DAY 10 — RITUALS: It’s good to have a routine, even if it’s evil.
The 1970s were a time of “witchhunting,” with such film as Michael Reeves’s The Conqueror Worm (1968), Michael Armstrong’s Mark of the Devil (1970), Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971), and Otakar Vavra’s Witchhammer (1970). So Paul Naschy answered call — to the exploitative extreme — with his Spanish-Italian produced directorial debut (very loosely) based on Spain’s Grand Inquisitor Toma de Torquemada — who advocated burning the guilty at the stake. Naschy — again, in his debut behind the camera — does a solid job in scripting the serious-classic side of the subject matter from the British-made Witchfinder General (aka The Conqueror Worm) with the sleazy-trash side of the German-made Mark of the Devil — without delving into the Ken Russell arty or Vavra exactness — with a nudity and gore-filled romp rife with solid, period-correct set design.
As plague and pestilence ravages 16th century France, Paul Naschy’s sexually depraved and spiritually corrupt Bernard de Fossey (who can teach a lesson or two in the depraved shenanigans department to Vincent Price, Herbert Lom, and Oliver Reed in their respective films) leads a trio of witch hunters who strike fear in the countryside as they judge, torture and condemn those they suspect of witchery. While staying at the home of the local magistrate, de Fossey falls in love with his host’s daughter, Catherine, who, in turn, is in love with another. When her lover is murdered by thieves (paid for by de Fossey), she makes a pact with The Devil (Paul Naschy, in a dual role, as our resurrected faux-Antichrist; he appears in a third role as The Grim Reaper) to extract revenge.
What’s great about Naschy’s scripting, here, is the ambiguity.
Sure, de Fossey is a sadist out to satiate his fleshly desires, but he believes what he does is truly called on by the Lord. (Remember: Adolf Hitler, while inherently evil, neither saw himself as such, but a just man in a cause for the common good of Germany’s citizens.) Then there’s Catherine, who, so as to deal with her depression and nightmares over her lover’s death, allows herself to be doped up by Mabille, the local witch-alchemist — who may or may not be a witch (with lesbian tendencies) — using Catherine as a vessel to kill de Fossey. So, is Catherine really possessed by The Devil and did she really conjure-resurrect Him, or is she simply psychotic? Then there is Renover, the local town (one-eyed) rapist. His rejection-fueled misogyny, which rather see those he lusts after burn at the stake than to be with anyone else, fills up the dungeons with plenty of (fully) naked women — their bare breasts ready for (nasty) torture, as well as rack stretchings and charcoal burnings.
Naschy’s scripting, albeit more graphically than it should be (be prepared to close your eyes for the rotating gear/breast-clipping device), balances the perverted dichotomy practiced in the name of Catholic Church (again, back to the sick bastard that was Torquemada) with the ongoing quest of female liberation — who still need to sell their souls to men (or The Devil, in this case), to be “liberated.”
To say I love the pseudo-Hammer and Amicus Brit-vibes of Inquisition is an understatement. It’s a well-researched, well-made, historically accurate and intelligent film that ranks alongside Naschy’s interpretations of the atrocities of Gilles de Rais in two of my personal, Naschy favorites: Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973) and Panic Beats (1983) — with an honorable mention to his zombie-apoc’er, The People Who Own the Dark (1975). Otakar Vavra’s previously mentioned Witchhammer chronicles the real life exploits of serial killer, uh, Witchfinder Inquisitor Boblig von Edelstat, who cut a horrific swatch across 1600’s Czechoslovakia.
The trailers are age-restricted, so you can watch them as account log-ins on You Tube HERE and HERE.
The Mondo Macabro Blu-ray on Inquisition— as is the case with all of their Naschy reissues — is excellent, with its features of an introduction by Paul Naschy, an interview with star Daniela Giordano (as Catherine), an audio commentary by Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn from The Naschycast, and the inclusion of Blood and Sand, a mini-documentary on Spanish horror films.
For the true Paul Naschy fan in you — oh, it’s in each and every B&S About Movies reader, admit to it — pick up the two-box Shout Factory! The Paul Naschy Collection. (One day, we’ll crack these open and review them, in full.)
The five discs of set one features:
VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES
HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB
BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL
NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF
The five discs of set two features:
HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE
THE DEVIL’S POSSESSED
THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI
A DRAGONFLY FOR EACH CORPSE
In addition to an upload of Blood and Sand on You Tube, there’s also an upload of the feature-length documentary on Paul Naschy’s career, The Man Who Saw Frankenstein Cry, which we reviewed, HERE. Also be sure to check out our “Exploring: Paul Naschy and El Hombre Lobo” chronicle on Naschy’s love of portraying The Wolfman.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.