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THE MARSHALL OF HELL 1974 aka EL MARISCAL DEL INFIERNO aka THE DEVIL'S POSSESSED
Paul Naschy (Gilles de Lancre), Norma Sebre (Georgel), Guillermo Bredeston (Gaston de Malebranche), Vidal Molina (Sille), Eduardo Calvo (Simon de Braqueville)
Directed by Leon Klimovsky
The Short Version:Interesting Naschy period epic modeled on the real life madman, Gilles de Rais. Mostly an adventure movie rife with lots of sword fights, the horror angle takes a back seat to the swashing of buckles. Those expecting horror will be disappointed. Well mounted production nonetheless and recommended for completists.
The once heroic Marshall, Gilles de Lancre, having been off to war with England, returns to France and begins his search for The Philosopher's Stone. Thought to contain mystical properties, Gilles is coerced into partaking in black magic rituals in an effort to obtain immortality and usurp the throne of France. Descending into madness, Gilles gleefully tortures and butchers those against him. One of his former comrades in arms, Captain Gaston de Malebranche, learns of these despicable crimes and rallies a group of warriors to rebel against the cruelty of Gilles de Lancre.
In a startling departure from what the export title would have you believe, this isn't a horror movie at all. It's more of an adventure film with elements of horror sprinkled throughout. The many sword fights outweigh the spraying of sangre, but that's not to say it isn't an enjoyable ride watching Naschy portray his version of historical madman, Gilles de Rais. Fans expecting something along the lines of the man's traditional horror works will be sadly disappointed.
Outside of the inclusion of alchemy and some blood sacrifices, the movie deals mainly with Gaston's efforts to overthrow Gilles de Lancre, his former colleague in battle. Now under the influence of his concubine, Georgel, his menacing Lieutenant, Sille and the bumbling sorcerer, Simon de Braqueville, Gilles obsession with locating The Philosopher's Stone consumes him.
There's a bit of gore for those looking for it, but not enough to make the film worth tracking down for horror hounds. The action scenes are occasionally well handled and exciting. The actor playing the hero was a poor choice, but performs well during the many sword battles. There's also a jousting sequence wherein Gilles loses an eye which drags him further into the bowels of depravity. The duel at the end is a nice piece of choreography although I am curious if Naschy participated in the entirety of this scene what with all the acrobatics.
By Naschy's own assertion, none of the directors he worked with were particularly enamored of the horror genre, but Klimovsky was the one that showed the most ability in pulling one off in a reasonably successful manner. This may explain why so many of the actors films turn out as mediocre affairs and those that he has complete control over turn out so well.
Curiously, since Naschy was so preoccupied with nasty historical figures, it's puzzling that he would write this picture as an adventure more in the mold of an Errol Flynn movie than one about violent death and torture. The real life Gilles de Rais was one of histories most despicable murderers. Predominantly a butcherer of small children both male and female, he also dabbled in the black arts. The French madman also sodomized his victims often times pleasuring himself on their sexual organs after they'd been removed from their lifeless bodies.
Naschy's script maintains a number of the traits behind this man, but in turn, alters just as many. The closest the film gets to the taboo of the torture-murder of small children is in a scene where Gilles is seated in a room alone and he hears many cries of young children around him.
This is the original Spanish version of the film. I am unsure if there were alternate scenes shot for export. No doubt there were, but I don't have it to compare. While it's not an unsung horror classic many Euro horror fans may be expecting, it is a fairly well made adventure movie laced with some minor horror elements. One of the actors favorites, only Naschy completists and more open minded horror fans will find much of interest here.
This review is representative of the PAL R2 Tri Pictures DVD
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I've been a huge movie buff since childhood catching old horror and monster flicks on Shock Theater and kung fu movies at the drive-in during the late 70's and early 80's. I've had a long time fascination with, and appreciate all genres of fantastic cinema, good and bad. One fans cheese is another fans juicy steak. I like both equally and seldom find a film I truly dislike as I will find something of interest in just about anything. The bulk of the films or tv series' seen here are mostly from my childhood, or films I own in what has become an Amazing Colossal DVD collection.