Color, 1975, 89m.
Directed by Juan Bosch / Starring Paul Naschy, Grace Mills, Maria Perschy, Maria Kosti
BCI/Eclipse (US R0 NTSC)

While it spawned a fair share of imitators across the globe, 1973's The Exorcist had its most profound cinematic seismic effects in Europe, where deep Catholic cultural influences inspired filmmakers to offer their own stories of manly priests facing down plucky possessed adolescents. Though not as well known as its more extravagant Italian cousins, Exorcism presents a uniquely Spanish take courtesy of horror legend Paul Naschy in a rare heroic role. The film begins with pretty Leila (Mills) joining her hippie boyfriend for a satanic ritual out in the middle of nowhere, with plenty of blood spilling into goblets. No sooner than you can mutter "Dracula A.D. 1972," she smashes her car on the way home and soon becomes possessed by a diabolical force -- well, the spirit of her brutish dead father, anyway. Her mom Patricia (Perschy) is none too pleased when Leila (who's also the object of lust for every male employee affiliated with the household) starts disrupting birthday parties and flailing around on the floor, and nasty murders begin to pop up nearby. Can burly Father Adrian (Naschy) purge the demon from her body before it's too late?

As with most Spanish horror films of its era, Exorcism was prepared in versions tailored for both its puritanical domestic release and saucier markets abroad. Even so, the nudity and bloodshed are mostly confined to the opening and closing sequences, with lots of angst-ridden scenes in between as Leila's family squabbles and tears itself apart under the watchful eye of the tobacco-lovin' priest. Luckily the horror passages are lively enough to ensure a modest cult following, with a particularly amusing German Shepherd bit at the end that predates Suspiria. Director Juan Bosch doesn't do much to lend any style or atmosphere (or even give it a coherent ending), but Naschy's committed participation (which extended to writing the screenplay, which he insists predates William Friedkin's film) and the fun Hammond organ-laced score by enigmatic composer Alberto Argudo will bring a smile to the face of any Eurocult devotee. And like most Exorcist cash-ins, this one made a mint around the world and proved to be one of Naschy's most commerical outings.

Previously released in a drab bootleg DVD edition that still litters a few store shelves, Exorcism gets a much-appreciated revamp courtesy of BCI Eclipse's lovingly-assembled special edition. Though the film has a rather dark and muted mid-'70s look, the picture quality is miles ahead of any other incarnation, video or theatrical. For some inexplicable reason the film is presented completely open matte, though compositions look much better matted off to around 1.78:1 on widescreen TVs (with the credits obviously framed to be seen in this aspect ratio as well). So if you can zoom in to cut off that empty space at the top and bottom of the screen, do it; the film plays much better that way. Either way the picture quality is fantastic, though. The audio can be played either in the original Spanish (thank God) with optional English subtitles, or the amusingly hamfisted English dub track.

Once again Naschy participates in a welcome interview about his film, and he's informative and engaging throughout as he talks about the place of this film in the rest of his body of work, his thoughts on writing it, and the circumstances of horror filmmaking in '70s Europe. He also provides an amusing video intro for the film in which he talks about how the film might be enough to convince him to believe in "dark forces." Other extras include an English-language theatrical trailer (also open matte), alternate "clothed" scenes (which involves sheets and dresses transparent enough to still qualify as nude scenes), still and promotional galleries, the Spanish-language credit sequences, and more informative, well-written liner notes courtesy of Naschy authority Mirek Lipinski.

Color, 1972, 87m.
Directed by Paul Naschy (Jacinto Molina)
Starring Paul Naschy, Julia Saly, Silvia Aguilar, Azucena Hernandez
BCI/Eclipse (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DD5.1

Unfortunately timed to hit the horror market at the advent of both the slasher boom and the hi-tech werewolf renaissance of The Howling, Paul Naschy's inaugural '80s lycanthrope outing, The Night of the Werewolf, was shuffled off to American home video as The Craving, where it confused countless renters unfamiliar with the history of Naschy's unfortunate shapeshifting hero, Waldemar Daninsky. However, his fans quickly saw through the lousy transfers and haphazard dubbing to recognize one of his finest and most fully-formed efforts, an atmospheric and wonderfully gothic (and thoughtful!) monsterthon that ranks among his finest.

In an opening that restages the familiar preludes to the likes of Black Sunday and Horror Hotel this time in broad daylight, bloodthirsty Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Saly) and her lycanthropic servant, Waldemar (Naschy), are sentenced to death by medieval tribunal who affix a metal mask over the latter's face and a dagger in his heart as additional punishment. Jump forward to the present, as thieving interlopers who remove the blade once again free Waldemar to roam the land and watch over the now crumbling area of his grave, awaiting the return of his mistress. Meanwhile, three sexy young students arrive, each with different motives; pure-hearted Karen (Hernandez) once again represents the possible love who could bring an end to Waldemar's monstrous torment, while decadent Erika plans to revive Bathory and become her disciple. Before long, the villagers are being attacked by a familiar furry beast, Bathory is slurping down the blood of, uh, non-virgins, and a beastly showdown is quickly brewing.

Aside from much more impressive make-up than usual, Naschy sticks to the tried-and-true Spanish werewolf formula here, approaching his most famous character from the director's chair for the first time as well. He does an excellent job all around, creating a rich and fascinating experience rife with memorable images and a delirious, old-fashioned romanticism. He even gets a mummy in on the action for a handful of brief intervals, and the unearthly Saly manages to steal all of her scenes and wipe out any memories of Naschy's past Bathory co-star, Patty Shepard (from Werewolf Shadow). As with several other '80s Spanish films, the music consists of a hodgepodge of tracks from the Italian CAM library, with the main titles featuring Stelvio Cipriani's driving, harpsichord-laden theme from 1973's La Polizia Sta a Guardare (also recycled in '77 for Tentacles).

A gargantuan improvement over all past video versions, BCI's DVD of The Night of the Werewolf looks radiant throughout with pin-sharp detail and eye-popping color definition. It's easily one of the most beautiful presentations of a Naschy film on home video to date and most likely better than what few theatrical prints might be left lying around. Naschy contributes a new, shot-on-video introduction to the film in which he welcomes the viewer and gives a quick bit of context for this release, which is presented in both the (awful) English dub, original Spanish mono with optional English subtitles (the best option), or a rechanneled 5.1 Spanish audio mix which overzealously pumps too much information (including dialogue) into the front and rear channels. The wonderfully ornate menu design also leads you to the rest of the extras including the optional Spanish titles, a long and strangely lethargic European trailer (playable in either Spanish or English), some brief disposable deleted footage from the robber scene, and two mammoth galleries of stills and artwork compiled with the aid of Naschy scholar Mirek Lipinski, who also contributes the stellar liner notes housed within the DVD case. For hi-def fans, this is also available in an even more eye-popping Blu-Ray double feature with Vengeance of the Zombies (see below), affording you the most crystal-clear Naschy experience possible. Easily one of the top-tier Eurocult releases of the year and recommended without hesitation.

Color, 1972, 87m.
Directed by Leon Klimovsky
Starring Paul Naschy, Romy, Mirta Miller, Vic Winner, Maria Kosty, Aurora de Alba, Pierre Besari
BCI/Eclipse (US R0 NTSC)

Spanish horror staple Paul Naschy's fondness for playing multiple roles has given him plenty of room to flex his muscles (both literal and thespian) in several films, but one of the weirdest Paul-on-parade spectacles must certainly be Vengeance of the Zombies, which features the stocky leading man going through a variety of make-up permutations under the guidance of regular director Leon Klimovsky.

Boasting a look and structure apparently inspired by viewings of Curse of the Crimson Altar and Plague of the Zombies, the film kicks off with a pair of grave robbers getting their just deserts when their quarry comes to life under the hand of a mysterious voodoo priest. Pretty soon London is turned upside down with zombie sightings, sprinkled with giallo-style murders by a masked maniac who likes slitting throats and planting hatchets in senior citizen's heads, hallucinatory visions of a horned demon (Naschy) surrounded by painted disciples, and rampant toplessness. Could the seemingly benevolent Eastern mystic Krisna (Naschy II) be involved in these ghastly shenanigans? Or what about his rather more sinister (and much uglier) brother, Kantaka (Naschy III)?

As with Naschy's other London-set monster outing, Dr. Jekyll vs. the Werewolf, he and Klimovsky strive to emulate the freewheeling early '70s ambience of drug-and-sex-sodden Old Blighty being similarly mined by Hammer films (see Dracula A.D. 1972 for the most ridiculous example). However, the Spanish approach automatically gives the proceedings a flavor far different from its Hammer counterparts, with much looser plotting (you could barely even tell this film has a storyline per se) and plenty of enthusiastic skin and fake blood for the crowds outside of censor-happy Spain. Few of Naschy and Klimovsky's films could really be termed "scary" in the traditional sense, but the imagery here of undead, bug-eyed female corpses in flowing blue gowns is certainly some of the creepiest they ever concocted.

As with most of Naschy's other output from the '70s, this film was prepared in both clothed and "hot" versions depending upon territorial demands. BCI's much-needed official DVD release presents the main feature in the spicier cut, taken from the original negative and looking considerably fresher than past video versions, with dreary unofficial versions surfacing in the past from companies like Beverly Wilshire. The open matte 1.33:1 framing shown here is functional enough, though viewers with widescreen monitors may want to zoom it in to 1.78:1 for a far more interesting and aesthetically pleasing presentation. Colors look excellent, and black levels look dead on (though the original film stock makes some shadowy scenes a bit murkier than what might have been intended).

Unlike some Naschy titles, the English dub works best here overall, giving the film at least a superficial fidelity to its Anglo setting. Purists can also enjoy the Spanish audio track either in the original mono or a newly tweaked 5.1 remix, though the latter is best avoided as it often diverges from the onscreen action and irritatingly channels much of the dialogue into the rear channels. Some brief footage present only in the Spanish version is presented in that language on all three tracks, so choose accordingly. The goofball music score sounds just fine in all three. Naschy presents the feature in a brief, newly-shot video intro, looking as genial as usual, while other extras include the alternate clothed scenes which plagued some unfortunate video releases, the original (similar) Spanish title sequences, a trailer playable in either English or Spanish, two hefty still galleries packed with international art and photos, and the expected thorough and enlightened liner notes by Naschy expert Mirek Lipinski.

Color, 2004, 90m.
Directed by Christian Molina
Starring Paul Naschy, Mehn-Wai, Miguel Del Arco, Bibiana Fernandez, Guillermo Montesinos
Media Blasters (UK R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) / DD2.0

Lucio Fulci has his Cat in the Brain, Coffin Joe has his... well, entire filmography, and now Paul Naschy has Rojo Sangre as his personal postmodern horror statement, a horror legend's vibrant look in the mirror to see how his ghoulish persona functions in a rapdily changing social climate. Directed by first-time helmer Christian Molina (no relation to Naschy, whose real name is Jacinto Molina), this semi-comic look at the struggling horror biz features Naschy as Pablo Thevenet, a once adored thespian whose days in the sun have now faded with audiences flocking to the newest flavor of the month. Now he's reduced to begging agents for parts (while not regaling other wannabes with tales of his own hilarious sexual perversions) and taking demeaning jobs at high-end brothels, a situation which ultimately sends him over the brink. Faster than you can say Fade to Black, he's dressing himself up as famous figures of historical terror (Jack the Ripper, etc.) and knocking off anyone who raises his ire, all under the watchful eye of his new boss, Reficul (any relation to Lou Cyphre and Johnny Alucard?), played by Plenilunio's Del Arco.

A real treat for horror fans, Rosso Sangre is a welcome relief after most of Naschy's middling recent output. Besides the lead role, Naschy also gets credit for the screeplay in what is obviously a personal project; as a result his performance features some unexpected emotional gradations and ranks as one of his finest to date. Beautifully shot in scope, the film focuses more on quirky thrills and philosophical horror than gallons of grue (the title notwithstanding), though there are a few modest but grisly flourishes to keep the gorehounds happy.

One of the inaugural titles in the Fangoria International line through Shriek Show, Rojo Sangre gets the deluxe treatment with one caveat. The letterboxed transfer looks excellent, as expected from a film of this vintage, though inexplicably it's not enhanced for 16x9 televisions; as a result, English viewers with widescreen displays will be stuck watching the film radically windowboxed on all fours sides to watch it with subtitles. The stereo Spanish audio sounds fine, with a few fancy directional effects thrown in especially during the surreal final half hour.

On the other hand, there's nothing to complain about in the extras department as the disc delivers a nice making-of featurette (containing interviews with the director and star as well as a quick overview of Naschy's career), a genial interview with the young director who comes off like a thoughtful and talented fellow (interspersed with even more behind-the-scenes footage), an image gallery, the original Spanish trailer, and promos for more Shriek Show titles including Duck!, Choking Hazard, Flesh for the Beast, and Ichi the Killer.

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