Color, 1976, 90 mins. 38 secs.
Directed by Paul Naschy
Starring Paul Naschy, Daniela Giordano, Mónica Randall, Ricardo Merino, Tony Isbert, Julia Saly, Antonio Iranzo, Juan Luis Galiardo
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Vellavision/Resen (DVD) (Spain R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
A belated Spanish-Italian entry in the cycle of witch persecution horror films exemplified by Witchfinder General and Mark of the Devil, Inquisition is remarkable for a number of reasons, the most important being its status as the directorial debut of Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy and its heavy injection of outright supernatural elements, which require Naschy to play a total of three different roles.
In the medieval French town of Pyriac, trouble arrives in the form of righteous witch hunter Bernard de Fossey (Naschy) and his three henchmen, who have already borne witness to the encroaching plague consuming the countryside population. Bernard becomes transfixed by the beautiful Catherine (Giordano), but she's engaged to Jean (Galiardo) and wants nothing to do with him. Meanwhile the disfigured Renover (Iranzo) lusts after and steals the clothes of a quartet of village beauties as they skinny dip in a lake, and their rejection of him spawns an accusation of witchcraft that sets Bernard and his men on a rampage of torture and forced confessions. When Jean is killed under violent and mysterious circumstances, Catherine believes Bernard to be at fault and, through a maid with ties to the underground Satanic community, decides to make an unholy pact with the lord of darkness.
Despite its debt to previous films dealing with the same subject matter (including slightly later offerings like Ken Russell's The Devils and Jess Franco's The Demons), Inquisition is quite a unique experience as it delivers a very dark, unpredictable story that never quite goes where you think it will. Giordano and Naschy are both excellent here, with the former in particular getting a much more demanding and nuanced character than her traditional sex kitten roles in Italian films. The torture angle actually isn't a strong as some of its predecessors; there's one particularly nasty bit of business involving a rotating blade against a woman's bare chest, not to mention a lot of screaming and suffering scattered throughout, but it doesn't wallow in explicit detail as much as you'd expect. On the other hand, there's a barrage of female nudity (including more frontal exposure than international Spanish prints normally carried) with Giordano delivering an extended nude black magic scene that definitely lingers in the memory for quite a while. The last third of the film is where it really comes into its own with a wild, protracted black mass sequence in which Catherine comes face to face with the devil himself, setting up a finale that's filled with both irony and tragedy. Definitely not your average Naschy monster romp.
Briefly released on American VHS from Video City in multiple editions (and cuts) and rarely seen since outside of the gray market for decades, Inquisition popped up on Spanish DVD in 2009 with a Naschy interview and no English-friendly options of any kind. Fortunately the 2017 Mondo Macabro Blu-ray offers both the Spanish-langauge version (reflecting the language everyone was speaking on set, though Giordano is clearly dubbed and not always in synch) and the English-language dub track, with optional English subtitles translated from the Spanish dialogue. The Spanish version is much more poetic and antiquated in tone, with many of the religious quotations differing wildly in meaning at certain points. Watch both for sure if you're a fan of the film; it's an illuminating experience. The transfer is a tricky one as it actually looks very vibrant and textured in motion, but its general darkness and somewhat inconsistent appearance (one camera used for some close ups appears to be using different film stock and appears more drab and soft) means this one doesn't lend itself too much to impressive frame grabs, which tend to appear considerably more waxy and filtered than the film actually looks in motion. The film can also be played with an audio commentary by Naschycast's Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn, who are both informative and funny as they sing the praises of Naschy's convincing hairpiece and fake beard, the copious female nudity (which stops them in mid-comment more than once), the painstaking authenticity of the props and costumes (including miraculously snagging the real Malleus Maleficarum volume from a Spanish museum), and the solid foundation of the script written by Naschy himself. The Spanish DVD piece with Naschy (14m24s) is carried over here, now subtitled in English, in which he praises his cast and talks about his laissez-faire attitude to the first morning of shooting his first directorial effort, as well as the extensive research he conducted that opened his eyes to how much more extreme the inquisition was in France compared to the more famous, propagandized one in Spain. A new interview with Giordano (24m24s) is delightful as well as she chats in subtitled Italian (with one gossipy interjection in English at the end) about her beauty queen beginnings and her pleasure working on this film, as well as her failed attempts to get it released in Italy after it became a box office smash in Spain. Finally the disc (which features a new cover design by Gilles Vranckx) includes the usual Mondo Macabro promo reel and the Spanish horror episode of the great Eurotika! series, with participants like Naschy, Giordano, Amando de Ossorio, José Ramón Larraz, Jorge Grau, and Orchidea de Santis expounding on the unique and often misunderstood appeal of the flourishing genre under the strictest censorship restrictions in Europe at the time.
Reviewed on May 20, 2017