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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

El Caminante (1979) review


Paul Naschy (Leonardo/The Devil), David Rocha (Tomas)

Directed by Paul Naschy

The Short Version: Wonderfully mounted dark morality fable told in a pseudo comic fashion has Paul Naschy essaying one of the best and most impertinent roles of his vast career. A classic in every sense of the word, the production is exemplary in acting, script, photography, soundtrack and overall execution. A must see not only for its artistic merits, but its qualities in displaying a masterful side of Spain's most famous horror export.

***WARNING! This review contains images of nudity***

The Devil, curious to walk amongst mankind, becomes mortal for his devious journey to bring a little hellfire and damnation to God's people. Enticing humans with all manner of temptation as well as his own exploration of the pleasures of the flesh, the Devil systematically destroys the lives of all those he comes into contact with. Along the way, Old Scratch takes on an acolyte named Tomas. Both indulge in their voracious sexual proclivity until Hell's guru tires of his tag-a-long and ultimately betrays him as well. However, no deed goes unpunished and in an ironic twist, the Devil pays his due.

Yet another Paul Naschy masterpiece starring, written and directed by the man himself. This is Jacinto Molina's most passionate work and upon seeing it, you can easily see why. Not a horror film at all, but a morality tale about vice, lies, corruption, temptation, greed and the consequences therein. It's a wonderfully concocted, tragic, yet occasionally blackly comical picture.

The Devil, going under the guise of a traveler named Leonardo, goes about murdering, looting, stealing and lying to young women in order to get them into bed with him. At the beginning, a swordsman is cooking a meal by a fire and Leonardo happens upon him. The man shares his food and drink with this dirty traveler only to have Leondardo repay his kindness by stabbing him and relieving him of his money. From there, Old Scratch steals a melon from an old man's field while he's bent down in the middle of a bowel movement. Following that, Leonardo is met by Tomas, a young boy and an old, grumpy blind man. Leonardo pisses in the old man's cup and has Tomas give it to him.

This begins their journey together as The Devil takes himself a disciple on his long sojourn of sexual gratification and the utter destruction of a number of human lives. There's a lot of religious subtext throughout the movie which is to be expected considering the movie is about the travels and travails of Satan going about tempting man, ruining him (and her) in the process. Whenever he encounters a room with a cross, he turns it upside down, or defiles the room in some way.

His first conquest involves a pretty tavern girl with a badly scarred leg. After bedding down with her, Leonardo blackmails her, taking what little money she has and carves an upside down cross on her behind. Incidentally, above her bed hanging on the wall is a large crucifix with an effigy of Jesus on it. Leaving this poor girl devastated, Leonardo moves on to his next bit of dark mischief.

The two miscreants then playfully harass a well to do couple on the road eventually making off with their money, jewels and clothes. It's at this point, Leonardo commits his worst act of transgression. He and Tomas end up in the home of a kindly woman whose child is dying. Leonardo professes to save the little girl if her mother will share one night of passion with him. Uncomfortable with such an agreement, the child is miraculously saved and the mother succumbs to Leo's demands of a night of sex. At first, she resists, but soon begins to enjoy herself.

Morning comes, Leonardo leaves and just when you think he may have had good intentions, the little girl dies once the two leave the abode. Not only that, but this woman is pregnant with the Devil's child.

The two horny travelers continue on their masochistic mission until they are ambushed on the road by some robbers. Leonardo fights them off with his sword, but he's knocked unconscious. Rescued by two other travelers, Leo and Tomas show their appreciation by stealing the two men's clothing and make their way to a convent where Leonardo sees a great opportunity--the sexual subjugation of cloistered vestals!

It is here that more sacrilege takes place as Leonardo manipulates a mural showing nuns fending off Satan. The image suddenly changes to one of naked women of the cloth taking Lucifer's manhood as an "offering". After dominating one of the nuns, a slight disturbance of divine intervention makes it apparent that God has had just about enough.

The two then head off to a whorehouse and enjoy some more sex. It is here that Leonardo bids adieu to Tomas and secretly sells him off to some homosexuals who proceed to sodomize him right then and there.

Meanwhile, the woman from earlier whose daughter was dying, has her child. The midwife refuses to allow her to see it, or touch it. This woman, her only reason for living having been taken away, decides to take her own life. In an ironic twist, Tomas finds Leonardo on the road and has his new gay companions beat the hell out of him. He's then taken and crucified in front of a large statue of Christ on the cross. Religious allegory rears its head once more in this beautifully photographed sequence. The Devil looks up into the face of the effigy and asks, "How could you give your life for these pigs?!"

Able to get loose, Leonardo now becomes the target of the very crimes he had been perpetrating. The movie ends the exact way it began, only now, the Devil is the one enjoying food and wine when a passersby happens upon him. This young stranger likewise "kills" Leo taking his money. However, the Devil has one more trick up his sleeve. Realizing man is just as vile and corrupt without his help, Lucifer decides to take his leave and return to the comforts of his infernal home taking all the souls he claimed with him.

The critics that stated (along with the man himself) this was Jacinto Molina's finest hour would be correct. Although I haven't seen EVERYTHING Naschy ever did, having seen the bulk of his filmography, I can say that EL CAMINANTE is his greatest achievement and the actor considered it his best, most personable work. If only this release had English subtitles, it could be appreciated even more. A wonderfully dark, occasionally comical morality fable. One way to describe it would be a sexually uninhibited version of THE DEVIL & DANIEL WEBSTER (1941). There are so many great scenes in this picture, many of them already mentioned.

One such scene is a grotesque sequence where the Devil gives Tomas a vision of the future wherein he causes the wars of the world and utter annihilation. Disturbingly real footage of holocaust victims are punctuated by shots of Kamikazes, warships and atomic bombs going off. At this moment, Tomas realizes just who he has been following all this time. As mentioned above, poetic justice finally rears its head amidst all the disconcerting frivolity that has taken place up to this point.

The movie is equal parts depravity and decadence all told with a keen eye by an actor and filmmaker who genuinely cares about his films. It's a shame that Naschy didn't have more movies like this, which isn't to say some of his work with other directors isn't good, just not as good as movies where he had complete control.

Pretty much every aspect of EL CAMINANTE is rich in atmosphere and artistic merit. The score by Angel Anteaga is magnificently sumptuous and angelically beautiful at times. Shockingly, Anteaga also did the score for Naschy's worst outing, THE FURY OF THE WOLFMAN (1971) and the rousing BEAST & THE MAGIC SWORD (1983) among other movies featuring the Spanish horror star. Enough good can't be said about this production. Truly a crowning achievement and one that should be seen by any fan of inarguably Spain's most passionate purveyor of the macabre.

This review is representative of the Vella Vision R0 PAL DVD


Jay Shatzer said...

I'm a big Naschy fan so I'm definitely going to be tracking this one down. Sounds pretty amazing.

venoms5 said...

Naschy considered this his best work and it's the best of all the films I've seen of his. INQUISITION would be right behind it. I don't think you'd be disappointed by it, Jay. Less a horror movie than it is a morality tale. I believe the subs are available online for this one, too.

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