Not only is it post-apoc month at B&S Movies, Sam’s also reviewed a few Paul Naschy movies for the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama recently held outside of Pittsburgh. And Paul Naschy did a post-apoc movie. Yes, that’s right: Paul Naschy, the King of Spanish Horror, and the post-apocalypse, together, in one film.
The future is officially FUBAR’d.
For those of you not familiar with the (appreciated) absurdity of Spanish horror, and Paul Naschy’s oeuvre, please join me in a read of my June 2019 review (and mini-career retrospective) for his 1983 film, Panic Beats (based on the exploits of kinky French Knight Gilles de Rais, as embodied in Naschy’s Alaric de Marnac character). That review serves as a primer for my upcoming review of that film’s prequel, 1973’s Horror Rises from the Tomb, part of B&S Movies’ Halloween tribute to Mill Creek’s Pure Terror 50-film box set.
The People Who Own the Dark is Naschy’s contribution to the 2nd wave of sci-fi/apocalypse films that ignited during the 1970’s: beginning with Charlton Heston’s The Omega Man (1971) and ending with Richard Harris’s Ravagers (1979). In between, everyone from Hollywood’s A-List—Yul Brynner, Bruce Dern, James Caan, Sean Connery, Jackie Cooper, Paul Newman, George Peppard, and Oliver Reed—sped off into the radiated sunrise for their post-end-of-the-world romps. If his American counterparts can do it, then why not European cinema’s acting equivalent: the “Lon Chaney” of Spain? So Paul Naschy sort-of-kind-of updated that sexual scamp Alaric de Marnac for the post-apoc age to ask the question: What if the Marquis de Sade existed in the nuclear, Cold War era of the 1970s?
And that’s how we arrive at this trashy horror frolic featuring more cover-model hysterical women—this time, instead of cobby-web horror—scampering through the first days of the post-WW III apocalypse, adorned in sensible mini-dresses and chunky-strappy sandals (don’t stub a toe, sweetie); a world where make-up never smudges or runs. Amid the absurdity, you’ll discover a thought-proving parable regarding the sociopolitical dynamic between the rich and the poor and the oppressiveness of the Francoist dictatorship—of the Luis Buñuel The Exterminating Angel (1962) subtext-variety. This is a world where elites find themselves trapped in the allegorical hell of The Eagles’ “Hotel California” (You can check out anytime time you like /But you can never leave)—mixed with plentiful boobs and soupcon of gore. (Naschy’s “theme” on the corruption of wealthy libertines is also prevalent in Pier Paolo Passolini’s art-horror film statement regarding Italy’s fascist state: Salo, the 120 Days of Sodom (1975). The brutally squeamish (but not gratuitous: there’s a point to it all, really) work also drawls from the infamous exploits of the Marquis de Sade).
The People Who Own the Dark is a shrewd reworking of familiar plots and themes that spooked us before, courtesy of Vincent Price’s The Last Man on Earth (1961), George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and, to a lesser degree, those films’ strikingly similar antecedent: John Agar’s rather dull, disembodied-moon-aliens-possess-the-dead classic, Invisible Invaders (1959). Each of these films was, in turn, influenced by the rather obscure, very talky and cheap, but proficient and well-photographed, Five (1951), which was the first post-WW II film to depict a post-atomic war survival parable. In terms of People: a more accurate, influential antecedent would be the exciting meteor-shower-blinds-and-brings-a-plague-of-man-eating-plants fable, Day of the Triffids (1963). This, actor/writer Paul Naschy and Argentine director León Klimovosky’s only “sci-fi” film, is the best of their eight engrossing collaborations (listed at the end of this article).
As with most of Naschy’s films: People appears in multiple, alternate versions: There’s the original, 1976 Spanish-language unedited “nude” and edited “clothed” versions: Ultimo Deseo (The Last Desire). Then there is the VHS-bootlegged version (I watched it via an old gray market mail order): Planeta Ciego / Blind Planet, which served as the film’s working—and more accurate—“sci-fi” title, later nixed to exploit the film’s sexual side. Those Spanish cuts run at 94-minutes (1:34:00). The shorter American version (1980) released four years later via Cinematic on the U.S Drive-In circuit by director Sean S. Cunningham (Last House on the Left, Friday the 13th), clocks at 80-minutes (1:20:00)—with the deceptive title: The People Who Own the Dark. The subsequent U.S-issued Sun Video VHS tapes run at 87-minutes, while the Star Classics VHS print run at 85-minutes. Then, courtesy of the U.S Grindhouse circuit, there are even shorter-choppier, less-pristine versions as result of celluloid wear-and-tear and breakage-splicing through a reel’s multiple shows-travels.
All of these versions became official and bootleg VHS releases in the ‘80s, then DVD-Rs, DVDs, and Blu-rays in the 2000s. The official U.S VHS versions we rented on Sun Video and Star Classics are rare and highly coveted by collectors. The preferred-original, fourteen-minute longer Spanish-language cut (no English-language dubs or subtitles are available) is the more enjoyable, coherent version. That version offers visual exposition involving (Vladmir) Lenin and (Karl) Marx, which offers an additional narrative-push of the film’s deeper meanings—a valuable subtext devoid from the film’s previously noted “influential” antecedents. (And that’s why, in most cases, horror fans proclaim: “Naschy is boring.” In an uncut state: Naschy is always fascinating and entertaining.)
The film was, of course, a critical and box office flop in America, courtesy of a title and artwork that duped film goers into believing they were paying to see an Amicus/Hammer horroresque film replete with hooded monks, Satanic rituals and graveyards—not a post-atomic parable citing the Marquis de Sade. If only the film retained its original title, more accurate title: Blind Planet.
In this “present day” nuclear holocaust thriller (with just a smidgen of futuristic accoutrement; you’ll know it when you see it: it’s cheap, but a chilling Nazi “death train” analogy) Paul Naschy is Bourne: a debauched, narcissistic military officer (the much-needed foreshadowing of his pigeon target-shooting practice scene by-double-barrel is missing from some prints) who gathers with four other attorney, military, and medical elitist-pigs at a rural chateau doubling as a bordello for a weekend of Marquis deSade-inspired proclivities. The rich playboys descend into the villa’s basement (wearing disfigured, metaphorical monster masques) with the Madame and her five, sheer pastel negligee-clad (complete with two lesbians, natch) prostitutes for a decadent Jess Franco-styled sex romp. Then a massive, earthquake-like explosion rocks the estate. (Bye, Jess Franco. Hello, Omega Man.) They soon discover the chateau’s two maids (one a sex-kitten; the other a stately old woman) have white, glossed-over eyes. The “earthquake” was actually a blinding, nuclear bomb/war (wiping out Madrid) that killed the power and communications grids. They’re stranded in the middle of nowhere, well, stranded in hell. And they’re not so “elite” anymore.
Welcome to Def-Con 1. Cue Amando de Ossorio’s “Blind Dead” siege of Templar monks who kill-by-sound, serving a radioactive helping of Tales from the Crypt-comeuppance to these moral defectives cast in the bowels (of Hell) of the chateau’s wine cellar which, inadvertently, acted as bomb shelter. (Again: Caveat: No monks appear in this movie!)
Of course, we’re in the Naschy universe: Those who relish the Seven Deadly Sins never learn. They’ve determined the only logical thing to do is to drawl weapons and go into the small town outside the chateau—not to help the wailing and wondering blind townsfolk (so much for the Hippocratic Oath, eh, Docs?), but to steal food and loot supplies from “Narcissism are Us.” Oh, and kill a few of the blinded poor souls during the greed-spree.
Yes. The blind townsfolk want blood.
And, not only did the fallout blind them (because of the low-budget, the film could only afford two sets of white sclera lenses to depict “ocular burn”; the rest wear dark glasses or bandages on their eyes); it’s given the townspeople a heightened sense of sound. And, suddenly being thrust into a world of darkness, they’ve snapped and become homicidal.
Pour Bourne and company’s capital vices into that toxic cauldron and you’ve mixed one hell of a post-apoc recipe. The radioactive brew boils over into a nighttime siege at the boarded-up villa (now Bourne and his friends are “blind”) where one of the elites has a mental breakdown and begins his new life as a (metaphorical . . . and nude) slobbering dog. The shocking, well-deserving, downbeat demise of this virtues-void bunch is ripped from the Romero playbook, with images that harkens the disturbing imagery of The Last Man on Earth.
While the initial set-up in meeting each of the ultimately doomed is a bit arduous (but necessary), once The People Who Own the Dark goes “Def-Con,” the film serves non-stop darkness and dread, just like horror movies should: no happy endings. There’s no revelation or spiritual rebirth that makes you a better person on this Judgment Day.
The cast is a who’s who of Spanish-Italian Euro horror cinema featuring familiar members of The Naschy Company of Grand Guignol players: Teresa Gimpera (1973’s Crypt of the Living Dead; 1976’s Secuestro with Naschy), Alberto de Mendoza (1972’s Horror Express; too many gialli to mention), Maria Perschy (1973’s Vengeance of the Zombies with Naschy, 1974’s Beyond the Door, de Ossorio’s 1976 “Blind Dead” entry, The Ghost Galleon), and the lovely Julia Saly (de Ossorio’s 1975 “Blind Dead” entry, Night of the Seagulls and 1975’s Demon Witch Child, and Panic Beats with Naschy).
And it’s well worth the popcorn to seek out Paul Naschy and León Klimovsky’s seven other collaborations: The Universal tributes The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Women (1971) and Dr. Jekyll vs. The Wolfman (1972), Vengeance of the Zombies (1973), Devil’s Possessed (1974), A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (1975; giallo), and Secuestro (1976; crime drama). (You can also enjoy my review of Klimovsky’s The Vampires Night Orgy, part of Mill Creek’s Pure Terror 50-film box set, in November.)
You can watch the longer (clothed) Spanish version on You Tube (no subtitles) and the shorter, 80-minute Anglicized cut on Archive.org (a badly damaged print; a VHS rip). You can purchase Code Red’s 2012-issued DVDs and 2015-issued Blu-rays through Amazon—with many used copies on eBay. There are numerous reviews on the web that explore the various versions and their related technical aspects, ratios, print quality, etc., to assist you in purchasing the version that best suits your entertainment needs. If there was ever a film that requires mainstream distribution streaming on Pluto TV, Vudu, or TubiTV, The People Who Owned the Dark, is it.
You need more Paul Naschy and Lèon Klimovsky?
Then be sure to check out Sam’s reviews of all the films that screened at the recent Drive-In Super Monster-Rama held on September 20 and 21 at Pittsburgh’s Riverside Drive-In—with Naschy’s Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror (1968), Count Dracula’s Great Love (1974), and The Craving (1981), along with Klimovsky’s The Vampires Night Orgy and The Dracula Saga (both 1973). Sam’s previously posted reviews on Naschy’s Seven Murders for Scotland Yard (1971) and The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975).
And that’s all of the Paul n’ Lèon films we’ve done at B&S so far. Let’s hope we did Bill Van Ryn, who is behind the amazing Groovy Doom and Drive-In Asylum, proud. Now there’s a guy who knows his Naschy movies!