Praise is too often quick to go to actors who hide every trace of their craft. But once in awhile, an actor comes along who revels in the traditions of greasepaint and spirit gum and the idea of putting on a show. Such a man was Paul Naschy, who, under his birth name Jacinto Molina, wrote a series of unabashedly imitative scripts that made him, for the better part of 40 years, the cinema's torchbearer for classic horror and its second "man of a thousand faces."
Molina wrote scripts to carve out a place in the cinema for himself as an actor, but it took awhile before he could successfully attach himself to them as director. The films he directed (INQUISITION, PANIC BEATS, THE CRAVING) are not his best, though the little-seen and unexported El huerto del francés (1978) and El caminante (1979) are particularly good. His most capable and stylish collaborators were Javier Aguirre (who helmed the notable COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE and THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE), whose success rate was doubled by Carlos Aured (HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN, THE MUMMY'S REVENGE, CURSE OF THE DEVIL). He played the doomed lycanthrope Waldemar Daninsky as many as 13 times, though, rather in the manner of Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius, the character was prone to appear in different countries, timelines and circumstances. It should also not be forgotten that, as he forged his screen persona in a country then under the fascistic rule of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, it constituted a revolutionary act.
The real Naschy is always conspicuous in his work, and his filmography at times unreels like a psychosexual playground in which he indulges all of his fantasies about cinema, women, monsters and violence. One is always conscious that the topless love scenes so frequent in his work were there more for his own pleasure than for any relevance they had to the stories at hand, or even to his films' exploitability, and some of his films contain instances of truly wicked sadism -- the back-peeling in THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI stands out in memory, as do some of the exploits of his incandescently evil Mr. Hyde in DOCTOR JEKYLL AND THE WEREWOLF. As his career matured, Naschy became more open about being the true focal point of his own Universal-derived mythos. In HOWL OF THE DEVIL (1987, which he directed himself) he played a sexually tormented actor, as well as the classic movie monsters populating his son's fantasy world. The 2004 film Rojo sangre (pictured above) cast him in a role perhaps closer to his true self and exploited, to a degree, Naschy's own bitterness over having his vast contribution to the popular Spanish cinema overlooked, and becomes the closest thing the Spanish cinema has produced to a self-reflexive horror film along the lines of Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM. Naschy's depression over his country's neglect of his accomplishments was a festering hurt that he was not shy about exploring in his autobiography MEMOIRS OF A WOLFMAN, but many later awards and recognitions for his life achievement came his way.
It is perhaps a kindness that Paul Naschy passed away before the release of Universal's remake of THE WOLF MAN -- in which Benicio del Toro and Rick Baker are sure to take the torch from Waldemar Daninsky's furry paw whether it be warm or cold -- and poetic justice that he sounded his last howl on the night of the full moon.