro and Howard Vernon in what was supposed to be an English friendly film. Difficulties arose which kept the film from ever appearing on theater screens or video in America. For this picture, Naschy played a wide array of horror icons such as Rasputin, Satan, a werewolf, Frankenstein's monster, Fu Manchu, the Phantom of the Opera and Mr. Hyde among others.

Naschy again in one of a few roles from the insane VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES (1972)

During the 90's and into the new millennium, Naschy continued to act in horror productions (he returned to the werewolf role that made him famous with the 1996 film LYCANTHROPUS which got media attention in Fangoria magazine). In 2000, Naschy had all but given up in securing funding for another Waldemar Daninsky production to be entitled THE EYES OF THE WOLF. Regardless, the Spanish king of horror left behind 14 incarnations of his famed wolfman among numerous other iconic horror figures.

Naschy playing the brother (one of three roles) to the vile Alaric de Marnac in HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB (1973)

Paul Naschy's cinematic influences were American serials, German Expressionistic cinema, Universal and Hammer horror and also those of the Italian style of genre filmmaking. His career is one filled with just as much real life adventure as big screen escapades. Naschy so loved the cinema of the fantastic, he would often portray multiple roles in his horror films as already noted from some of the pictures discussed above.


He was able to make acquaintances with many of his screen idols such as Karloff and Christopher Lee as well as numerous acting awards (He received his first Sitges Festival award for his work on the Spanish-Italian co-production, JACK THE RIPPER in 1971) for his work in furthering the exposure of Spanish horror cinema, which, prior to his undying and loyal perseverance, did not exist. Having also dabbled in westerns, crime pictures, comedies and action adventure films, it's the horror movies of Naschy that are most remembered. The late purveyor of Gothic Spanish horror leaves behind an eclectic and distinctive resume of nightmarish terror tales that live on in the hearts and minds of European horror fans around the world.

Paul Naschy quote taken from his autobiography, Memoirs Of A Wolfman
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