Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Hunchback of the Morgue (1973): or, Bustin' My Hump for Revenge


Is there anything that Paul Naschy can't do? I'll save you some time in researching that answer: there's not. Don't look for the thing he can't do; it doesn't exist. If Jacinto tells you he's going to make the Jack of Hearts jump out of an unopened deck of cards and spit apple cider in your ear before rolling itself into a tight tube and shooting up your nose into your brain, you'd best get ready for an apple-scented lobotomy. Cause that shit WILL HAPPEN.

Who else but the mighty mighty Molina could make a mad scientist movie and take as its protagonist not the doctor nor the rival, but the perennial second-stringer, the Hunchbacked Assistant? Who but Jacinto could give the hunchback pathos, passion, and twisted heroism? Who but Paul "Freaking" Naschy would give the Hunchback a sex scene?

I'll save you some more time: nobody, that's who.

In 1973's The Hunchback of the Morgue, Molina accomplishes all this and more, delivering passion-filled and breakneck monster extravaganza that any Naschy fan will love. We open the movie in the Bavarian Alps, treated to rousing polka music and beautiful mountainous scenery before we discover the setting of our tale, a lovingly crafted miniature model of a Bavarian town! You don't see craftsmanship like that anymore, folks. At any rate, we go to a happenin' brauhaus to find chesty barmaids serving up drinks to a bunch of pretty people, chief among them Uno (sp?), who is boozing it up despite the fact that his girlfriend lies dying in the hospital. After teasing a poor unfortunate hunchback named Gotho (who has a thing for Uno's girl), Uno unwisely drinks vast quantities of beer before stumbling out into the night. Gotho follows, but because of the dark print I have it was unclear whether Gotho killed Uno, or if Uno simply dropped dead of alcohol poisoning. Either way he ends up on the slab in the morgue, where Gotho (a pretty-sinister-at-this-point Paul Naschy) gleefully carves up the corpse. A strong opening.

"How do I know you'd like to go out with me?
Call it a hunch."


Next we follow Gotho to the hospital where he works as, of course, the Morgue Attendant. He visits the sick girl, who is distressed that her boyfriend has abandoned her. We learn from a loose-lipped doctor that she's dooomed--absolutely incurable, on her last legs, destined for a solo spot in the choir invisible. Here Paul shows his range by shifting from sinister hunchback to compassionate kindly lover as he visits and cheers the dying girl, promising her flowers every day.

But Gotho has his own problems, constantly teased and tormented not only by pub-goers and doctors, but by a gang of children who would have stoned him if he hadn't been saved by a kind red-headed female doctor from the neighboring girls' reformatory (?!). Paul shows his gratitude by kissing her feet and pledging loyalty forever--hey, it's the hunchback code.

Unfortunately the unkind doctors outnumber the kind, and their meanness causes Gotho to miss his love's last breath as she expires. Insane with his grief, he takes the flowers he was going to give her and uses them to suffocate the doctor who made him late! Romantic. Later in the morgue he goes on a patented Naschy kill-crazy rampage, offing two docs very gorily and stealing his love's body, taking it down to his subterranean lair in the crypts.

And then the whole thing goes COMPLETELY off the rails--but in a very good way.

No se duermen de noche.

The redheaded doctor tells a colleague about Gotho, and this colleague just happens to be a Mad Doctor in need of an assistant. Convincing Gotho he can bring the girl back to life, the doctor uses him to set up a laboratory to carry out unholy experiments on primordial ooze, trying to raise an ancient life form to modern-day sentience. Gotho does as he's asked, but unfortunately his loved one's body decomposes and the rats get at it, leading to a CRAZY scene where Paul is fighting real rats that are either very mean or being catapulted at him. (According to Naschy himself the little buggers were really quite vicious, and his fearful look in this scene is genuine.) Showing his resourcefulness, Gotho sets a nearby skeleton ON FIRE and throws it at the rats, leading to many flaming rodents hopping around shrieking--yes, some animals were DEFINITELY harmed in the making of this movie!

Later some of the doctors' other henchmen get tired of the stench of Paul's love, and ill-advisedly throw her body into an acid bath the doctor had installed in the lab. Paul's wrath knows no bounds, as he kills two and saves the third for a very horrible WTF fate.

Having lost all, Gotho seeks out the only other person who ever showed him kindness, the redhead doctor. She receives him into her apartment and then proceeds to show him a lot more kindness in her boudoir--probably the only hunchback humpage ever committed to film! Even deformed, Paul is irresistible.

For Paul, every day is hump day.

From there it all goes boom, with the cops closing in and the primordial creature breaking free for a final battle between ooze-man and hunchback that leads to tragedy for all.

I LOVE THIS MOVIE.

If you're a Naschy fan (and how could you not be?), you'll love this too. It's not perfect, but it's never boring, and it's got enough gore and nekkidity and wild ideas to keep a Mad Movie fan interested and very, very happy. The rat scenes are rough for PETA people, and even if you're not sympathetic to the rodents, it's still such a crazy scene your jaw will drop. And this is one of the more perverse Naschy films I've seen, with not only gore but disturbing ideas aplenty.

For his role as Gotho, Paul won the Georges Meliés Best Actor Award for his portrayal from the International Festival of Fantastic and Science-Fiction Cinema of Paris in 1973, and it's well-deserved. According to the invaluable Naschy.com, he also won an award best screenplay at the International Festival of Film at Amberes in 1976 for this wild and crazy script.

"Excuse me...does anybody have a tissue?"

Other fun facts: in a scene where Gotho removes the head from a cadaver, the filmmakers actually received permission to use a real corpse for the head-severing scene! Paul took two swigs of whiskey to prepare, but apparently couldn't get past the first cut into the throat. A dummy head was used thereafter. (Acknowledgements to the imdb trivia section.)

Director Javier Aguirre also worked with Paul on Count Dracula's Great Love, another great Mad Movie I hope to review soon. (Watch it instantly on Netflix, and ignore the Elvira interludes.)

Anyway, another 3+ Thumb mmmmmasterpiece from Jacinto Molina's filmography. Good stuff, and highly recommended. You'll never view Igor the same again!

4 comments:

Karswell said...

I saw this one years ago in some weird, heavily edited version called The Rue Morgue Massacres (so in actuality I probably didn't even really see it.) I'm really glad alot of these Naschy classics are finally getting a proper release though I've yet to see any of the BCI editions. Have you?

The Vicar of VHS said...

I've got Vengeance of the Zombies, Night of the Werewolf, and Horror Rises from the Tomb, which I can say are all absolutely fantastic. They all look spectacular, and HRftT even has Naschy himself doing a commentary, which is fabulous.

I also have Exorcism, but haven't watched it yet. I hope they give this one a proper release too--I'm afraid my version is "catch-as-catch-can," if you know what I mean.

But I'm a huge Naschy fan, me, as you can probably tell from the reviews. :)

Inspector Winship said...

This movie sounds AWESOME! You just happen on it at a garage sale or something? I have never heard of this one from Naschy but I'm going to be scouring ebay and flea markets now. Naschy needs to have a box set release that is done up right with commentary and any other extras they can find. Great review.

The Vicar of VHS said...

It IS awesome, Inspector, as I said! :)

Yeah, unfortunately my copy is "grey market," as they call it--a vhs dupe with un-removable Japanese subtitles. I got it off e-bay for pretty reasonable. There's an official Region-2 release from Germany that is supposed to be great, but unfortunately I don't have a region-free player. I'm hoping Deimos will pick this one up along with all the other great Naschy flicks they're putting out.

Thanks for stopping by! Come again!

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