Collins’ Crypt: Paul Naschy Is Finally Getting His Due

Scream Factory has put together a five-disc set that samples Paul Naschy's underappreciated career.

It may surprise you to learn that I did not start Horror Movie A Day in the hopes that I would find the likes of Cathy's Curse, or even to justify writing off my Netflix account on my taxes. No, one of the primary goals was to "force" myself to finally get around to seeing the films I had only read about in the likes of Fangoria and Rue Morgue, not to mention dive into the filmographies of filmmakers with whom I had little to no familiarity. The number of Dario Argento films I saw prior to HMAD was a pitiful number I won't repeat here, and the same goes for Lucio Fulci, Takashi Miike, and Larry Cohen. But then there were guys like Paul Naschy, who I literally knew nothing about beyond the fact that their name meant something to more learned horror fans than myself, and so I made it a point to check out a few at random over the years.

Of course, ideally I would go in some kind of order, or ask around to see what ones I should start with (i.e. the best ones), but the fun thing about HMAD was that I left it up to random chance as often as I could, queuing up films on Netflix (the disc version, because Instant didn't even exist when I started and didn't really become the powerhouse it is now until I was almost done) in no order whatsoever. And even if I did try to have some kind of structure to it, the discs would arrive based on availability anyway, so it would have been a fruitless attempt. But that was fine, as I enjoyed the randomness and ability to go into things blind, all of which is my long-winded defense for when I tell you the first Paul Naschy movie I saw was School Killer, a slasher film in which he "starred" (he has about ten minutes of screentime) as the title character. He didn't write or direct it, as he did for many of his films - he was just the "get" for a fellow Spanish filmmaker, popping up to give the film some cred the same way our young indie horror filmmakers like to cast Tony Todd or Kane Hodder for a bit part and plaster his face on the cover.

But even though it wasn't a particularly good movie (or even a "Paul Naschy movie" in the traditional sense), his few minutes of screentime quickly demonstrated what made him a compelling draw in the genre, starting in the late '60s when he created his Waldemar Daninsky character for La marca del Hombre Lobo, aka Frankenstein's Bloody Terror. Despite what the title seemingly promises, Daninsky is actually a werewolf, and Naschy would play the character twelve times over the next 35 years (though one film, Las noches del Hombre Lobo, was never completed/released, and is presumed lost forever). Unlike the Hammer or Universal monster series, there isn't even an attempt at traditional continuity between the films, so it doesn't matter which order you see them and you don't need to start with Bloody Terror. Indeed, my first was 1973's Curse of the Devil, which was the 7th of the "series", and the few others I saw over the year came earlier/later with no rhyme or reason. 

And I'd usually try to watch other Naschy films (non-Daninsky ones, I mean) as well, eventually seeing seven or eight of them - not as many as I'd like, but given their poor availability and oft-bad transfers (which would drive me away, preferring to wait for a better presentation) that's not too bad of a number. It wasn't enough to come away with a full impression of the man or his abilities (he wrote many of the films, and in later years began directing them as well starting with 1978's Inquisition), but one thing I knew for sure is that he liked to dabble in all the horror sub-genres and switch between heroes and villains (sometimes he'd play both in one film), which made him a perfect "target" for my daily film watching. Even within the realm of his Daninsky series, which were ostensibly werewolf films, we got vampires, mad scientists, witches... there was plenty of variety, and the lack of concern for continuity allowed Naschy a freedom that most franchises could never achieve. He died in most (all?) of them at the end and it didn't matter! It's less a series and more an ongoing example of Naschy being too lazy to change a character's name.

But this sort of dabbling also made him an ideal candidate for a Scream Factory boxed set, making Naschy the second horror icon (after Vincent Price) to be awarded a lavish collection from the indie outfit. Obviously, they had to include one Daninsky film, and they opted for 1981's Night of the Werewolf, which was the first one he directed himself and also, per some interviews, his personal favorite of the dozen. This was the last of Naschy's films to be released theatrically in the US, so at least his exposure here went out on a high note; it's not particularly interesting on a narrative level (I mean, this was his ninth appearance as the character) but acts as more of a sort of greatest hits of all that had come before. It's got the castles, the gloomy exteriors, the lovely ladies, and Naschy himself, who by now had the role down pat and found himself battling against, of all people, Elizabeth Bathory. The Bathory legend has been overused in horror films in recent years (IMDb has about a dozen films just over the past five years), but back then it was something of a novelty, and as Daninsky was something of an icon in his own right by this point, this practically counts as a Freddy vs. Jason/Alien vs. Predator style "what if?" mashup born into reality.

That's actually the fifth disc on the set; the films are presented in chronological order and we start with Horror Rises From The Tomb, a 1973 effort directed by frequent collaborator Carlos Aured (from Naschy's script). This one feels a bit like a response to both Night of the Living Dead and any number of Hammer films about people coming to a spooky old town where the locals all act suspicious thanks to an old curse. Naschy plays three roles, a warlock who is beheaded in the 15th century, his twin brother that he curses (along with his entire bloodline), and the brother's modern day descendant, who is trying to put the warlock's body back together (the head and body were buried separately to prevent a resurrection). Inexplicably, the warlock also cursed his brother's pal, and the modern day Naschy is best friends with that guy's descendant! And it gets even more convoluted, but the lovely Madrid scenery, out of nowhere zombie attack sequence, and the fact that Naschy plays part of his role as a disembodied head make it one of the most entertaining movies on the set, despite the fact that the plot is mostly gibberish even by '70s Euro-horror standards (according to the included booklet, he wrote the script in less than two days, so).

Disc 2 offers Vengeance of the Zombies, which is the one weak spot on the set. Naschy again plays three roles (including Satan!) and the zombies are of the voodoo variety which was always nice to see in the post-NOTLD era, but the non-horror scenes are just dull and while Naschy may have more range than some of his peers I can't quite buy him as an Indian guru, a distracting element the film could never quite overcome in my eyes. It's got some fine murder scenes (it's a borderline giallo at times) and I can give it points for novelty, but if you had to skip any movie on the set for time, this would be my pick, especially since Disc 3 is Blue Eyes Of The Broken Doll (aka House of Psychotic Women), which is a full blown giallo instead of Zombies' weird hybrid (and you get better, albeit more limited, zombie action in Tomb). I watched this one for HMAD back in the day and found it to be an enjoyable example of the sub-genre, and my opinion hasn't changed - it's got some great murder scenes and a pretty fantastic score, even if much of it is basically "Frére Jacques" with a jazzy makeover. 

Gonna get into spoiler territory here so skip the rest of the paragraph if you're unfamiliar with this particular film. Naschy only plays one role in Blue Eyes, which is even more amusing when you consider how inconsequential he is to the narrative. He's basically a red herring, momentarily accused of the murders that the title refers to (our mystery killer only target women with blue eyes and blonde hair), but unlike the similarly innocent heroes of Argento's gialli, he doesn't take much interest in clearing his name. To be fair, it's because he's guilty of OTHER crimes and doesn't want to get found out, but it's hilarious that he could be removed from the story and it wouldn't matter in the slightest. In fact (again, spoilers!) he dies with like 15-20 min to go in the movie, and is never mentioned again, making him the rare red herring that is also the film's top-billed actor and presumable main draw for the audience. He doesn't even get killed by the murderer, either! He's just gunned down in an overlong shootout with the cops. I know it sounds dismissive, but I find it delightful that he had little interest in catering to expectations and/or making himself the hero.

It's also similar to the next film on the set, Human Beasts, in that Naschy's character is a magnet for pretty much every female that crosses his path, prompting an "Oh yes, he wrote this" thought every time he beds yet another comely lass. This was the only film on the set I hadn't even heard of prior, and at first I wasn't even sure if it was actually a horror movie as it kicked off with a spy/robbery plot with lots of shooting and motorcycle chases, and Naschy was once again only playing one character, which all but canceled out the possibilities of any supernatural hooey. But eventually its horror roots started to show, as Naschy's character was injured and taken in by a strange old man and his two daughters, who fight over his affections as if Naschy would only pick one of them anyway. The nature of the horror is treated as a surprise that I won't spoil here, but I will say that this is the least "woke" movie on the set to be sure, so the easily offended best skip it or else they will be outraged and demand apologies from Naschy (who died in 2009) for the few racially insensitive remarks that they heard in this 37-year-old film.

Basically, while opinions will of course vary about whether or not these are the "best" Naschy films, it's a terrific way to introduce someone to the man, offering up a nice sampler of his career as a whole. I guess one could argue that they could have included a later film to show him in his elder statesman mode (the semi-autobiographical Rojo sangre, for example), but most of them are not very good and they could save that for a second or third volume, which will hopefully exist. As I mentioned, US availability for these films has been spotty at best, and the public domain status of several means you're likely to encounter terrible and/or edited transfers if poking around looking for particular titles. With a set like this, you know they won't charge you for sub-par presentations, and will also provide a few bonus features to sweeten the deal (though for these films, most of the supplements are either alternate title sequences or commentaries by Naschy superfans). The aforementioned booklet includes plenty of info about Naschy and the five films presented here, as well as their co-stars and directors, more than making up for the lack of interviews and such. He might not be as well known as Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, etc. but as he had no problem with sleazier elements, and took an active role in the films' creation (those guys have a total of zero writing/directing credits between them), which makes going through his filmography a bit more interesting as a whole. Here's hoping the set gets some horror fans started on a journey that will likely never bore them!