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

The Fury of the Wolfman (1971) review


Paul Naschy (Waldemar Daninsky), Perla Cristal (Ilona Hellmann), Veronica Lujan (Karen), Javier Rivera (Doctor Wolfstein)

Directed by Jose Maria Zabalza

The Short Version: Fitfully awful Paul Naschy werewolf hokum will no doubt be enjoyed by bad movie buffs and those who enjoy inflicting pain on themselves. A laugh riot with an increasing amount of stupidity and insipidness that reaches until the final scene. That the director was sauced the entire production speaks volumes about this motion picture whose script is rife with potential, but sadly, never strives for anything above mediocrity and even that's being kind. Highly recommended for trash fans and masochists.

After contracting Lycanthropy from a Yeti bite while in Tibet, college professor Waldemar Daninsky returns home to discover his wife has been having an affair. After a failed attempt to kill him in an auto accident, he transforms into a werewolf late one evening killing both her, and her lover. Escaping into the night, Daninsky is electrocuted in a thunderstorm and presumed dead. A sinister female doctor named Ilona Hellmann, Daninsky's former lover and the daughter of a mysterious Nazi scientist, Doctor Wolfstein, digs him up and takes him back to her castle. There, Daninsky becomes the subject of the devious dominatrix's experiments in mind control. Among dozens of victimized captives chained below in a dungeon, Ilona also has Daninsky's promiscuous wife, who is herself, now a werewolf.

Absolutely terrible and ballistically bonkers Paul Naschy werewolf shit. Director Zabalza strives hard to attain Ed Woodian status and brazenly surpasses the master of the wire manipulated hubcap flying saucer. Purportedly an alcoholic, Zabalza was said to have kept a chaotic set resulting in the films star breaking down into fits of tears at how horribly wrong the picture was turning out. The production was originally started by Enrique Lopez Eguiluz (the director of Naschy's maiden monster flick, FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR), he was inexplicably fired early into the start of the film and replaced with the bottle popping Zabalza.

The man himself considered this the worst movie of his entire career and regretted participating in it. Among the numerous catastrophes involve the film being too short and being padded with several attack sequences lifted from FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR (1968) as well as some additional wide shots of the wolfman utilizing a different actor. These scenes are horribly edited into the film. One minute, it's a frenzied scene of werewolf violence, then suddenly, we see an actor in wolf makeup casually strolling along. There are a number of scenes shot and edited in this kind of abrupt manner.

At one point near the end, Daninsky battles a man in a suit of armor, walks around the castle with Karen, has a duel with Dr. Wolfstein, then the escaped slaves kill some of Ilona's assistants. Next, we see Daninsky and Karen in bed after having sex(!), then a funeral procession for Dr. Wolfstein. Following that, Daninsky has some words with Ilona and in the next shot, he's suddenly chained to a wall again! The narrative and structure is all over the place. It's so easy to believe that this movie is the product of a well oiled director.

For this go round of werewolfery, Daninsky becomes the project of a venomous lady scientist with a hard on for male domination. I assume her efforts in mind control by way of soothing Waldemar, the savage beast is the key to placating male manipulation. There's also killer vines, deformed Nazi doctors, a character hidden inside a suit of armor who kidnaps the heroine and fights Daninsky to the death, a dungeon filled with crazed slaves, a female werewolf and plenty of beautiful women.

There's also a seven minute stretch of "attack" scenes that begins with Ilona whipping Daninsky chained to a wall with manacles. Suddenly, the scene cuts to stock footage of him leaping from a window(!) Then, it cuts to the non Naschy wolfman casually strolling through the woods and around town. He then lackadaisically kills a young man studying in his home. More strolling footage through fog enshrouded locations ensues. Meanwhile, the police are following behind him with dogs having picked up his scent.

Next, our hairy friend watches a pretty young lady getting dressed then nonchalantly enters her room and climbs into bed with her(!!!) For whatever reason, he gets up leaving the woman palpitating just before the police get there to smack her a bit to get her out of her spell. Then we got more strolling with non Naschy wolfguy. Suddenly, a riotously energetic stock attack scene from FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR appears and is suddenly interrupted by the non Naschy wolfman strolling across a river and through the woods. Mind you, the shirts worn by Naschy, non Naschy and the stock footage changes from shot to shot.

If not for the sheer nuttiness of the whole project, this would be a worthless endeavor. Even the star himself, is below par, but then that isn't his fault considering the disasters that were unfolding behind the scenes. Those who love atrocious movies will find a lot to sneer and giggle at here. Fans should face it, most of Naschy's movies are average at best, with the truly worthwhile productions being the ones he directed himself.

The closest approximation I can compare this full moon misfire to would have to be the wild and wooly mess that is VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES (1973) and that movie wasn't beleaguered with production problems and a sauce starved director. It was intentionally insane. I'm sure if the famed horror star could have his way, FURY OF THE WOLFMAN would be swept under the rug never to be seen again. This Spanish DVD is the original version of the film. However, alternate scenes of sex and nudity shot for the export versions are not seen here, but are present on an old Swedish VHS under the title, THE WOLFMAN NEVER SLEEPS. The US release is shorn of these bits. I used to have the old Unicorn tape which was an edited version.

Interestingly, this movies plotline is reminiscent of the one utilized for the lost Daninsky production, LAS NOCHES DEL HOMBRE LOBO (THE NIGHTS OF THE WOLF MAN;1968). In that film, sound waves were used to control the werewolf by an evil professor for reasons of revenge. Here, the scientist is a woman and her motives aren't too far removed from those of Naschy's most elusive motion picture.

While being one of the most bizarre movies on the actors resume, it's also the most disorganized and shoddily put together of his fantasy films. Paul Naschy has a lot of reasons to be embarrassed by the film and he has duly noted his frustration over having appeared in it as well as the removal of his intended director. Eguiluz did direct the brief Tibet scene that opens the movie via scene overlay while Naschy prepares to do in his duplicitous wife and her lover. An out of control, fruit loop of a movie, I'd only recommend it to Naschy die hards and bad film buffs. All others stay far away.

This review is representative of the Divisa R2 PAL DVD

Vengeance of the Mummy (1973) review


Paul Naschy (Amenhotep/Assad Bey), Rina Ottolina (Amarna/Elena), Jack Taylor (Norton Stark), Maria Silva (Abigail), Helga Line (Zannuffer)

Directed by Carlos Aured

The Short Version: Naschy fans will rejoice to finally see this movie in gorgeous quality. The only downside is that the supposed nude alternate scenes are not utilized here, nor are they in any known US version. Still, this is the original Spanish version and is the best this film is going to look until an English friendly version surfaces. A lot of fun, but slow in spots, it's very much recommended for Spanish horror fans.

Amenhotep, a cruel and sadistic Pharaoh delighting in blood sacrifices in the pursuit for immortality, is overthrown by his followers after being paralyzed with a poison slipped into a goblet. After his lover, Amarna, is killed in front of him, Amenhotep is entombed forever, buried alive. Centuries later, the sarcophagus of the despotic ruler is uncovered and the mummy taken back to London. Once there, an equally vile Egyptian priest, Assad Bey and his assistant seek to resurrect Amenhotep and his callous lover so that they both may live forever.

Paul Naschy plays a dual role in his sole outing in the mummy movies. He doesn't play a hero of any kind, settling for both the evil Pharaoh and the Egyptian priest that brings him back to life in 70's London. His mummy is also far removed from the Universal shamblers of old. Amenhotep is also far more energetic than Christopher Lee's interpretation in 1959. But then, Lee made his bandage wrapped, kinetic killer more believable. Naschy's mummy occasionally looks funny feverishly descending a ladder into the sewer being one example, or effortlessly walking along hallways.

One area that Naschy's mummy differs from the others is that Amenhotep isn't a vassal controlled by the maddened priest as an instrument of revenge. Here, the revived Pharaoh (other movie mummies were always priests, or subjects) is in total control with Assad and his beautiful accomplice, Zannuffer, worshipping him. The mummy even talks giving commands to his followers. The only other film I recall where the mummy takes charge of his vengeance is in the gore drenched ghoul-ash that is DAWN OF THE MUMMY (1981).

One area that is constant is the plot device of the mummy discovering his lost lover reincarnated centuries later. However, things don't necessarily end the way they do in the other movies.

Naschy's cloth wrapped mangler also varies himself from the pack by preferring to smash peoples heads like a watermelon in addition to using sharp implements to kill his victims. Amenhotep also resorts to typical mummy machinations by strangling, and or giving his quarry a robust smack to the head. There's also a missing and mildly bloody sequence where Amenhotep crashes into a home of two newlyweds killing the husband and making off with the wife. Whether it was removed due to print damage, or never in the original Spanish release is unknown to me.

The violence level is extremely high, but possibly slightly less so than the previous Naschy/Aured collaboration HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB (1972). Both films share pretty much the same narrative, only VENGEANCE is less surreal lacking the dream-like qualities and ridiculousness of the former. The one area where Molina's mummy opus falters is in the pacing. The film just plods along when there's no blood and violence onscreen, which, thankfully, isn't very often. There's a plethora of whippings, throat slashings, head crushings and blood drinking to appease the followers of the Spanish horror icon.

Still, after having seen Naschy's own directorial efforts, the movies he did for other directors pale in comparison in terms of filmmaking. This Carlos Aured picture is no different. Sometimes sloppy, it still retains an array of memorable moments that fluctuate between scenes of general cheesiness. Returning from the previous Naschy outing, Helga Line again assumes the role of the actors evil associate. She looks ravishing in her two piece Egyptian get up. She doesn't get down to quite as much messy business as she did in HORROR RISES, but she's a welcome and attention grabbing addition to the cast.

Jack Taylor plays the hero, ineffectual as he may be. The film belongs to both of Molina's roles and the movie is fairly lifeless when he isn't onscreen, which isn't very often. Taylor appeared in various genre pictures, but his most memorable for me was his eccentric turn as the black magic superhero, Igor, in both Mexi-horror films, THE MONSTER'S DEMOLISHER and THE GENIE OF DARKNESS (US release 1962). That character, one who used the black arts to combat vampires and other creatures, may have been the inspiration for Marvel's 'Dr. Strange' comic character.

The sets are limited, but efficient. The low budget shows, but Francisco Sanchez's photography lends this picture some much needed atmosphere. The look of a British Gothic chiller is in abundance here. Sanchez would also work on other Naschy movies such as CURSE OF THE DEVIL and VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES (both 1973). The script is far more cohesive than the average Spanish horror flick and while it has its share of gaps in logic, it's got several noted deviations from the well worn lore indigenous to mummy movies.

This review is representative of the Vella Vision PAL R0 DVD
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