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Mucha Naschy

PrintE-mail Written by Martin Unsworth Thursday, 14 July 2011

Horror Obscura - by Martin Unsworth

Jacinto Alcarez Molina, or Paul Naschy as he was more commonly known, was Spain's answer to Lon Chaney. He appeared in over 100 films, many of them in the horror or fantasy genre, and many written and even directed by himself. He did not start making films until the early 1960s, and even then it was under the massively oppressive Spanish regime. It was not until 1968 when he started getting lead roles in fantasy and horror films. He is probably best known as the barrel chested werewolf Waldemar Daninsky, making 12 appearances in the role (the second instalment of which is a lost film that has sadly never seen the light of day). Those films are a story for another time. Here was a man who was as passionate about the horror and fantasy genre as any fan. He had grown up with Chaney, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi like many of us had, and that passion for the genre shows when you see his films. While a lot of them suffered from low production values or stilted writing (sometimes Naschy himself was to blame), they were very rarely less than entertaining. A lot of people watch them on an Ed Wood type of level, but I feel that does the man a great disservice. I was lucky enough to meet him briefly in 2001 at the Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films, and hearing him speak about his love of the genre and all things fantastic made him one of us. But like Wood, he gave everything he could to make the best he could. I would like to bring to your attention some of Naschy's later work which I feel are well worth the trouble seeking out.

Mucha Sangre (Much Blood aka Lots of Blood) was made in 2002 and is a cross between the early Peter Jackson films and Perdita Durango. It begins “the day after tomorrow” with the escape of two prisoners, one “Gouger” (named after his penchant for gouging eyes out, played brilliantly by Txema Sandoval) and his cellmate, Choro (Rodolfo Sancho). After abducting a woman, Isabel Del Toro (no relation to Guillermo or Benicio and a lot more attractive) and dropping off at Gouger's friend's junkyard to pick up some weapons, they set out to pick up some money owed to Gouger from a local drug dealer (Naschy in a wonderfully bad pony tail wig) only to be double crossed, and worse still, the drug dealer just happens to be an alien who can turn people into regenerating zombies via the process of anal sex. No, seriously. The aliens are also abducting young girls and putrefying them ready for a big banquet (shades of Bad Taste). Obviously, like the Jackson films, this is a black comedy as well, with the extreme gore and flying body parts providing the most giggles. A running gag involving a clueless policeman and dog poo might just appeal to the Jim Carrey crowd, though. In its short running time (about 80mins) it manages to bring together all the best elements of the aforementioned Bad Taste, Brain Dead, Evil Dead 2 and Alex de la Iglesia's El Dia de la Bestia (Day of the Beast), but at no time did I think it was ripping these off. It, like a lot of Naschy's other films, plays more like a homage, or at worse a mix tape you would give to a loved one. Much like Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk Til Dawn, this road movie soon becomes a bloody marvel (literally). A gun fight with the mob boss and his henchmen who won't stay dead is straight out of a John Woo film. There is a brief but steamy sex scene, and plenty of sight gags, admittedly though some fall a little flat but that might be a 'lost in translation' thing. When it does work (which is more often than not), it does raise a smile if not a belly laugh (Naschy's speech at the human banquet at the end has a brilliant touch, when he mentions the alien fathers of the galaxy an image of two muppets is shown on the back projection screen). And dismembering with a chainsaw to Beethoven? Genius. Alex DeLarge would be proud. There is plenty of over the top gore and violence, and the effects are brilliant, good old fashioned splatter movie stuff; realistic but absolutely tongue in cheek. Why this film has not been released for a more mainstream audience I really do not know, it's totally unoriginal but unique at the same time, if that makes any sense what so ever. There is potential for this one to be up there with all the cult greats from recent years. If Accion Mutante managed a cinema/video and indeed TV release, why not this? Cinema politics baffles me sometimes.

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Next up, Rojo Sangre (Blood Red), a 2004 film that is semi autobiographical for Naschy. He wrote the script here and plays the lead role of Pablo Thevenet, an ageing actor struggling to find work and respect in a world that values scandal, fame, and talentless bimbos over the more experienced and genuinely talented. So not a fantasy world then. The opening credits are illustrated with stills from Naschy's real films, and when the character is reeling off his past glories to the young production girls, most of the titles are real ones too. He is reduced to auditioning for small, unnamed, parts and still facing the humiliation of being rejected. His agent has even given up on him. As a parting shot, he is given the name of a night club owner who wants someone to play a living sculpture at the entrance to his strip joint. The sort you see along the South Bank scaring the kids with their statue poses. The owner, a Señor Reficul (Miguel Del Arco) offers Pablo a substantial amount of money to play the part of the statue one night a week. An offer he readily signs up for. He is to dress as a different historical monster each time, Jack The Ripper, Rasputin, Ivan The Terrible, and the like. He has to put up with the ridicule of the club's patrons (“That Ivan is terrible!”) but the job is allowing him to eat, and in between shifts he keeps his eyes open for more acting opportunities. Suddenly, he snaps. At a particularly bad audition, where the young director wants him for a “meaty” part (he his to run naked though a scene for no reason), he slays both the upstart director and the brain dead wench who is to be the star of the film and is hanging off his arm. He is offered a role in a snuff porn movie, where he is forced to kill the on screen couple, before turning the gun to those behind the camera. Pablo then sets about on a killing spree, egged on by Tic Tac (Menh-Wai Trinh), an ex prostitute assigned by Renifcul to look after him. Soon he is cleaning the industry of the fakes and wannabes that have put his kind out of work. Then things start getting a little confused, as they often do in these kind of Spanish horrors, and the attempt to explain it all away leaves the film looking a tad puddled in the end. It's a shame, because it really is a good film, the main twist being quite obvious if anyone pays attention to names. Some very nice visual flourishes in the editing department make it a pleasure to watch without it becoming too showy. There is also some gory murders, but nothing too extreme or nasty (which is surprising since the DVD is put out by Fangoria International Releasing!). In the end it really is all about Naschy. Rather than repelled by the murders he commits, you are rooting for him. His opening conversation in the audition waiting room about how he relieves the depression of having no film roles by inserting a mouse into a condom and then into his rear is brilliant. And not a Richard Gere reference in sight.

It is a brilliant statement on the current state of the entertainment industry. Where you can become a star by sleeping with someone famous or just having a pretty face. I'm sure some unnamed over paid football types would gladly like someone like Thevenet sorting out the current fame leaches out there. And a very good moral to the story; always read what you sign up for!

If Rojo Sangre had been Naschy's last film, it would have been a shame, but a fitting tribute. Much in the same way most people consider Targets to be Boris Karloff's last film (although he made several dodgy Mexican quickies after). There are also parallels to the films, too; both aging actors practically playing themselves. Luckily Naschy was still young enough to have an active role in Rojo Sangre, unlike the 80 year old (and ill) Karloff in the Peter Bogdanovich movie.

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Fortunately, there were some other films he worked on just prior to his death from cancer in November 2009: La Herencia Valdemar (The Valdemar Legacy) and its sequel La Sombra Prohibida (which I have yet to see) and the as yet unreleased Empusa which was his last film, and fittingly he wrote and directed it. Sadly, though from what I've seen in the trailer it looks like the usual shot on digital video vampire nonsense. He also voiced another yet to be release film, O Apostolo, which is a claymation type animated feature. Watching the trailer it could well be worth a look, it gave me the feeling of Tim Burton doing Wallace and Gromit.

La Herencia Valdemar is a film that has been grossly overlooked, Naschy's involvement is limited to the role of butler but he still makes his presence known. If you have not come across the film, and I am guessing most would not have, it is really worth checking out. The story begins with the disappearance of a taxation expert in the old Valdemar house, which has been deserted and left to go to ruin. An inventory of the assets in the property needs to be completed. Thinking the original agent has run away after stealing something, they send another to do the job, as it needs to be done over the weekend. So the company send Luisa (Silvia Abasacal). She is met at the wonderful Victorian building by the groundsman and given free rein to survey the property. While in the attic she finds the remains of the previous auditor and is pursued by a a zombie type creature, after being rescued by the groundsman and his friend, who obviously know more than they let on.

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An investigator (Oscar Jaenada, recently seen in the current Pirates Of The Caribbean film) goes to try and find out what has happened, only to be drawn into the history of the building, the people who lived there and the terrible things that happened to the people living there. The majority of the film is told as a flashback and you almost forget the modern day part of the film. Without giving too much away, it is a real homage to old school horror story telling.

The couple who owned the house, The Valdemars, Lazaro (Daniele Liotti) and Leonor (Laia Marull) ran it as an orphanage in the hope they could save enough money to adopt a child themselves. As a way to drum up funds, Valdemar uses his hobby of photography to scam the upper class into fake seances where he would picture them with spectres. He is exposed by a slimy journalist (a bit of modern social commentary?) and threatened with jail and ruin. Until a certain Mr Aleister Crowley comes to his aid. Crowley is chillingly played here by another recently deceased actor, Francisco (Paco) Maestre, who is no stranger to the genre with appearances in: Alex De La Iglesia's Accion Mutante, El Dia De La Bestia (The Day of the Beast), and Del Toro's The Devil's Backbone, amongst others. As his reward for helping Valdemar , he wants to use the house and Valdemar's “gift” to conduct a seance with his friends, none other than Bram Stoker, Lizzie Borden and Belle Gunness. But it is to H.P. Lovecraft that the film has its biggest nod, and by the end of the film you are left desperate for the second part. Without spoilers, it is a cliff hanger ending. The poster and the trailer for the sequel also give a glimpse of Cthulhu, which should be enough for Lovecraft fans to either jump in glee at or dash to criticise! We all know how precious they can be! Rodolfo Sancho (from Mucha Sangre) pops up again in the role of the missing taxation experts boss, who is forced to lie to Luisa's mother about her disappearance.

There is a lot going on in the first part of the film, especially before the flashback tale, with layers being added all the time, no doubt these points are answered in the sequel. It is even more surprising that it is the director, José Luis Alemán's first film. Being the most expensive horror movie ever made in Spain (130 million euros apparently), the producers obviously had a lot of faith in him, and it has paid off, because the film has a beautiful look to it. The opening credits set the mood perfectly and are stunning, as is the rest of the film.

Personally, I can not wait to see the second part of the story, it is just a big shame the distribution companies have failed to get both the films into the UK cinema (or anywhere except Spain, as far as I know). Especially disappointing since the Universal logo is right there at the start of the film!

There has been a documentary made over the last year about Naschy's career, entitled The Man Who Saw Frankenstein Cry, a reference to a moment on the set of an episode of the USTV show I Spy, which had guest starred Boris Karloff and in which Naschy had a part as an extra. I am certainly looking forward to seeing this, especially since people like John Landis, Joe Dante and Caroline Munro were interviewed for it. The latest word is that it will be included in the extras on a Blu-ray release of the La Herencia Valdemar films (I'm keeping my fingers crossed it will be on the regular DVD too). If only they would release them over here too I would not have to keep importing them.

No doubt I shall return to the Naschy legacy in future columns and, with such a rich and varied filmography to dip into, it would be rude not to. Hopefully it will tempt a few of you to give the films a try, or re-appraise the ones you found yourself laughing at on video back in the 80s.

While on the subject of classic horror, please take the time to visit www.classichorrorcampaign.com and sign their petition to try and get the BBC to bring back the classic horror double bill! There are also regular screenings for you to attend. I recently saw Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur's Cat People and and the incomprehensible Amicus "classic" Scream and Scream Again in a lovely London pub and on the weekend of 23rd/24th July they are putting on the double bills at the Lass O'Gowrie pub in Manchester, I shall be there for the Saturday screening of Tourneur's Night of the Demon (one of my personal favourites) and Hammer's Vampire Circus. Tickets are limited, so book soon, and see you there..


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