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Monday, March 1, 2010

Inquisition (1976) review

Naschy as Satan bringing Catherine into his circle of evil


Paul Naschy (Bernard de Fossey), Daniela Giordano (Catherine), Julia Saly (Elvire), Monica Randall (Madeleine), Antonio Iranzo (Renover)

Directed by Paul Naschy (Jacinto Molina)

***WARNING! This review contains pics of nudity and violence***

Witchfinder, Bernard de Fossey arrives in Pyriac with his compatriots and finds the Plague and followers of the Devil

Witch hunter, Bernard de Fossey and two other inquisitors, Nicolas and Pierre arrive in the town of Pyriac whose surrounding countryside has been beset by the plague. Staying at the home of a wealthy nobleman, Bernard quickly becomes entranced with Catherine, one of two daughters. Meantime, Bernard sets about arresting, torturing and burning those suspected of being in league with the Devil.

Catherine seeks the aid of the witch, Mabille to give her the power to get revenge for the murder of her lover

Later, Catherine's fiance is killed by a group of robbers while on a trip to see his uncle. Desperate to learn the identity of his murderer, Catherine seeks the aid of Mabille, a maid within the Count's castle and leader of a coven of witches. Catherine barters her soul to Satan to avenge her dead fiance. Seeing Bernard as the man supposedly responsible for the murder, she initiates the witchfinder's downfall.

Internationally famed horror star, Paul Naschy embarks on his first directorial effort and proves he was a much better director than those that were directing him. He shows an amazing amount of assurance in the director's chair with a great attention to detail and continuity. It makes one wonder just how his past forays as an actor would have turned out had he been directing those as well. Following in the tradition of past Witch/Devil movies such as the classic WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968), the gruesome MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970) and Ken Russell's THE DEVILS (1971), Naschy's movie follows the template set down by those and other similar movies.

Bernard seals his doom after making love to Catherine, now a satanist, the woman he has become entranced with

However, Molina's film is decidedly different in certain aspects. Several of these are quite striking actually. INQUISITION relies heavily on characterization and at times resembles a bloody and graphic soap opera. Naschy, the star, is at the center of it all, but equal screen time is given to Giordano's tragic character of Catherine. Actually, both Catherine and Bernard are tragic individuals; Bernard for allowing the allure of a woman to corrupt his sense of duty and Catherine, fraught with grief, corrupts her soul to learn who killed her fiance. Her ambitions fail her and satanic pact with the Devil proves to be her undoing as she systematically brings about the end of both her life, and that of Bernard.

Catherine confesses and brings down the witchfinder general with her

The ending is a cruel twist of fate as it is discovered that Bernard had nothing to do with the killing of her betrothed. By that point, it's too late as Catherine confesses to partaking in black mass as well as making love to de Fossey, thereby cursing him to burn at the stake alongside her. This sequence is one of the strongest in the movie and resonates the underlying theme of faith and the consequences of losing it. Even so, Bernard is saddened, yet stoic when the flames consume him; his faith is reaffirmed. Catherine, on the other hand, cries out in terror as she is burned alive; her faith in Satan has betrayed her.

One of the women is tortured on the rack

For this fascinating Italian-Spanish co-production, Naschy set about doing research on the various Inquisitions and discovered to his surprise, that the more widely known Spanish inquisition was the least brutal! For his film, Naschy based his script on an actual French incident involving the romance between a judge and a woman accused of practicing witchcraft. Just as in the cinematic version, the doomed couple were burned at the stake. Naschy spends a decent amount of time on these two individuals at the expense of the typical salacious elements inherent in this kind of horror movie.

The gut wrenching nipple ripping scene

That's not to say INQUISITION (1976) has nothing of interest to horror fans. Not only does it feature the resourceful Naschy as both the Devil and 'Death' itself, it also boasts several scenes of torture including one of the nastiest scenes of violence in the 'witch-torture' subgenre wherein a condemned woman has her nipple ripped off by a menacing looking pair of medieval pliers.

Catherine is prepared by both Madeleine and Mabille for her date with the Devil

There's also an astounding amount of nudity including one scene with four buxom beauties emerging from a river after their clothes have been stolen by Renover, a sexually frustrated cripple. This particular one eyed character figures into a subplot in which he divulges information to the authorities on the pretty girls who do in fact practice witchcraft; exposing them because they refuse to accept his sexual advances.

Sex plays a big role in this movie. It causes the downfall of the two main protagonists as well as brings about the death of a handful of beautiful women because they laugh and mock at the sexual advances of Renover, the one eyed, sex obsessed man. Having had enough of the women making fun of him, he reports to Bernard and his group about the women's secret life as witches. This leads to a small series of torture and death sequences mentioned above.

There's not a lot of gore, but what there is, is some of the most grim effects work ever to grace a Spanish horror picture in the 1970's. The opening of the film also features some gruesome plague victims. These scenes are made all the more unpleasant in that the women are topless, discolored and bearing lots of sores all over their bodies.

In other similar films, the condemned were innocent victims tortured to the point where there was no choice but to confess just so the torture would cease. Here, (as in movies like CRY OF THE BANSHEE) there really are practicing witches and they're not necessarily the villains, at least not at first. There's also a couple of "dream" sequences depicting Hell and Catherine's initiation into the Devil's coven of apostate's. The first incarnation of the Devil is a bit silly, but this scene is still effectively nightmarish. The next sequence that depicts Hell, features Naschy as the Devil in a more human looking guise. This scene also provides a bit of violence as a naked woman has her throat cut and the Devil drinks the blood from a skull.

Daniela Giordano, in addition to being a beautiful actress, is a familiar face to European genre fans having appeared in giallo's and spaghetti westerns, mostly lesser efforts like FIND A PLACE TO DIE (1968) starring American actor, Jeffrey Hunter. The soundtrack is also quite good and bombastic in places. I'm not sure if all of it is original, or not, but certain cues are library tracks as these have been heard in numerous Shaw Brothers action films.

Elvire (Julia Saly) is confronted once more by Renover

The sexy demeanor of Julia Saly will be recognizable to those who have seen enough of Naschy's movies. She played Countess Bathory in Naschy's NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF (1980), a remake of his own WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN from 1971. Here, she plays one of Mabille's witches as well as the main object of obsession for Renover. Curiously, the witches seen here seem benevolent at first and don't get overly violent until they begin to be exposed and tortured by the court.

The poignant finale of INQUISITION (1976)

The ambitious and late 'Jack-of-all-Trades', Jacinto Molina, alias Paul Naschy debuts in an impressive maiden effort in the directors chair. The film will probably not appeal to impatient horror hounds who will likely have their hands on the fast forward button some of the time. INQUISITION (1976) possesses a lot of intriguing qualities to fans of the actor-writer turned director as well as those that don't mind a lot of substance married to a little sleaze. Naschy's tale of witch hunting is a high mark in Spanish horror cinema, one of the best I've seen and proves once more that Jacinto Molina was an exceptional director and a filmmaker with a lot of talent.

This review is representative of the Vellavision/Resen R0 PAL DVD from Spain. There are no English options or subtitles of any kind. The same 78 Naschy documentary (also no subs) from BEAST WITH THE MAGIC SWORD is present on this disc as well.


I Like Horror Movies said...

Another beautiful transfer and excellent review V, another one I am going to have to get my hands on! I love Mark of the Devil and Witchfinder General has stuck with me even though I wasnt as hot on it. You know I am all in if its Naschy, thanks for the review man!

venoms5 said...

Thanks, Carl! The Spanish rights holders had a stipulation that no English options would be on these discs. I assume it was in hope to garner interest outside of Spain. But considering how poorly Naschy titles seem to have sold here, it might be unlikely.

Ordering from Spanish DVD sites has proven to be very expensive, too. The discs aren't too bad, but with the shipping, it's like you're paying for each movie twice!

Aaron said...

How did I miss this review the first time around? Those screenshots are gorgeous! I have a copy of this, but it's basically a bootleg VHS rip. I enjoyed it despite it looking like shit. I wonder how much this import is going for these days?

venoms5 said...

I paid about $35-40 a piece for a bunch of the Naschy DVDs from a Spanish site. The shipping was outragous. The reviews with screen caps here for BEAST AND MAGIC SWORD and EL CAMINANTE look just as gorgeous if you haven't seen those.

For whatever reason, INQUISITION pops in and out of the top ten frequently. It's one of the most read reviews here. It's currently sittin' at #8 with almost 1,600 clicks. I guess it's the pics of the nude shots?

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