Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Feliz Cumpleaños, Paul Naschy!

As a special remembrance of Paul Naschy, who turns 72 years old today, and to all his fans, here is a special "Things From the Attic" exclusive. Happy Birthday, Señor Molina -- and may all your moons be full and bright!

La Venganza de la Momia
1973, Unicorn Video Inc., OOP, VHS

Having already portrayed Dracula, Mr. Hyde, serial killers Jack the Ripper and Gilles de Rais, and, of course, his recurring werewolf character Waldemar Daninsky, Spanish horror star Paul Naschy (Jacinto Molina) added another classic monster to his personal gallery with this sadistic reinvention of the Mummy mythos, working from his own script.

Opening in Ancient Egypt, the film briefly documents the cruel reign of Amen-Ho-Tep (Naschy), who, with his beloved Amarna (Rina Ottolina), liked to be entertained by the torture of manacled virgins prior to drinking their blood and eating their flesh. The monstrous monarch and his moll were brought to death by a rival for the throne, prompting the mummified ruler's mute oath to exact revenge with the help of his descendents. At the turn of the 20th century, the pieces begin to fall into place as British archaeologist Dr. Nathan Stern (Jack Taylor) discovers Amen-Ho-Tep's tomb and travels back to England and the Landsbury Museum with the sarcophagus in tow. (Actually, it's just suddenly there; this is not a film to waste time on process.) The museum is soon visited by two Egyptians, Assad Bey (Naschy) and Zenifer (Helga Liné, at her most alluring), who are welcomed by curator Sir Douglas Carter (Eduardo Calvo) to study the relic taken from their country. Unbeknownst to Sir Douglas and Nathan, Assad Bey is a descendent of Amen-Ho-Tep, who has the knowledge of reactivating his bandaged and heavily bejewelled ancestor, who requires the blood of seven women to establish his immortality prior to his coming conquest of the civilized world. Said plans would appear to be endorsed by the Gods, given the fact that Sir Douglas' daughter Elena (Ottolina) is recognzied by the swathed savage as the reincarnation of his lost love Amarna.

This was the last of four films Naschy made in collaboration with director Carlos Aured in 1973. Though the cut print issued by Unicorn Video is void of nudity, it flaunts eroticized violence and cruelty in a manner consistent with the earlier three: EL RETORNO DE WALPURGIS (CURSE OF THE DEVIL), LOS OJOS AZULES DE LA MUNECA (HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN), and the superior EL ESPANTO SURGE DE LA TOMBA (HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB). Naschy's stocky, weightlifter's build is ill-suited for such a traditionally gaunt monster as the Mummy, but his massive, gauze-swathed, head-smashing cannibal, buried under layers of ornamental gold and wheezing like Mater Suspiriorum with every movement, is an intriguing, fresh interpretation of the character. The film is a collector's curio, more unusual than outstanding, with decently executed horror scenes and some appealingly shabby atmosphere. Its main fault is laziness at the script stage, which never quite reconciles its idealization and hatred of women, and too often establishes emotional states not through developmental drama but merely by saying so. For example: heroine Abigail (THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF's Maria Silva) says that Nathan is becoming "obsessed" by the Mummy murders before we are shown any signs of his interest or awareness, and he likewise becomes "convinced" of Assan Bay's involvement in the killings without involving the viewer in his arrival at that conclusion. (Admittedly, these may be faults of the US edit rather than the film itself.) Aured is most capable of staging horror sequences in static shots, fumbling any scenes requiring camera mobility, such as when Abigail discovers her murdered father and then walks backwards for what seems an eternity until she finally bumps into a slain butler at the far end of the room. Taylor, who previously played Dr. Jekyll to Naschy's Hyde, fully looks the part of the archaeologist hero in his pith helmet and Van Dyke beard, and one sorely wishes the film had given him more to do. The dubbing saddles Naschy's Assad Bey with a humorous, whiny voice, and the music score (Alfonso Santistebán, working with CAM library tracks) is a patchwork assembled from many films and composers; I recognized snippets from Mario Bava's THE WHIP AND THE BODY (Carlo Rustichelli) and Mel Welles' MANEATER OF HYDRA (Antón Gárcia Abril).

Unicorn's long-unavailable VHS release -- a relic of a time when the company issued Spanish horror in great quantity, sometimes even in their original Spanish language versions -- is a grainy, occasionally blurry, pan&scanned, and cut (whew!) presentation of the film, originally lensed in the four-perf Techniscope process. Though a 97m Spanish-language widescreen copy reportedly circulates in collector's circles, it adds only dialogue scenes. No copy of this film unearthed to date features the nudity included in theatrical export prints, and one hopes this variant will resurface someday. While the cropped imagery renders some ofthe gore incoherent, the Unicorn tape is more complete in terms of head-smooshing violence than US television prints were. THE MUMMY'S REVENGE may not be one of Naschy's top tier titles, but such is the sorry state of this old VHS presentation, one thirsts for a proper restoration of this title over almost any other in his catalogue.

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