Friday, December 3, 2010

Performance Review: My Top 6 Naschy Roles

The Faces of Naschy

Being the enthusiast I am, it's incredibly hard for me to pick my favorite Naschy performances--usually it comes down to whatever I watched last, or whatever I was geeking out about with the Duke most recently. Still, there are some performances in the man's career that strike me as special--the iconic roles, and then a few lesser known ones that I think allowed Naschy to flex his acting muscles and show he was much more than a rakish sneer and a pair of impressive pecs--though God knows he was that! So here is my completely arbitrary and totally subject-to-change list of my top six favorite performances from the Lon Chaney of Spain:

6. Gotho, The Hunchback of the Morgue (1973) 

Naschy won the Georges Meliés Best Actor Award from the International Festival of Fantastic and Science-Fiction Cinema of Paris in 1973 for his portrayal of the lovelorn hunchback with anger management issues, and it's easy to see why. His usual handsome, chest-forward swagger obliterated by the hump harness and stance required by the role (to say nothing of the dust brown Ron Wood wig), Naschy plays Gotho as extremely meek, almost pathetic at times, but still capable of extreme fury and violence when pushed. But most importantly, he maintains a strange nobility in the character, whose mistaken belief that love will conquer even Death speaks to something in the doomed romantic in all of us.

"Don't bust my hump."

5. Pablo Thevenet, Rojo Sangre (2004)

At a certain point late in his career, Naschy got bitter. Denied the respect and recognition he felt his contributions to Spanish cinema deserved, he became angry at the increasingly Hollywood-like Spanish film industry, so ready to jettison its past in the name of embracing the next new thing. As aging horror star Pablo Thevenet, Naschy gives his anger and disappointment full reign, and the result is a ferocious portrayal of a man willing to damn himself forever to ensure that his enemies also suffer. It's fortunate that Naschy lived long enough to see his legacy given the appropriate honor, but the darkness in this role is pretty wondrous to see.

"Do you feel lucky, punk?"

4. Barón Gilles de Lancré, The Devil's Possessed (1974)

In my review on MMMMMovies I called this flick "Naschy's Macbeth," and I wasn't joking. Barón de Lancré is simultaneously noble and ruthless, a battle-tested warrior loyal to his comrades but enslaved and eventually brought down by his implacable will to power. The character's slow descent to madness is rendered exquisitely by Naschy, particularly in a near-Shakespearean soliloquy in his bedchamber, filmed through a fish-eye lens. This character also has one of my favorite Naschy death scenes, a monumental exit in battle that prefigures a similar death in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy by decades.

"All you guys on the first."

3. Waldemar Daninksy, Night of the Werewolf (1981)

Though he played the character a dozen times onscreen, Naschy's insistence on recreating cursed Polish nobleman Waldemar Daninsky in each film meant the character seldom got stale. But common among all his portrayals was a stoic, slightly morose attitude that was his own modification of Lon Chaney Jr.'s more depressive, suicidal Lawrence Talbot. For my money he was never better than in El Retorno del Hombre-Lobo, directing himself in the role for the first time as a tragic but indomitable figure, willing to fight the forces of evil for the good of a humanity that rightly fears him. Many of Naschy's characters were inherently tragic, but there's a reason this is his signature role.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: FUCK YES.

2. Alaric de Marnac, Horror Rises from the Tomb (1972)

All that being said, there's something about an actor sinking his teeth into sheer, unrestrained villainy that brings an eeevil smile to my face, and when Naschy becomes the deathless (and headless) sorcerer/knight Alaric de Marnac, the fun he's having with the role is absolutely infectious. From his swagger in the face of his executioners as their read his litany of crimes, to his near-wordless menace as he stalks the nubile and naked innocents that feed his lust, Naschy just OWNS it.

"Tell your descendants I'm comin'--and I'm brinin' HELL with me."

1. The Traveler, El Caminante (1979)

There's only one entity more evil than de Marnac (well, maybe two, if you count Coffin Joe), and that's the mysterious Traveler in Naschy's epic period piece. Without the sorcerous powers of Alaric (or at least having promised not to use them, wink-wink), the Traveler wanders medieval Spain, testing his philosophy--that a person can get further by practicing evil and pursuing only base self-interest than by being good and kind and religious--and finding it to be absolutely true. The story--also one of Naschy's best scripts, for my money--plays out like a forgotten piece of folklore, and his De Sadean Traveler is sinister, smarmy, and at times downright chilling. A fantastic performance from the Mighty Molina--his best, imo.

"You wanna play? Let's play."

So how about you, parishioners? What are YOUR favorite Naschy performances?


Elena said...

The traveller, it is sooo amazing!

venoms5 said...

This has been a nicely compiled, eclectic mix of Naschy reminisces and appreciations, Duke and Vicar.

I'm not sure if I can amass six Naschy movies that I would say are my favorites. I like him as an actor and feel he put a lot of dedication into his work, but the bulk of his movies are barely average and would likely be near unwatchable if he weren't in them. Most of them get by on their atmosphere, and, oddly enough, the best pictures seem to be the more obscure ones.

Still, the films he directed are astonishingly well made. For me, his movies worked best when he was in total control of the production. For an all around presentation, I'd say these were the best of the man's work out of what I've seen:


For entertainment value, I'd say these would be at the top of my list:


HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE I like a lot, too, but feel its accolades are a bit overrated. I'm perplexed that he won an award for this movie. It's not that Naschy isn't good, just that I had the hardest time feeling any sympathy at all for the character when one minute, he's drenched in pathos, but the next minute, he's chopping off a head, or severing body parts in the morgue. As mere exploitation, it works just fine for me.

THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (1976) is one I need to see again which I haven't seen in years. He's also in a very minor role in J.P. Simon's MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND (1980).

Anonymous said...

Leonardo in "El caminante"
Juan Andres Aldije "El Francés" in "El huerto del francés"
Pablo Thevenet in "Rojo sangre"
Waldemar Daninsky in "El retorno del hombre lobo"
Alaric de Marnac in "Horror rises from the tomb"
Bernard de Fossey in "Inquisición"

Dan said...

My top two are personal due to the life and death of my late wife.

Probably for me my number 2 is Gotho because I loved my late wife and we were both picked on tons in school so his plight is more personal. Also the actress in the wheelchair looked a lot like her. The painting in the original poster art shows Gotho holding the departed Ilsa and that painting is exactly how I felt when she died - grief stricken and helpless.

Number 1 is Pablo Thevenet. After my wife's premature death I was very angry as well as depressed. Pablo showed me how hatred and revenge can scar your very soul. I didn't want to be Pablo so it was a wake up call. Oh and I will be careful what I sign! ;-)

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