Monday, May 9, 2011

Muerte de un Quinqui (1975): or, Momma Always Said I Was Pretty

We've talked a lot about the peculiar genius of Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy here on MMMMMovies--I mean, A LOT--and a great deal of our adulation has as its focus the limitless, almost child-like joy that bleeds through every frame of film in which the Mighty Mighty Molina gets to live out his boyhood dreams of becoming the heroic monster he idolized. As much a fan as a filmmaker, Naschy reveled in the glory of his Universal Monsters inspirations, while upping the sex-and-gore factors and adding his own Iberian spice. His joy is infectious: seeing him tearing up the scenery in those films never fails to put a smile on my face and a spring in my step.

But even Paul Naschy couldn't be all joy, all the time, and as I dig deeper into the voluminous depths of his surviving filmography, more and more I discover the counterpoint to that joyfulness, the "Dark Naschy" that lay just below the surface, sometimes overlapping (as in his wonderfully villainous turns in El Caminante and Horror Rises from the Tomb), and sometimes taking over entirely. Particularly in the late-70s/early-80s segment of his career, Naschy seems to have had some demons to exorcise, springing perhaps from his sense of insufficient respect for his work, or perhaps from a deeper, more personal space.  The "dark" movies sometimes lose that sense of fun that drew me to his spectacularly muscled bosom in the first place, but nonetheless show a fascinating complexity in the man I've come to know and love so well.
This sense of darkness is more pronounced for me in Naschy's non-horror movies, particularly his non-giallo crime-thrillers. In these Paul often plays ruthless, unrepentant criminals, murderers and rapists who display a disturbingly bleak misanthropy (or often, more appropriately and sadly, misogyny) that could be quite jarring to viewers used to his more audience-friendly monster mashes. One such film is Muerte de un Quinqui (1975, aka Death of a Hoodlum) written by Naschy and directed by frequent collaborator León Klimovsky (Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman, Vengeance of the Zombies, Dr. Jekyll and the Wolfman, etc. etc.).


As the movie opens we're thrown directly into the action, as a group of the quinquiest Quinquis imaginable executes a well-planned robbery on a jewelry store in downtown Madrid. Head hoodlum Marcos (Naschy, looking awesome in sunglasses and a brown leather trenchcoat) engages the clerk in engagement-ring shopping while his henchmen spread out to cover the exits. Things proceed like clockwork for a while--Naschy produces the hardware and orders the workers to hand over the loot, which they're more than happy to do. However, things take a slide to the "shit-we're-fucked" side when a prospective customer walks in off the street, surveys the situation, and abruptly karate-chops a gun-wielding guard! Not his best split second decision, as within seconds he contains more lead than a 1920s paint bucket.

Like a shark scenting blood in the water, Marcos goes all crazy-eyed and starts gunning down everything that moves, including the shop owner and several innocent bystanders. They grab as much loot as they can and hop into the waiting getaway car, driven by the Matthew McConaughey of Spain. After a quick confab it's decided Marcos will hold the loot while the others go to the big boss, Martin (silver fox Frank Braña, hot off a failed audition for the role of Johnny Quest's dad, apparently), and find out what (the fuck) they're supposed to do now. On their way the quinquis sum up Paul's character: "That Marcos is one mean bastard! I don't trust him! I think even Martin is afraid of him!" As well he should be, we'll soon see.

"Don't make me flare my nostrils!"
Turns out Marcos is tired of being Martin's little quinqui boy, and has decided to fence the loot quickly and skip the country with the proceeds. Unfortunately his connection won't be able to gather the necessary funds for three or four weeks, which leaves Marcos in a tight spot. He decides to lay low in the countryside until the cash comes through, and begins packing his belongings, most prized among them the large photo of his dear departed Mother, which he keeps by the bed and talks to almost constantly. We learn through flashback that as a child Marcos witnessed his mother's murder at the hands of her disgusting, philandering second husband (a vile creature who also caused Marcos' deafness in one ear via blow-to-the-head), an event which no doubt had a strong formative influence on his character.

Just how strong becomes clear when Marcos' girlfriend Isabel (smokin' hawt redhead Eva León) catches him packing and asks to go with him. Marcos, ever the gentleman, lets the lovestruck girl down easy:

Harsh, but fair
Isabel, understandably upset, calls Marcos a "son of a bitch"--clearly not knowing that she's just stumbled onto a foolproof trigger for all of Marcos' psychopathic tendencies. Paul turns on the crazy eyes and mumbles toward the photo, "Mother--this slut, this piece of trash, has sullied your name!" then lays the unholy smack down on his unsuspecting and defenseless lover. It's a pretty brutal scene, as Marcos beats the girl viciously for some time before finally lifting a boot and stomping her head into the floor! This last attack is implied rather than shown directly, thank goodness, but still--yikes.

So there we have it. Paul plays a psychologically scarred thief with no honor (even among his own kind), a vicious streak a mile wide, clear problems with women, and the tendency to go into a murderous rage any time someone says anything that could be even tangentially interpreted as a slight to the memory of his mother. (Interior, Quinqui HQ: "...and so I grabbed the cash, stuck the gun up the old man's nose, and pulled the trigger till it went *click*." "Damn, Marcos, you one crazy motherfucker!" "WHATDIDYOUAAUGHKILLKILLLKILLLLL!" "*gurglegurglediiie* -scene-) And he's our main character! A far cry from everyone's favorite Polish nobleman, you'll agree. More like Norman Bates with 'roid rage.

"...and a gun. A real big gun."

Marcos has a rather liberal interpretation of the phrase "lay low," as on his way out of town he speeds like a madman and unceremoniously takes out two hapless motorcycle cops with a machine gun. As his former gang makes plans to put him down like the mad dog he is, Marcos hooks up with an old flame (and mother of his bastard son) who helps him out by getting him a gig as groundskeeper for a reclusive and filthy rich family. He hides the jewels in some nearby ruins, planning to hold down the job for a month and then come back to make his final escape.

Predictably, the family he works for are a few tiles short of a Mah Jongg set themselves. Patriarch Ricardo (Heinrich Starhemberg) is a former target shooting champion now wheelchair-bound with a debilitating spinal disease, who compensates for no longer being a "complete man" by verbally abusing his wife and daughter while sporting a fabulous series of cravats. Wife and mother Marta (Carmen Sevilla, who played Mary Magdalene in Paul's screen debut King of Kings [1961]) is nearly at the end of her rope with Ricardo's depressive/aggressive attitude, to say nothing of her own sexual frustrations. Rounding out the family unit is immediately post-pubescent daughter Elena (frequent Naschy leading-lady Julia Saly), a total Daddy's girl who is nonetheless intrigued and attracted by the buff, handsome stranger in their midst.

Magic Eye™ Wall Tiles: The Dude-in-a-Cravat Pack

And who can blame her? While crime and thrills are the ostensible order of the day, the movie's actual purpose seems to revolve around showing Paul's finely sculpted musculature at every opportunity, and sometimes even creating opportunities where none exist. We get Paul all sweaty chopping wood, Paul wandering into the kitchen late at night wearing (appropriately) a wife-beater tee, the requisite "Paul lounging shirtless in bed" shot, and even PANTSLESS PAUL. It is to swoon! While some viewers might find this self-indulgent on Naschy's part, it has to be said that Paul is in fantastic shape here, as beefy and toned and dripping with roguish charisma as I've ever seen him onscreen. In fact, he'd be absolutely irresistible--if you hadn't just watched him stomp a mudhole in a waifish supermodel. Maybe that's why the scene was included--to keep his musky manliness from stopping the show entirely. You are a wise man, Klimovsky.

For a hardened criminal, Marcos takes the groundskeeping job surprisingly seriously, and to be fair, he's an excellent worker. He repairs things around the house, polishes trophies, cleans up laundry, and even risks life and limb to repair some fallen electrical wires, taking a tumble from the ladder as he does so. This is what leads to the shirtless-in-bed scene, as Marta dresses his wounds and thanks him for his effort. Of course Marcos knows when he's in there, and it's not long before he's turning the full force of his Molina Musk™ on the hapless, longsuffering MILF. Ricardo sees what's happening but can do little about it, other than obsessively oil his rifle and make outraged angry faces at Marcos. To her credit Marta resists as long as she can--about 15 minutes, which I think is a record--before finally collapsing into the ruffian's arms and putting an explosive end to her sexual drought.

"Don't just stand there, woman! GIT ON IT!"

Of course Marcos is nothing if not quinqui, and seeing the opportunity to score with two generations under the same roof, he starts putting the wolfish moves on Elena as well. Saly plays Elena as a girl on the cusp of sexual awakening, flattered and a little frightened by Marcos' attention and innuendo. Of course Saly is closer to Naschy's age IRL, so having her play an almost-innocent teen is a bit of a stretch, no matter how many teddy bears and Mick Jagger and Elvis posters you plaster her bedroom with. Still, she's as hawt as ever, and her chemistry with Naschy really sizzles.

One night, while the sated (and doubtless exhausted) Marta dozes, dreaming of PaulCock, Marcos slips into Elena's room to try his luck. Having seen what's going on with Mom, Elena makes the mistake of asking, "How would you like it if YOUR mother were a hussy?"--which leads not to a beat-down, but to a rather disturbing rape scene that gets only more off-putting when Elena starts to enjoy it. I'm a Naschyphile no matter what, but even I had to shake my head and say, "Dang, Paul--that ain't right."

Saly Got Back

Of course those tangled webs he's weaving tighten sooner rather than later: Marta discovers one of Marcos' cigars in an ashtray in Elena's room and quickly does the math, while Ricardo spies the hoodlum entering his daughter's inner sanctum (IYKWIM) and starts clearing a place on the wall for his next hunting trophy. Then the double-crossed gang (remember them?) tracks Marcos down by threatening his ex and her son, leading to a pretty wild final confrontation/gunfight at the hacienda as the Quinqui makes his admittedly spectacular last stand. No gang of thugs can destroy the Mommy-Obsessed killing machine that is Paul Naschy's Marcos, but there's something about Hell and a woman scorned...

Muerte de un Quinqui is not one of Paul Naschy's greatest films by any stretch, but it's not bad. Klimovsky's direction is solid and doesn't call attention to itself, and the flick looks good. The acting is more than serviceable as well--Saly shines as always, and Sevilla does a great job as the frustrated, downtrodden wife desperate for the attention and affection Marcos promises. Starhemberg is delightful as the mostly unhinged Ricardo, wavering between impotent rage and deep self-loathing with blinding speed. (He also has one of the best OMG OUTRAGE faces ever put to film.)

After witnessing first-hand the power of the Naschy Thrust, Ricardo lost hope of ever being able to compete.

It will shock you to read the next sentence on this site, but what keeps the movie from being really compelling is Naschy himself (GASP!)--or rather, Naschy's character Marcos as written by Paul (*whew*). Paul plays the hoodlum with all the devilish charisma and hatefulness the script requires, and I can't fault his performance on that count. However, Marcos' character is just SO hateful and amoral, SO scarred and misanthropic, it's hard to get really involved in what makes him tick. Of course his evil is nothing compared to Alaric de Marnac, but then we aren't asked to spend the entire movie with him; we've got other heroes to latch onto. In Quinqui it's all Marcos, all the time, and I have to be honest--he's not a guy you want to hang out with.

Still, the movie does have a respectable number of gorgeous Eurobabes, some wild sequences and a slam-bang ending, and a veritable buffet of Paul-Flesh on display, so I can't hate it too much. While I much prefer the Daninsky saga or Paul's pseudo-giallos, I still enjoyed watching the "Dark Naschy" at work here. Also, it's interesting to note how in true Naschy fashion, Paul reworks story elements of an earlier movie, 1973's Crimson (failed jewel heist and vengeful thugs) and then uses elements from Muerte in a later movie, 1976's Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (drifter wreaks havoc with dysfunctional reclusive family). Anyway, I own my bias: 2.25 thumbs. YMMV, etc.

" Fantasy Island."
More great images from Muerte de un Quinqui (1975)

"...and a woman ain't one."

Treasure Chest at the Gun Show

Check the other side, bro.

Hydration is Important

As Ricardo wheels slowly by, Paul contemplates a Leap Attack.


"Oh yes she can, Mick. Oh yes she can."


At least they're not kidding themselves.

"NOW whose Momma's fat, ya bastards? WHOSE MOMMA?!?!?!"


The Duke of DVD said...

What an absolutely fascinating review, dearest Vicar! It sounds like the movie has a little bit of everything, from gratuitous cravat wearing, to Pantsless Paul. It's too bad that Paul goes so far into the deep end of depicting Marcos as a ruthless, unlovable killing machine that it ends up costing some points.

I can understand why, though: Naschy does nothing half-assed. You need a ruthless psychopath woman-hater? Comin' right up!

Al Bruno III said...

Great to hear your authorial voice agai Vicar. Your prose gives me the same kind of shivery pleasure I experience after I smear peanut butter between my toes and the cats lick it off.

This film sounds very interesting, I wish I had the resources to explore more of Nashy's filmography but I imagine someday soon just about every movie of his will be available via Netflix or some variant.

This film is now on my growing To Watch list.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@The Duke--Thanks very much, old friend! It's true Naschy throws himself into every role, but in this case he also *wrote* the part, so it's still an issue. Thinking about it more, I have decided it's not that Marcos is more evil or amoral than The Traveler or Alaric, but rather that his evil's just not as compelling and strangely alluring. Oh well, as Confucius said, "They can't all be gems!"

@Al Bruno III--thanks again for your kind words! I think. :S I do hope that the deep cuts in Paul's filmography make it to stateside dvd or streaming some day, but in the meantime hardcore fans just have to get what they can however they can. :P The earth cries out for more Naschy--someone should answer that call!

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