Hunchback of Rue Morgue, The (DE - DVD R2)
Gabe tip-toes 'round the acid bath and crams more parts into the man-stew...
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Paul Naschy stars as Gotho, a hunchback with slow wit, a violent streak, and a heart of gold. Gotho works at the morgue, and is in love with one of the hospitals terminal patients. When she dies, Gotho is crushed, and runs off with her body into the catacombs of the city. He goes about murdering anyone he thinks may somehow be responsible for her death, and is eventually discovered by the evil Dr. Orla, who tells Gotho he has the power to bring his true love back to life. In return, Gotho scours the city for fresh body parts for the Doctor's monster.
Paul Naschy (real name Jacinto Molina) is another of the unsung heroes of modern horror cinema. The actor/writer/producer (and occasional ghost-director) has been credited with popularizing fantasy and horror films in his native Spain during the waning days of General Francisco Franco's reign. Like the popular Italian genre films of the era, Naschy's pictures were often adaptations of popular bygone American productions.
Naschy's favourite character is the wolfman Waldemar Daninsky, which he played a dozen times, and it is these hyper violent films that the actor is most famous for. His films (for the most part) are a kind of mix of the classic Universal monster films, and the British Hammer Studio features, but they of course are peppered with a very Spanish flavour. Naschy's films are definitely time capsules, and haven't aged as well as other films from the era, but still manage to entertain despite their anachronistic nature and severe melodrama.
Naschy's work has always been violent, much more so than the majority of the output for their era. Even the various Hammer series tend to pale in comparison of the sheer graphic nature of the violence in Naschy's films. Only a handful of filmmakers (H.G. Lewis, T.L.P. Swicegood) were making splatter flicks at the time, and it wasn't until films like Dawn of the Dead hit the mainstream that such gory bloodshed would hit its peak. It's pretty tame by today's standards, but must have been shocking at the time.
I've personally been a bigger fan of Naschy's non-werewolf films. The Daninsky are repetitive for the most part, if you've seen one, you've probably seen them all. I like them, don't get me wrong, but they really do run the same gamut. I've enjoyed Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll and Inquisitor quite a bit for what they're worth, but there is a bit of the Naschy touch missing from these films. They're bigger than life, sillier than a barrel of lovesick monkeys, and contain quite a bit of graphic violence, but neither have enough melodrama or that special Spanish Gothic look.
Hunchback of Rue Morgue seems to be the general pick as Naschy's best film, though some fans will put films like Vengeance of the Zombies or Dracula Versus Frankenstein up front (both pics I've yet to see). From what I've seen of the dude's filmography the consensus is accurate, and Hunchback of Rue Morgue is a very entertaining and beautifully shot mini-epic. It's an excellent representation of working on a budget in a time before digital and even most practical special effects were available for the masses, and an interesting impersonation of Universal's classic era, with a dash of Lovecraftian lore.
Like pretty much all of Naschy's output (even his newer films) Hunchback of Rue Morgue is dated, and it will take a special kind of patience to enjoy the film for what it is. The plot moves, but is sort of scatter-brained, as the first third is almost an entirely different movie. It's kind of like three episodes of a television series. Things sort of tie together in the end, but there is a sense of the script being written on the fly, something that wouldn't be entirely uncommon for a Naschy picture.
There's a lot of heart in the project, and despite the cheesy effects and unrealistic nature of the plot, it's easy to get caught up on the Hunchback's plight. Naschy, never much of a technical actor, manages a solidly understated performance, and captures the childlike nature of Lon Chaney's original Hunchback, the one from Notre Dame. He's gets plenty of chances to murder people in awful ways, but he does it as a man, not an arm-flailing beast in bad wolf-man make-up. The film is a time capsule, but unlike other, lesser Spanish horror films of the era, manages a timeless visual quality, full of rich golds and browns. It is in this mix of striking imagery and honest camp appeal that genre fans will find love.
Over and over Naschy makes mention of the DVD's superior image. I'll admit that it looks pretty good for a thirty-two year old film from a region and era not known for caring for their B-movie negatives, but Anchor Bay has managed better results with even older Naschy properties. The print in understandably grainy, but this adds some charm. Colours are nice and appear accurately produced; as I said, it's a very golden-brown film. The problem is in the contrast levels, they're far too sharp. Whites bloom and gleam, and end up washing out all the film's outdoor sequences. The black levels are impressive, but at a pretty high cost. Highlights are pretty ridiculous. The anamorphic enhancement is welcome, and compression artefacts are minimal considering.
I don't think anyone expected miracles in the audio department, and I don't think anyone will be surprised here. If you speak English, you're stuck watching the film in dubbed English (yes there are English subtitles, but they are for the commentary track). This is okay because the dubbing is actually pretty good, and watching an admittedly cheesy movie dubbed sometimes adds to the whole experience (if you've only seen Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky in its original Cantonese you're missing out).
The track is tinny, and vocals often too loud on the mix. Very loud noises, like screaming rats, peak as distorted. The track, which is Mono (all three language tracks are Mono), obviously has little in the way of spatial representation, but does have a decent depth. The stock music could come up on the track a bit at times, but sounds pretty sharp overall.
Those kind Germans at Anolis have supplied us with subtitles for some of the DVD's extras. First up is a super cheesy introduction from Naschy. We enter the master's house and follow him to a bookcase of VHS tapes where he selects El Jorobado de la Morgue, and puts it in the player. The illusion of watching the film with Naschy is eerily real (end sarcasm).
Naschy's commentary, with a moderator, is pretty sparse, but worth it when he actually speaks. Because the track is subtitled, I recommend watching it with the English dub. This way the subtitles become a bit of a fact track. Anyway, Naschy is grilled for information about the film's genesis, some of his other films, the strange 'gut monster' (it's two large octopi), and most interesting of all, General Franco. Apparently the strict censorship rules weren't really a big concern of the ruler, and Francisco was even known to watch Naschy's more violent films on occasion. It was the appointed censors that were the real problem. According to Paul at least.
The award for most original extra goes to the inclusion of the two part, original German Super-8 version of the film. Apparently. Super-8 was too short to fit an entire feature, so the format featured shortened versions of films one could watch in the comfort of their own homes. The footage is pretty well mangled, to say the least, but it is anamorphically enhanced, and is a nice bookmark in the film's video history.
Next up is an extended scene. The scene proved to be too graphic for Spanish censors of the day, though by today's standards it's pretty tame. This is an especially cool extra because Naschy states plainly on the commentary track that the scene was burned, never to be seen again. I'm sure it's inclusion was a big surprise once he got his hands on the DVD. Along these same lines, the original Spanish and United States opening credits are also included.
There is a very extensive image gallery, which includes stills, posters, lobby cards, and various video art from several different countries. It is unfortunately a slide show, not something the viewer can manoeuvre themselves, but it is set to music. It is followed by a digital representation of the original production program booklet, which is entirely in German only. This, in turn, is followed by essentially the same program in English and Spanish (not to mention brighter colours).
There is a featurette that starts the second page (almost literally, as a digital representation of a page is animated turning), which concerns Naschy and his family revisiting Feldkirch, where parts of the film were filmed. Well that's what the official release info says, I couldn't tell you exactly what was going on because it was entirely in German. It's kind of touching, but kind of dull as well.
Next is another brief featurette, again in German only, that takes place at a horror festival entitled Buio Omega (perhaps after Joe D'Amato's film of the same name, also known as Beyond the Darkness and Buried Alive). Naschy talks to the crowd, in German, fields questions, signs autographs, the works. The piece runs pretty long, almost exactly an hour, and I really wish I could understand what everyone was saying.
The whole thing is wrapped up with a trailer, and extensive filmography, and the DVD credits. The disc comes in a fine book-like package, and the attached booklet about Naschy has an English translation.
It'd be an understatement to call Hunchback of Rue Morgue and acquired taste. The film is not available in the States, so the curious will need a region free player and the will to actually purchase the film in order to see it, which may be asking too much. If you liked any of Naschy's other film, than I don't think you can go wrong. The A/V is far from reference quality, but is easily the best we'll see until a studio like Anchor Bay or Blue Underground gets their hands on the original material. The extras are solid, and the Naschy commentary is subtitled, making for a nice little set that should please the hardest core of Spanish horror fans.
You can find this, and a whole bunch more Naschy films at Xploitedcinema.com.
Review by Gabriel Powers
For persons aged 16 years and over
Release Date: 27th April 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono English, Dolby Digital Mono, Spanish Dolby Digital Mono German
Subtitles: English, Spanish, German
Extras: Commentary, Original German Super-8 Version, Paul Naschy Introduction, Featurette, Booklet, Trailers, Filmography
Easter Egg: No
Director: Javier Aguirre
Cast: Jacinto Molina (Paul Naschy), Rosanna Yanni, V
Length: 90 minutes
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