March 12, 2011

The Moon Also Rises!

Spanish poster for "Horror Rises From The Tomb."

I finally caught up with the Benicio Del Toro remake of THE WOLFMAN on Blu-ray the other day and as much as I wanted to love it, I found myself only liking it and perhaps in time I might warm up to a bit more. Del Toro was born to play Larry Talbot and so it goes in the new film which makes him a legendary Shakespearean actor who abandons the London stage after performing his acclaimed HAMLET to travel back to the village where his brother has just been found ripped to pieces by a werewolf, which was just a
bit much in the way of revisionist cinema, especially when we are talking about the Golden Age of Universal Horror.

The original title of "Werewolf Shadow."
However, seeing a new werewolf film brought back some memories of an afternoon in March 2003 when I finally had the opportunity to meet the "Spanish Lon Chaney", the great Paul Naschy (aka Jacinto Molina) whose amazing output of Euro-trash horror placed him at the forefront of latter day horror stars left in the world. I got to see many of his films dubbed into English much like the Mexican Horrors I grew to loving which were remixed by the infamous K. Gordon Murray. The first of his films to grab my attention was HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, still one of my personal favorites of his. The film opens a bit like BLACK SUNDAY with a prologue of the execution of a warlock and his evil lady (very Mario Bava-ish, except in color). Seeing this one on television sandwiched in-between car commercials was a late night guilty pleasure. It took me a while to forget that he looked so much like the late John Belushi  that it was hard to take him seriously but that would pass as I became for familiar with his work. I did not see his take of the Wolf Man until I caught WEREWOLF SHADOW a few weeks later. This and all that followed made Paul a new idol of mine because you could see the dedication he put into playing these fantasy roles. Paul Naschy was really like the rest of his fans since we all had the collective experience of watching FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN, but how many of us would grow up to become the Wolf Man? At least Rick Baker, of all the baby boomers, grew up to create these characters for real as the now Oscar-winning make-up artist winning for current incarnation of THE WOLFMAN.

I never really thought the opportunity would present itself for me to actually meet Paul Naschy since he lived and worked in Spain for most of his career. All this would change as Paul Naschy became world famous for his impressive array of genre films, including almost all of the classic monsters of the cinema in the process. By 2003, he had penned a memoir entitled MEMOIRES OF A WOLFMAN, the result of taking a trip to Hollywood and taking a part in a couple of low budget horror films which could not help but remind me of a similar fate which befell the great Boris Karloff at the end of his career. Karloff should have ended his filmography with TARGETS, a swan song if ever there was one, playing a fading horror star to perfection. However, he was lured back to Hollywood to make four Mexican quickies and those lackluster films became his last. In any case, Paul Naschy was in town to do some work and also to sign copies of his book at DARK DELICACIES, the best genre bookstore in L.A.

I had a bootleg copy of HOWL OF THE DEVIL, a hard to find horror film in which he portrays half a dozen monsters including the devil. My copy was in Spanish with no subtitles yet it was fairly easy to follow. Paul Naschy, in person, is still quite a treat as he carries himself with great panache even though his English was very shaky, so he relied on his very personable son, Sergio, to translate for him. When I arrived at the bookstore he was already well into signing books and movie stills with the store filled with fans and all things Naschy. He was visibly touched by all the attention from those who seemed to know all his film work by heart and loved every minute of what he did. I think it might of surprised him just how many fans started out loving Lon Chaney Jr. from childhood, allowing their inner child to blossom into a real fetish for all things related to the horror genre.

My time with him was brief so I chose to ask him about a film that he only did the screenplay for entitled THE CROSS OF THE DEVIL, directed by John Gilling (in fact, it was to be Gilling’s last film). Gilling, was, of course, known to genre fans for his Hammer films PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and THE REPTILE. Paul looked at me for a second and then explained to his son in Spanish that he was to have starred in CROSS but was forced out by Gilling because of some problem involving Spanish film crews and Gilling was unwilling to work with them so the end result was Naschy’s removal from the cast. I, of course, was sorry to hear this as CROSS OF THE DEVIL is quite a remarkable film, having seen it on VHS tape. My print was subtitled and very grainy, yet you could tell this was no usual programmer, as Gilling incorporated the proceedings with a dream-like quality, complete with drug references. The hero smoked Opium before his journey to dispel a demonic band of Templars.

Myself with Paul Naschy, 2003.

Paul Naschy in "Rojo Sangre."
We ended our conversation by exchanging contact information with high hopes of continuing our conversation on the internet. Paul was returning to Spain where he would make his best contemporary film ROJO SANGRE. This is available here in the states from Fangoria's Media Blasters label. I advise anyone who admires Naschy to check this film out, as it is really Paul Naschy's swansong to the horror film. In it, he plays basically himself a la Vincent Price in THEATER OF BLOOD, or Boris Karloff in the aforementioned TARGETS. ROJO SANGRE is perhaps a bit rough around the edges with bondage and torture porn in the mix, but the camera never wavers when it come to Naschy's character. This film remained his legacy until his death from cancer in November 2009.

As I finished watching the final reel of the new WOLFMAN, as Sir Anthony Hopkins' werewolf head flew off his shoulders, having been decapitated by his werewolf son, I had to laugh wondering what Paul Naschy would have thought if he were sitting in my place. I am sure he would have been pleased to see Larry Talbot in action again since the circumstances are always the same. The moon also rises and the wolfbane will always bloom.


  1. What a great memory, David! Back in the early 1980s, before full-length horror films became easily available on home video, I owned a ten minute 8mm version of "La noche de Walpurgis", which I must have watched over fifty times, and I have fond memories of watching "El jorobado de la Morgue" in a Copenhagen cinema. Those were my only Paul Naschy experiences growing up, but they still left lasting impressions. I also remember visiting Dark Delicacies and being hugely impressed that they sold a handsome replica of Chaney Jr.'s cane from "The Wolf Man". If only I could have afforded it!

  2. Wow! What a great story, David. I sure hope to run into you sometime to talk more in depth about all of your adventures. Thank you for sharing this one with us about Mr. Naschy.