Wednesday, July 14, 2010

El Caminante (1979): or, The Devil Walks Out

My friends, The Duke and I have been in mourning for quite some time now. As longtime readers are doubtless aware, Spanish horror icon and world-class creative force of nature Paul Naschy, nee Jacinto Molina, passed away in November of last year from pancreatic cancer. Paul was and continues to be the patron saint of Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies, the impetus of the project itself and the subject of its very first review. Over the course of our explorations into the wild and the woolly of world cinema, Naschy has always been the giant upon whose shoulders we planted our feet--the cream in our coffee, the wind beneath our wings, the everlasting inspiration for all we do and say.

In the months since Naschy's death, I've continued to watch and enjoy his movies, but have felt strangely unequal to the task of writing about them. They have still brought me the kind of joy rarely matched by any other filmmaker's oeuvre, but when it came to putting fingers to keyboard or pen to paper to sing their praises, my muse would invariably flee. Perhaps the wound was still too raw, the joy too tinged with bittersweet nostalgia and the dark sour void of our loss. The King is dead--how can I, his unworthy knight, sally forth again into this newly silent realm?

But then, a voice called out to me from across the vastness of time, if not indeed from beyond the very grave. It spoke words of comfort, of encouragement, of the importance of the yet-unaccomplished quest. It was Naschy's voice, of course, speaking from the awe-inspiring monument of one of his greatest works. The magnum opus? 1973's El Caminante, aka The Traveler.


We open in Medieval Europe--Flanders, perhaps?--to find bearded, rag-clad traveler Leonardo (Naschy) walking a dusty path. He happens upon another traveler--a formerly rich gambler now down on his luck--who offers to share his wine and food in exchange for company. He tips Leonardo of a farm about fifteen miles away, where the kind farmer and his lovely wife opened their doors to him and gave him the bounty they now enjoy. However, when the gambler expresses doubts about Leonardo's account of his own military service, the Traveler repays the insult by blinding his benefactor with ash and then stabbing him in the throat! Helping himself to the remains of the dead man's food and gold, Leonardo sets off again. "The world is so beautiful," he says to himself, cryptically. "I shall enjoy it!"

For the rest of the movie we follow Leonardo on his travels, witnessing his various adventures. It's a tale in the classic picaresque form, as our Traveler is a rascal and a rogue, living by his wits, and not above theft, rape, and outright murder in pursuit of a more comfortable fortune. A philosopher as well as an anti-hero, Leonardo is prone to pronouncements like, "Man is the only true evil being of Creation," and "Religion, qualms, conscience...that's all loser's tripe!" As time and time again his precepts are proven true, the film hints that our Traveler may indeed be much more than he seems...

After his initial murder, Leonardo's next encounter is with a farmer tending his crops--and by "tending" I mean "fertilizing them with his own fundament!" As the squatting horticulturist sits helpless mid-loaf, Leonardo ransacks his melon patch, then casts a large stone with deadly accuracy, nearly bashing the old man's brains in and sending him sprawling backward into his own filth-pile! It's the first medieval-style scatological slapstick we see in the film, and it certainly will not be the last.

It's all in the delivery.

A bit later Leonardo meets a blind scholar and his young serving boy Tomás (David Rocha, who would work with Naschy again in Night of the Werewolf [1981]). Undetected by the old man, Leonardo listens as the scholar preaches frugality, using this lesson as an excuse to short the kid on rations and abuse him when he complains. When the scholar sends Tomás for water, Leo calls the boy over and sends him back with a cup full of steaming Naschy piss! The old man takes a stiff snort and sputters curses, whereupon Leo nearly drowns him in the river before making off with his money, his food, and his serving boy.

Together, Leo and Tomás head to the farmhouse where the gambler got his money, and there meet the farmer and his wife Inés (the lovely Silvia Aguilar, whose later Naschy credits include Human Beasts [1980], Night of the Werewolf [1981], and the disastrous comedy flop Madrid al desnudo [1979]). The farmer is as kind as his reputation, and leaves Leo to chop firewood while he meekly tends the fields of his master. Inés, who has a maimed leg due to an accident, has little else wrong with her, but apparently the farmer's been falling behind in his husbandry, IYKWIM. Leo sneers after his host, "You benighted peasant--your wife is in heat and yearning! You shouldn't leave her alone with me!" Which is of course true of any character Naschy plays, but in this case particularly so.

Naschy's left hand finds its mark

It doesn't take long for Leo to work his woo on the woman, using charming words and a blasphemous ballad to get her thinking of him as more than the hired help. She resists his initial advances, but Naschy seals the deal by graphically making out with her leg wound, working his tongue over the scar tissue like it was Wonka's Lickable Wallpaper! Soon Inés is riding the Great White Horse. "Oh, my goodness!" she gasps. "The pleasure! I've never felt anything like this before! It's I'm being possessed by the Devil!" Oh rrrreaallly....?

Once he's taken her to the heights (depths?) of pleasure, Leo demands payment for his stud services in the form of all the cash in the house. When Inés claims poverty and prays to the Apostles to deliver her, things turn ugly. "The Apostles were not on your mind when we were fornicating last night!" he reminds her, and threatens violence unless she coughs up the loot. Disappointed in the paltry haul, Leo further hints, "A shabby loot. If you only knew by whom you were had!" Not one to leave without making his mark, Leo finishes by carving an upside-down cross on Inés's backside!

It's symbolic, of course.

Back on the road and through another series of adventures, more and more we're given to believe that Leonardo is not a simple traveler as he claims, but something much more powerful and sinister. On the road to Court to earn even greater riches, Leo and Tomás first rob a moneylender and his wife in an entertaining comic scene. (Naschy pretends to be an "idiot," and clearly has a great time going nearly full-retard, pulling the lady's hair, stroking her breasts, and finally pissing on her shoes! The offense doesn't stop the woman noticing the size of his "rod" however.)

What, no one told you about the Naschy Boob-Touching Rider™?

That dirty deed done, they next seek shelter with Doña Aurora, a widowed aristocrat whose daughter is on the verge of death. Leonardo says he will save the girl with his healing arts, but only if Mom will have sex with him in exchange. Desperate, the lady agrees, and in the morning her little tot is looking the picture of health. However, after Naschy takes his booty (which is to say, HER booty) and leaves, the child quickly falls ill again and succumbs. As if her sudden bereavement and loss of honor isn't enough, Aurora soon finds she's pregnant with Leo's child! And what rough beast is this?

"Come to Naschy."

The remainder of the journey takes a downward turn for Leo. After killing a Lothario and taking his place with his married mistress (and therafter marking her cuckolded husband with another asswards St. Peter's Cross), Leo and Tomás are themselves robbed and left to start over again. Luckily they are able to waylay a couple of priests who stop to help them, proving once again that in horror movies, Good Samaritans are suckers. Disguised as men of the cloth they enter a convent for shelter, where Leo quickly seduces the Mother Superior, Elvira (Blanca Estrada of The Ghost Galleon, aka Blind Dead 3). He also exposes a horny orchard boy as the sexual "demon" who's been haunting the nuns, and is nearly killed by the boy for his trouble! Thereafter our pair find themselves at a brothel--which is the best place to go if no nunneries are available, clearly--and go to work for the Madame as bouncers. Of course they get their pick of the staff as payment, leading to a fast-motion montage that lacks only Yakkety Sax to be a Benny Hill moment!

I really don't think I can add anything to the glory of this picture.

At last it seems that Leonardo's wickedness has caught up with him when he and the Madame agree to sell Tomás's favors to a powerful gay nobleman. After all, Leo reasons, "no arsehole on earth is worth 100 ducats...but then, no friendship is worth 100 ducats either!" The deal goes down, and Leo robs the matron of her cut and then heads out on the road alone. Tomás has learned his teacher's ruthless lessons well, however, and with his new lover's support sets out in pursuit. They catch up to Leonardo, who is beaten, berated, and finally crucified in a ruined abbey for the striking climactic scene. Hanging helpless across from a stone Jesus, Leonardo offers his own Calgary speech: "Good Lord!" he cries out, "How could You give Your life for these pigs? I don't understand! I don't understand!"

Wow. Just wow.

End spoilers coming, if you care by this point:

The film comes around to end pretty much where it began, with Leo crippled and limping on the road, cooking his meal while another traveler comes up beside him. Leo offers him food and drink, anything to assuage his unbearable loneliness. To pass the time, Leonardo tells a fascinating tale.
"Let me tell you an old legend. A tale about the Devil. Once upon a time, the Devil was getting bored in Hell. And so, transformed into a mortal, he chose to visit Earth. He accepted all the weaknesses that came with living in the flesh. He could get sick, or even die. He rarely used his powers, for he thought things would be easy. He started off poor, so that he could move up through mischief and evilness. What human could stand up to him? After all, he was the Devil.

"The Devil went through every felony. He fornicated, killed, cheated, stole...and eventually became rich. He was having fun. He was happy. He begat a son, and he loved. But then his luck began to change. He was swindled, mocked, robbed and ravaged. Love made him lose his power. He ended up in misery. And the poor Devil found out that men were more wicked than himself."
"Haven't you guessed?"

Paul Naschy seldom gets the praise I think he deserves as an actor, though I admit upfront my bias in this regard. However, in El Caminante he gives a tour de force performance that anyone should be able to appreciate. His sneer of cold command, the malevolent intelligence in every gaze, the world-weary but still bemused manner of his philosophical lessons--it's a study in Evil with a capital "E" that surpasses even his portrayal of Alaric de Marnac, in my opinion. In fact, as I said to the Duke of DVD after our viewing: "You know how we always wished Paul and Coffin Joe had made a movie together? Well, Leonardo IS Paul's Coffin Joe!" And if you don't know what high praise that is...well, I don't know what to tell you.

The movie also seems a very personal work from Naschy, who also wrote and directed. (According to the indispensable Mark of Naschy website and the man himself in his autobiography, Paul counted this one of his best films, and possibly his personal favorite.) In addition to the black comedy and bemused if bleak view of humanity the story offers, Naschy also waxes serious when Leonardo sends Tomás visions of the future in a dream. These take the form of stock footage from World War II concentration camps and presumably the Spanish Civil War, both extremely formative influences on Paul's personal development. The grainy black and white images of bombs dropping, mass graves, and marching soldiers are in stark contrast to the sumptuous color cinematography by Alejandro Ulloa in the rest of the film, and cast an intentional pall on the film's comic elements that is as jarring as it is effective.

St. Paul

I first became aware of this movie while reading Naschy's excellent autobiography, Memoirs of a Wolfman. (Order a copy now, and damn the cost!). Never released to English-speaking audiences, El Caminante has been criminally unseen on this side of the pond, at least by the tragically monolingual. Fortunately, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, fans have taken up the gauntlet and subtitled the previously unsubtitled film--to those involved in this labor of love, my heartfelt and eternal thanks, because this movie, from my point of view, is just about perfect. Well-made, wonderfully acted, full of the fantastique elements and gorgeous Eurobabe nudity we know and love from Naschy, and so very, very much more...really, this one has it all.

For now these bootlegs are all that's available for English speakers to my knowledge, which is a shame--this movie needs to be seen by a much, much wider audience, especially now that Paul's contribution to world horror cinema is better appreciated. Still, if you're a fan of Naschy or 70s fantastique in general, you NEED to track down a copy, by hook or by crook. Really, it's just that good.

I remember the night that I learned Paul Naschy had died, I felt I needed to watch one of his films to mark his passing. I chose Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (ably and entertainingly reviewed here by Empress Kate of Love Train for the Tenebrous Empire). I was worried that my sadness at his death would color my enjoyment of the film, that I'd never be able to get through it without wallowing in the loss. However, once the movie began and the story sucked me in, the sadness disappeared, leaving only that contagious, chest-filling joy that has always been Naschy's peculiar gift. He keeps on giving, even now--reasons to smile, reasons to thrill, reasons to keep on singing his praises. He's still with me--with us--and I can never thank him enough.

All the Thumbs, ever.

I miss you, Paul.

Thanks to you, my friend.

Some more great images from El Caminante (1979):

Paul, seconds before making a daring run down the heart of the All Blacks' defense.

Harsh, but fair.

"Don't hate me because I'm beautiful."

I don't know much about art, but I know what I like.

There is no comparison.

A fellow of infinite chest.

Can't be too 'sploited.

"...OF COCK."

"There, fixed it."


That's the spirit.

Infernal Majesty


The Duke of DVD said...

Friends, the Vicar and I both watched this movie on the same night, ensconced in our respective estates, surrounded by opulence, as is our want, and I assure you there was much texting back and forth!

We had collectively thought we'd seen it all, touched every passioned morsel that Paul Naschy had to offer. So imagine our surprise when El Caminante came along! Speaking for myself, this is Naschy's crowning achievement. As the Vicar stated so eloquently, our impetus for creating this blog was Naschy and his sheer aplomb for movie-making, and this movie exemplifies it like no other.

A few things I would add to the Vicar's stellar review: I firmly believe that no other Naschy movie looks better than this one, both in terms of picture quality and in terms of cinematography. Just look at the screen-captures above! The crucifixion shot alone should quicken the breath and flutter the heart! Such composition! Such magnificence! Alejandro Ulloa's eye, and Naschy's direction, present a feast for the senses.

Please, for the love of all that is MAD, track yourselves down a copy of this movie, and watch it. Sell your wailing children! Their entreaties for food fall on deaf ears anyway, as you sit before the glowing tv shrine, searching for the remote amongst the folds of your pale flesh. You don't need them! Buy Paul's magnum opus today!

venoms5 said...

Great film. I reviewed it myself back in early June. I bought a handful of the Vellavision discs although they have no English subs on them, sadly. INQUISITION, BEAST & THE MAGIC SWORD and VENGEANCE OF THE MUMMY all look gorgeous, too, also from Vellavision. His son Sergio, had a hand in these being released. A shame those discs have no English options.

Samuel Wilson said...

This looks like cinematic sacrilege of the first order, and maybe Naschy emulating Bunuel a bit. It intrigues me because he seems to be tapping into a deeper Spanish and Euro tradition rather than his Universal fandom, but with all his exploitative aplomb. May the Evil One make it more accessible in English soon!

The Vicar of VHS said...

@The Duke--you're absolutely right about the look of this film--it's really some of the most gorgeous cinematography and composition I've seen of any film of this era, let alone Naschy's work. Alejandro Ulloa also lensed NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF for Naschy (another great cinematographical effort) as well as HUMAN BEASTS, which I've watched but need to revisit. Other titles include EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000 and the wonderfully titled FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION. After his stellar work here, I'd like to see more of Ulloa's visions.

@venom5--I saw your review in June (everyone should check out and follow venom5's excellent blog, Cool Ass Cinema, btw!), which encouraged me to go looking for EL CAMINANTE again. I was ecstatic to find the subtitle file and a wonderful transfer down in the vaults. It's a shame, as you say, about the lack of English releases of those films. FWIW, the fansubs are excellent and well-written.

@Samuel--You're right about the departure from the Universal tradition to more traditional Euro folk/morality tales here, which makes it fascinating but no less engaging. Again, I encourage everyone to seek this one out!

The Duke of DVD said...

@Vicar, I've never heard of "Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion" before, but now that I have, I immediately ordered it based on title alone (not to mention cinematographer!) and will have it for review early next week! It also was scored by Ennio Morricone!

venoms5 said...

EL CAMINANTE is a truly excellent piece of work, Vicar as you demonstrated in your excellently detailed review.

I dug out an old issue of Videooze I bought back in the early 90's which was strictly about Naschy and his movies. It included a detailed interview with the man, too. He was singing the praises of the film and the cover featured an image from the film.

Ordering those Vellavision discs was a nightmare. For the cost of the shipping, you'd think they would arrive the next day, but it took well over a month. I don't know anything about obtaining subs online, but I plan to visit a friend in New York in the coming weeks so I hope to get them then. My limited Spanish only went so far with me when watching the movie and I know I was missing out on some clever nuances and wordplay.

Hopefully, with your review now, the film will get more exposure. It definitely deserves it!

Anonymous said...

Another fine review and I agree completely, this masterpiece of celluloid is desperately needing on "our" side of the pond.

I have also found it extraordinarily difficult to take up quill and set it to parchment in wake of The Suzarian of Horror's passing yet we must remember... Molina once locked himself in a room with nothing but pen, paper and an 8-Ball and two days later stepped out with a ready-to-shoot script. His determination to produce a quality movie invokes the best in us, his ever-loving fans and we must continue on as he would have wanted us to do.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@venom5--I have seen that issue on VIDEOOZE on ebay a couple of times and have been sorely tempted to buy it, even though it's a bit pricey. I may have to pull the trigger at some point--maybe when I get some Xmas money or something. :P As for the subtitle files, the VLC media player will play them with AVI formatted files, just fyi. Feel free to email me for further discussion! scott.axeman[at]gmail[dot]com.

>>Molina once locked himself in a room with nothing but pen, paper and an 8-Ball and two days later stepped out with a ready-to-shoot script.

And if memory serves, that script was Horror Rises from the Tomb, one of his greatest! Truly an inspiration to all of us! Well, maybe except for the 8-ball thing... ;)

venoms5 said...

Ah, yes, I see it on ebay. $25. The original price was $7 and it was a double issue. It's the only one I ever bought and I think I only knew about it from a flyer from one of the mail order catalogs I used to get. Maybe I'll do a review of the magazine to give you a push to pick it up!

Jenn said...

I, too, as you know, have been in mourning for quite some time. I haven't watched a film featuring Paul since his death because, as much as I want to, I will just miss him that much more. I shall honor his memory again one day, but for now, it's too soon for me.

That being said, this one seems like a riotous romp, with the peeing and whoring and that all too lovely poster, which I've had in my pics for my screensaver for far too long without ever having checked out the actual film.

Thanks for the heads up :)

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