Directed by: Carlos Aured
Release date: 1973
This is a Paul Naschy film that, to be honest, very nearly went under the auspices of ‘Vamp or Not?’ but, having watched the film and despite there nary being a fang in sight (werewolf or vampire), I decided this was Vamp enough to go straight to review.
In itself, that is somewhat of a shame as this is far from the best film starring Naschy but it is almost difficult to pinpoint where the problem lies. Is it the writing? The script was written by Naschy under his name Jacinto Molina and, storywise, it perhaps fails. The general story simply treads over very familiar ground, as we will see, but the actual lore is very unusual. He has eschewed the werewolf and vampire mainstays and created something that was so atypical that it might, almost, have been a Bava concept. Then again he also throws in the kitchen sink, when it comes to concepts, which is where it stumbles.
It might also be the direction and cinematography. There is a procession at the head of the film that had some of the worst camera angles in 70s Euro-horror and the pacing is languid to say the least and yet there is a zombie sequence that is remarkably effective. Of course watching a dubbed version isn’t going to help my impression of the film, but dubbing is not going to change the problems with the direction.
It is 15th century France and a procession takes a pair of prisoners, Alaric de Marnac (Paul Naschy) and Mabille De Lancré (Helga Liné), to be executed. A voice over tells us about the fear of Satanists that is sweeping the lands. Alaric has been denounced as a Satanist, cannibal, vampire and lycanthrope (nothing like covering the bases) by his brother Armand (Paul Naschy) and Andre Roland (Víctor Alcázar). Alaric is to be beheaded, head and body buried separately and Mabille is to be tortured and executed. They curse their tormentors.
Modern day Paris and Hugo de Marnac (Paul Naschy) visits his friend Maurice Roland (Víctor Alcázar). Maurice is a painter and Hugo hasn’t seen him for a few weeks as he has been working on a painting he just can’t get, all he can see in his mind’s eye are dark eyes. However Paula (Cristina Suriani), the love of Maurice’s life, is back and is with Sylvia (Betsabé Ruiz), Hugo’s girlfriend. The four go out for the day.
When they get back a couple of friends are there and mention a medium they are seeing. Paula really wants to go but Hugo is sceptical of such things. Now I have to say that Hugo was rather unsympathetic – but he himself says he is an egoist. Hugo realises that he could ask where the body and head of Alaric are buried and if there, as no one knows the answer, it would prove the medium to be real. Sylvia seems interested in Mabille. Maurice refuses to go.
The medium makes contact with Alaric, though Hugo remains sceptical. Maurice, whilst the séance takes place, starts painting and it becomes de Marnac holding his own severed head. The painting then starts bleeding and Maurice stabs the canvas to destroy it. He refuses to tell the others what happened and it is decided to go to the mountains and search out Alaric’s remains. Suffice it to say mishap follows them.
This includes car jacking, murder, body disposal, Hugo revealing he has only ever loved Elvira (Emma Cohen) – the daughter of the caretaker, Gastone (Juan Cazalilla), of his family estate – betrayal, hypnosis, a slasher type murderer and undead creatures that bear a passing resemblance to vampires, plus the zombies I mentioned. As I said the script throws in the kitchen sink when it comes to concepts (yet somehow the film remains languidly paced) and I don’t intend to look at it too deeply – however our lore needs exploring.
The head of Aleric is found at first and the casket it is in states that his sustenance is human hearts. Indeed we do not have blood drinking but heart eating. However he is clearly capable of a mesmeric gaze and soon has cast members doing his bidding. His bidding leads to his head being reattached and Mabille being resurrected. Mabille is just bones, he puts a victim above her and (after some booby fondling) cuts her and lies atop the victim. When he rises the victim is bones and Mabille is back.
The two are meant to be powerless during the day – though he is quite capable of performing some magic, when needed, it seems. However they do spend the day sleeping in coffins. They are also able to vanish and reappear at will. Strangely crosses are not mentioned but the de Marnac family have a protective pendant depicting Thor’s hammer. This wards the undead off, can break mesmeric trances and, if pressed to the forehead, will kill the creatures. Why a pagan symbol would effect a Satanist is beyond me.
We see Alaric warded by the pendant at one point and he does the genre standard cloak over the face and then turns into mist – very vampiric. The other way to kill one of them, as listed in the film, is by stake through the heart – but again this is not genre standard. The stake must be a silver needle and it must be wielded by a woman of pure heart. If this occurs, however, the undead will rapidly turn to bones.
I mentioned zombies and we do get an attack on the house by the victims (whose bodies have all been dumped in a swamp nearby, by the heroes, in a fit of non-logical pique that made no sense what so ever). However these are not your Romero standard zombies. Whilst they shuffle and moan they can also speak – family members asking for admittance. They are impervious to shotgun blasts but scared of fire and they can be immolated.
If anything saved the film for me, however, it was the dourness that creeps into the film. There is a bleakness within the general story and the ending that is refreshing in its desolation. When a key hero is shot dead with 30 minutes of the film to go you know that the screenplay is playing with our expectations. I’m not altogether sure that it succeeded in its goal as the baseline story – executed evil dudes come back for familial revenge – has been done so many times as to be vanilla, but Naschy’s understanding of the genre does shine through.
When you couple that with some, for the time, excellent effects it gets close to hitting. Effects wise I am thinking the initial beheading is really well done, the actual head in a box sequence is clever as well as being one of the best done of such sequences I have seen and a removal of the heart with bare hands actually works rather well. With some better direction (and a few less kitchen fittings story wise) this could have been something special. As it is, the film is definitely of interest if flawed. 4 out of 10.
The imdb page is here.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Directed by: Carlos Aured