Tuesday, September 6, 2022

naschy birthday!

Seeing as it's the late, great Paul Naschy's birthday today I thought I'd revisit an article I wrote for the late lamented Multitude of Movies magazine way back in 2015 which itself was based on (bits of) a review of the classic Curse of the Devil (AKA Return of the Werewolf, El Retorno de Walpurgis) for The yearly Paul Naschy Blogathon that used to run over at the frankly fantastic Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies site.

Plus it's worth a look just to see how much childish shite I have to cut out of stuff when I submit it for 'proper' publication.


And happy birthday Mr Naschy!

Back in the days before t'internet (and, gulp even video) the only way you could find out about new (ok let's be honest here, any) horror movies was from local library books (usually written by Leslie Halliwell, a writer whose own ideas of good horror once noted that Night of The Living Dead had killed the genre and nothing of any worth had been made since) or one of the very few genre magazines available (stand up and be counted House of Hammer and on the rare occasions it got imported to a wee newsagent nearby Famous Monsters).

As a precocious seven year old force fed a Saturday night teevee double bill of Universal and RKO classics these greats of film literature were a godsend to me and I would spent all my spare time pouring over grainy black and white shots of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr. as the tragic Lawrence Talbot.

I'll never forget though (I have a good memory) that one particular issue had a photo of the Wolfman I'd never seen before, true it was labeled 'the Werewolf' and although the accompanying picture of a fraught young man had a hint of Chaney about him his name wasn't Talbot. It was Daninsky. Like any curious kid of that age I examined the picture for a few minutes before completely forgetting about it and turning the page to reread an article on what looked like the greatest monster movie ever.

Ah Crater Lake Monster where are you now?*

The love of horror stayed with me (as did the love of Universal) and thanks to magazines like Starburst information became easier to find, the Saturday night double bills sometimes featured the films of Eddie Romero alongside the old faithfuls and movies like Dawn of The Dead and Phantasm had fueled my geek gene, forcing me to learn more about the directors and their influences. As a teenager you can probably tell I was never asked out on dates.


The strange sad faced man with the foreign name seemed to have disappeared without a trace though and whilst Coffin Joe was being photographed with Christopher Lee at swanky Parisian horror conventions it would take a controversial censorship bill of epic proportions to bring the legendary Paul Naschy to the attentions of young horror fans in dear old blighty.

Yup, I hate to admit it but it's thanks to the 1984 'video nasty' furore and the inadvertent banning of Naschy's 1975 monster mash The Werewolf and The Yeti that finally introduced me to the great man's work. And oh boy did I hate it.

Bizarrely enough, of all the films I devoured at the time this is one of those that I have only the vaguest recollections of; something about the infamous Abominable Snowman playing the bagpipes during a fight scene and being sent out of the room to get biscuits when Naschy got involved in a wee bit of threeway action comes to mind.

But the most upsetting thing about it, and I'll admit this stayed with me for years, wasn't the gore or the sex (or even the lack of decent biscuits at my nan's), it was because this young upstart seemed to be taking all the ideas, the drama and heartache (plus the dissolve effects) of my beloved Universal movies and trying to make them his own.

How very dare he.

So being the sensible and knowledgeable film connoisseur that I was (you know, the way you can only be when you're 14) there was only one thing I could do.

Yup, I laughed loudly at the screen and flounce back to my 'serious' horror movies, tutting audibly at anyone who even mentioned that film. Looking back I find myself dying a wee bit inside at the thought of being such a know all little brat, so caught up in my own (movie-based) importance that I totally failed to see the irony in the situation.

The whole fact that they reminded me of the Universal series was that Naschy was a fan too. It's just that he knew how to have fun with his 'fannishness'.

But who was this Paul Naschy fella and why is he so revered in the world of horror cinema?

Well herein lies a tale worthy of a movie itself.

Born Jacinto Molina Álvarez in Madrid, Spain on September 6, 1934 into a fairly well-to-do family - his father Enrique was a highly regarded furrier (as in he worked with fur not that he dressed up as a rabbit and attended conventions) – Naschy's first love was surprisingly, not cinema but weightlifting, a profession he actually pursued upon leaving college.

As he entered his 20's Naschy's career took a number of more and more eclectic turns, moving as he did between writing pulp western novels, illustrating comics, weightlifting and acting, his first on screen appearance being as a Mongol warlord in Luis Lucia's El Príncipe Encadenado in 1960.

No me neither.

More and more (albeit small) roles followed – including an uncredited appearance in the Jesus-tastic King Of Kings (1961) and as his understanding of the film making process grew so did his appreciation for cinema in general but it was a chance encounter in 1966 with horror legend Boris Karloff whilst appearing in an episode of the Bill Cosby starrer I Spy that set Naschy on the road that would finally lead him to success.

Reminiscing with the actor about his time at Universal, Naschy admitted his love for the character of The Wolf Man, a fascination that dated back to his viewing of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) as a child.

Whatever Karloff said to him isn't on record but we can assume he didn't tell him to piss off and have him thrown off set, otherwise I reckon his career would have taken a more bizarre turn and you'd be sitting here reading about an actor who portrayed a nasty aging Thespian in a series of increasingly demented revenge flicks set in the twilight world of episodic TV.

Actually there may be a book in that.

Naschy spent the next few years working on his first screenplay and in 1968 La Marca Del Hombre Lobo hit the big screen, introducing the world to the tragic tale of the doomed lycanthrope Waldemar Daninsky, a character – or descendants of – that Naschy would go on to play 12 times between 1968 and 2004's direct to video Tomb Of The Werewolf.

Bizarrely though he never actually intended to play Daninsky, only stepping up to the role after original choice Lon Chaney Jr. proved too ill to travel and a suitable candidate couldn't be found.

And from such accidental beginnings a horror legend was born.

But portraying one iconic character was obviously not enough for Naschy who, as his career grew went on to give us his unique takes on several classic screen monsters including Count Dracula and Mr. Hyde, alongside assorted mummies and demons as well as a host of vile villains and black-hearted bad guys in a career that spanned over 100 movies and 4 decades.

Frequently writing the scripts for the movies he appeared in, he added directing to his list of not too inconsiderable talents with the 1976 Devil worshipping delight Inquisition (in which he also starred and wrote) and later, when the horror genre fell from favour within the Spanish film industry, Naschy became a producer, at one point bizarrely enough making documentaries for Japanese television resulting in a slew of Spanish-Japanese co-productions, including the frankly fantastic (if not slightly bonkers) La Bestia Y La Espada Majica (1983).

If you don't believe me then you try and name another film that features a werewolf taking on a (real) tiger as well as assorted Ninjas and a sub-plot featuring a magic monster slaying sword.

In 1984 Naschy faced a crisis in both his career and personal life, firstly with the death of his father – with whom he'd always had a close relationship and latterly when his production company, Aconito Films, filed for bankruptcy – partly due to the aforementioned lack of interest in horror movies but mainly due to the total commercial failure of the ahead of its time spy spoof Operacion Mantis.

Imagine a Spanish Austin Powers by way of The Naked Gun channelling Benny Hill via 70's Burt Reynolds and you're halfway there.

Things got worse for Naschy in 1991 when he too suffered a heart attack during a weightlifting session at his local gym, forcing the once seemingly indestructible star to take stock of his life leading to the publication in 1997 of an incredibly honest and deeply touching autobiography, Memorias De Un Hombre Loco.

As the new millennium dawned though so did a new found respect and interest in the masters work when in 2000 noted American horror magazine Fangoria inducted Naschy into its Horror Hall of Fame, thanks in part to his many – worldwide - fans championing his cause but his highest accolade was to follow when, in 2001 King Juan Carlos I presented Naschy with The Gold Medal Award for Fine Arts (the Spanish equivalent of a knighthood).

Paul Naschy passed away from cancer on 30th November 2009, still working away on new and more terrifying horror projects until his death, the lonely lycanthrope had finally come home to the love and affection he truly deserved.

Daninsky and his creator resting among the likes of Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr. as true greats of horror and set to thrill and terrify fans of the fantastic of all ages for years to come.

*Scarily enough it took 40 years but I did finally get to see The Crater Lake Monster.

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