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Schlock & Awe: Paul Naschy’s Werewolves, Wizards, and Weirdness

When you think about the iconic actors and actresses of classic horror, names like Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Barbara Steele, and Peter Cushing all come to mind (in addition to a million more) with each bringing to the screen their own particular skills or personas to their roles. They were pigeonholed, it has to be said. But over in Spain, the low-budget, burgeoning horror scene of the ’60s-’80s had someone who was not only an iconic actor but a writer, director, and producer too: Paul Naschy (the stage name for Jacinto Molina Alvarez), and thanks to Scream Factory, I got to know him pretty well.

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I’d certainly heard of Paul Naschy before this, but none of his films were all that well known to me. I did know, however, that he’d done a bunch of werewolf movies. Only one of these films ended up in Scream Factory’s “The Paul Naschy Collection,” but it was a doozy. Naschy was perhaps one of the most atypical leading men ever, even for horror. They called him the Spanish Lon Chaney for his willingness to design and wear a lot of makeup in his films, but he’d also routinely be the romantic lead in the films on top of being the villain. And not to say Mr. Naschy wasn’t handsome, but he definitely rocked a Jack Black-esque frame and physique.

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Naschy was inspired to get into filmmaking by, of all movies, Universal’s 1943 film Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man and throughout his career played virtually all of the major Universal Gothic monsters in his own films — including Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula — and had no problem being the villain in the films he wrote. Horror is truly the only genre where the baddies are bigger stars than the heroes, usually. You’d never see that in a western, that’s for sure. Naschy also, despite the often painfully low-budget of his films, always gave a grounded, centered performance, which, like Lee and Cushing and Price, makes all the difference.

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The five films in the box set offer a good cross section of the kinds of movies Naschy made. He wrote over 50 films, starred in over 100, and directed a dozen or so. Dude was prolific, so any box set with only five movies could hardly be called definitive. However, if you’re like me and wanted a good entry point to the work of Paul Naschy, this set is absolutely tremendous. The five films in question are: 1972’s Horror Rises from the Tomb, 1973’s Vengeance of the Zombies, 1974’s Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, 1980’s Human Beasts, and 1981’s Night of the Werewolf.

Horror Rises from the Tomb finds Naschy in a dual role, both as the 15th Century French warlock Alaric de Marnac and his present-day descendant, Hugo. Alaric was burned at the stake and beheaded for witchcraft, vampirism, lycanthropy; really just the whole black magic spectrum. He and his wife, who is also killed for these crimes, vow to get revenge on the families of their executioners. So, in the ’70s, some jags find Alaric’s perfectly-preserved head in a box and, through sorcery and weirdness, his spirit jumps into different people in order to exact his bloody, warlocky revenge. This is a pretty enjoyable movie, definitely a bit cheap, but access to old Spanish castles definitely helps, as it does with all of the other movies.

Vengeance of the Zombies is definitely the goofiest movie in the bunch, but it’s got some excellent gore. Naschy plays an Indian mystic (yes, your side-eye is warranted) who brings the women murdered by a serial killer back to life, as the undead, to do his fiendish bidding. Naschy also plays — as the trailer shows — the literal Satan, which is just weird, I have to say.

My second favorite movie in the set is Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, a movie very much made in the tradition of the intensely popular (at the time) Italian giallo, or sort of tawdry proto-slasher flicks. Naschy plays a recently released convict in France who ends up being brought to a manor house populated by three sisters. The eldest is a spinster, the middle one is in a wheelchair following a horrible accident, and the youngest is…friendly, let’s say. He disrupts the lives of these sisters, the comely nurse of the wheelchair bound sister, and the former gameskeeper who had an affair with the youngest. Naschy’s character seduces all of the women in the house in some way or another, and at the same time, some black gloved killer is knocking off local women and removing their eyes. This is a delightfully twisted whodunit where nobody’s safe.

Human Beasts (also known as The Beasts’ Carnival) is, I dunno, the weirdest? It’s like a mixture of Dead or Alive and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Naschy is a hitman under employ of the Yakuza and he double-crosses them for a cache of diamonds. He takes refuge at the home of a doctor and his two daughters, who all nurse the hitman back to health. They also take it upon themselves to kill every pursuer who comes looking for him. Why? Well, they have their own plans for this guy and they’re…they’re not pleasant, I’ll say that.

Finally we have my favorite included film: Night of the Werewolf. First some context. Naschy made 12 films in his career starring the character of Waldemar Daninsky, a Polish nobleman who is cursed to be an immortal werewolf. Night of the Werewolf is the ninth such film, and so — having never seen the other films — I did some research. This may be the ninth film starring this same character, but there is exactly zero continuity between the films, and Daninsky’s circumstances and even method of becoming a werewolf seems to change from one film to the next. So who cares?!

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Regardless, this movie is an ostensible remake of his 1971 film Walpurgis Night, or The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman. In the 1600s, Daninsky is sentenced to death for his werewolfism and aiding the infamous real-life Hungarian noblewoman killer, Elizabeth Bathory, who killed over 300 young women and girls and bathed in their blood in a belief that it kept her young. Cut to modern day, and the grave of Daninsky is disturbed and he’s reawakened. A group of young women decide to resurrect Bathory, who becomes a true vampire — the victims again begin piling up, both by Bathory and the cursed Daninsky. This movie is right up there with latter-day Hammer as sensational Gothic horror.

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It was a true delight to discover Paul Naschy and his weird brand of horror film. The only downside of Scream Factory’s box set is that there are only five movies!

If you’ve seen any Paul Naschy movies you’d recommend, share them with me in the comments below!

Images: Scream Factory

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He writes the weekly look at weird or obscure films in Schlock & Awe. Follow him on Twitter!

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