Four by Paul Naschy! The Films of a Wolfman!

In this blog I’ve covered director retrospectives on everyone from Tsui Hark to Jess Franco to Chris Nolan to Atom Egoyan to Dario Argento to name a few.

One I have not delved into is Paul Naschy aka Jacinto Molina.

The recently passed, Paul Naschy. I hope to rectify that a bit here.

I haven’t seen enough of Naschy’s films to come at it with any sense of summation or authoritativeness on his body of work, but I did want to at least speak on the Naschy films that I have seen. Four films out of the 90 he is credited in starring in, which is probably four more Naschy films than most people have seen.

I have seen his first starring role, in 1968’s FRANKENSTEINS BLOODY TERROR. His most mentioned (and most retitled?) film WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN/WEREWOLF SHADOW (1971), his most problematic film in HUMAN BEASTS (1980), and the almost immediately forgettable CURSE OF THE DEVIL (1973).

What to say about these films?

They are not good.

I appreciate Naschy’s ability as a jack of all trades, actor/writer/director, and his ability to pretty much single-handedly, raise himself out of muscle-man and extra status, and create starring roles and a genre for himself. Very similar to what Sylvester Stallone did with the ‘Rocky’ then ‘Rambo’ films.

But Naschy is no Stallone, who people tend to forget has written and directed some of the most critically and commercially successful films of the latter years of the 20th century.

Bottom line, these four films I’m about to mention are not good, and I can’t even work up enthusiasm enough to give them much of a play by play.

But I’ll try and be concise.

I’ll start with the worst.

Hmm that’s a real toss up between CURSE OF THE DEVIL and HUMAN BEASTS. Both written by Paul Naschy (aka Jacinto Molina), with the latter also directed by him, and the former directed by Carlos Aured. Both are filled with inept dialog, and seven years separating them, still pretty piss poor acting by the lead and most of the actors. However CURSE OF THE DEVIL is just plain boring, as well as ineptly directed. It’s a bad paint job, that refuses to dry so you can paint over it. This film lacks the one thing that made the earlier FRANKENSTEIN’S BLOODY TERROR, while no less inept, a far more enjoyable film. We’ll get to what that is in a minute.

Yeah so from a pathetic opening featuring armored knights “dueling” (A Monty Python skit would look more realistic) to the forget it two minutes after you see it ending, CURSE OF THE DEVIL has nothing to recommend it.

So put that on the bottom of the pile. Now comes HUMAN BEASTS. Wow, this film pretty much defines inept. From the cheesy beginning, extremely bad editing, bad sound, nonexistent transitions, terrible dialog, replete with every offensive stereotype that can slink out of the mind/pen of Nashy.

It’s pretty sad stuff. But that said underneath the poor dialog, and poor script, the germ of the story is sound(though maybe you could do enough research to settle on a tribe, or at least a country, rather than falling back on the nice bigoted trope of impugning an entire CONTINENT).

It’s a hacked together version of The Beguiled and The Perfume of the Lady in Black, but unfortunately Molina, while he loves casting himself as the woman’s man lead in these films (and no one begrudges him for that, if a guy can write himself into love scenes with gorgeous women… he does) he lacks the acting skill, and more the chemistry to pull it off. This, HUMAN BEAST, one of his later day films, and he still seems wooden, and uncomfortable in front the camera. And his direction, he doesn’t know how to build tension AT ALL!

Example?

How about, (possible spoiler) “let’s mention we’re cannibals, in the first act of the film”, thus completely making the reveal at the end… uhh… not a reveal. 🙂

Really, really not good.

That said, I keep coming back to the fact, the germ of the story is there, and I was quite rooting for it, I just think that germ of an idea needed a talented scriptwriter and a solid director, and a talented lead, and for the love of heaven an editor (and lose the whipping the Black chick stuff. Oy Vey, please keep your fever dreams to yourself.), and it might have worked as a homage/reworking to THE PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK. It might have worked nicely. As it is, there is not a subtle or competent bone in this film’s body, and it is ultimately a pretty glaring misfire. D-.

Actually, I have to rework my list. Because as inept as HUMAN BEASTS was, it didn’t bore me (at least too long) and moved rather speedily toward its at least memorable if not entirely original ending. Which is more than I can say for WEREWOLF VS VAMPIRE WOMAN. Sporting a lackluster Werewolf performance by Naschy to go with his lackluster out of makeup performance.

A solidly uninteresting flick. I picked it up due to the ravings of some reviewers for this film, having seen WEREWOLF VS VAMPIRE WOMAN, I can clearly say… they lie like rugs. 🙂

Of the four it is easily the least interesting. F-. Avoid on pain of death by boredom.

So if that’s the worse, what does that leave as the “best” of this little lot.

Oddly enough it’s Naschy’s first time in the makeup, the film FRANKENSTEIN’S BLOODY TERROR. And it has very little to do with directing or script, which is on par with the ludicrousness of the previous films mentioned.

No what elevates this film, is nothing more and nothing less, than the absolute Bat-shit crazy performance of Naschy in this, his first outing as the Wolf-Man. Not before or since, have I ever seen someone throw themselves into the role of a man-monster as Naschy does here. It is all drooling, primal, snarling, completely unselfconscious evocation of the primal id.

It is an amazing, jaw-dropping, head-shaking inducing performance, that to my mind you could only get from an actor who has not yet learned to be self-conscious or to attempt to “be” an actor.

Which seemingly is what Nashcy tried in films after this one. Compare his monster in this film, to his monster in the previously mentioned werewolf films. Those are very by the numbers, man in a suit, Naschy trying to “act” like a Werewolf. As opposed to this first film, where I am frigging positive people in a scene with Naschy were quite truly terrified. He was effing people up :).

In this early film, Nashcy did not act like a Werewolf, he simply was. I’ve seen every major werewolf movie, and I’ve never seen a better portrayal of what a Werewolf could be, than what Nashy did in this first movie.

It’s brilliant.

Forget the horrendous poof Vampire, and other extremely poor acting, and so-called story, when Naschy is in the makeup, you can not take your eyes off the screen. I recommend FRANKENSTEIN’S BLOODY TERROR to any werewolf fans, just for that completely one-of-a-kind, and unfortunately not repeated (from the movies I’ve seen) or repeatable performance of a man giving in to his monster. The movie gets bumped to a C/C+ just for that. It’s the only one I would recommend buying.

Well those are my Naschy reviews. Hope you find them of use. Oh, and please feel free to suggest your own favorites, or films you think will help me reassess Paul Naschy. Thanks.

THE WOLFMAN 2010 Movie Review or Primal Ids That Howl Again!

2010 with less than a month and a half under its belt is gearing up to be a very good movie year, with films like AVATAR and BOOK OF ELI and even SHERLOCK HOLMES being early standouts. Having just returned from my latest flick THE WOLFMAN, I can happily report that the trend of good flicks continues.

Starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, and Emily Blunt, THE WOLFMAN has had a troubled production history. Losing its initial director, numerous delays and reshoots, seldom is such shenanigans a good portent for a film.

However the preview I found FANTASTIC. Along with the earlier WATCHMEN and OBSESSED, it was a preview that had me very excited about seeing the film. WATCHMEN while impressive, was not without some real flaws in pacing and denouement, so it failed to live up to the greatness of its preview, OBSESSED managed to be every bit as good as its preview, and THE WOLF MAN I’m happy to say… also did not disappoint.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. To put not too fine a point on it, I thought it was pretty darn great.

I’m a huge fan of the original Universal Monster movies in general, and the Wolfman in particular holds a pretty iconic place with me. But I think that is more for what the film was in terms of theme, than how the film was in practice.

It’s more notable for its historic place of being one of the early takes on the wolf man legend, brought to screen. However, I don’t think it is a great film in the way THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN or THE INVISIBLE MAN are great films. Those films are as enjoyable today, as they were when they were made 80 years ago… and that is the hallmark of a masterpiece.

The same can not be said for other Universal films, such as the WOLFMAN. While a good film, the original creaks a bit, and shows and feels its age, and is kind of… long in the tooth if you forgive the pun. It is not as dated, or (forgive the sacrilege) boring as Browning’s Dracula, but it is far from the greatness of James Whales’ best films.

So while no clamorer for remakes, I think if you were to choose a Universal property to remake, the WOLF MAN was a fantastic decision. A property, suitably iconic to make promoting it easy, yet a film that didn’t quite hit it out the park, and leaves room for improvement or reinterpretation. So your new film doesn’t suffer in comparison, as every attempt at remaking a masterpiece ultimately does (examples being KING KONG, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, INVISIBLE MAN, PSYCHO).

So this 2010 version of THE WOLF MAN manages to do what few remakes are capable of, it surpasses the original. From a power house cast, to an inventive script (Andrew Kevin Walker, the writer of Seven returning to screen-writing after a hiatus of almost a decade), to beautiful cinematography and capable direction, to some astounding special effects, to a real romantic heart to the film.

And yet Benecio Del Toro manages to channel some of the hound dog look, and pathos that Lon Chaney Jr brought to the role, while having a much greater range as an actor than Chaney Jr.

Chaney Jr wasn’t his father, his skills were limited at best, but the tortured haunted character of Lionel Talbot seemed to play to those skills, and perhaps more to the point, played to who Chaney Jr actually was. To the shadowed nature of his life.

Benecio Del Toro, makes the role of Lyle Talbot his own, while keeping much of the nature of Chaney’s performance. And Sir Anthony Hopkins, delivers yet another, in a career filled of brilliant performances. There’s not many actors living or dead who can improve on any role worn by the great Claude Rains. But the script allows Hopkin’s character to be fresh and new, and ultimately create a very different, and more iconic take on the role of Talbot’s father.

With the film fresh in my mind, it is just so much to like about it, and applaud about it. The cast, the script, the special effects, the action, and combining all that, the core of the film, the transformation scenes… finally a CGI transformation scene (liberally assisted by Rick Baker’s makeup and Prosthetic wizardry) that I feel stands up to the seminal scenes, from THE HOWLING and AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (without argument the two greatest werewolf movies of all time).

This new THE WOLFMAN is not quite up there with those films, but isn’t too far off. It hits largely right notes. That said it is not perfect. There is a definite sense of the film, pacing wise, being slightly awkward; always very close to going off the track, possibly a sense of the troubled production just kept at bay.

I think the editors on this deserve to take some bows (particularly the uncredited editor of Mark Goldblatt) because you can sense the cuts that just manage to keep the film on the right side of the tracks. But there are moments when you feel the wheels lift precariously.

But the freight train that is THE WOLF MAN holds, and arrives at an enjoyable conclusion. All in all a recommended film, and one I wouldn’t mind seeing in the theater more than once, and one I’ll definitely purchase when available. Rating: B+.