Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Godspeed Paul Naschy, El Hombre Lobo

Paul Naschy, often called the "Boris Karloff of Spain,"  passed yesterday at the age of 75. The cause was pancreatic cancer. He is perhaps best known for playing the character of Waldemar Daninsky, also known as El Hombre Lobo ("the Wolf Man" or "Werewolf") , in twelve films. He also starred in numerous other films, most notably horror movies, but also science fiction movies, action films, comedies, and so on. He was also the director and producer of several horror movies.

Paul Naschy was born Jacinto Molina Álvarez on 6 September, 1934 in Madrid, Spain. As a child his mother would take him to see such American made serials (including Dr. Satan and The Drums of Fu Manchu) and he saw the classic Universal Horror film Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman at the tender age of eleven. Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman so impressed him that he spent quite a while afterwards drawing the characters from the movie. As might be expected, he developed an interest in making horror movies at a young age, his love of films soon expanding to include such genres as historical adventures and Westerns. Having been born to an industrialist of some means, Mr. Naschy's family wished for him to pursue a profession more suited to their social status. He initially studied agriculture, but shifted his studies to architecture. He received a degree in such from the School of Architecture in Barcelona. Afterwards he designed artwork for such record labels as Columbia and Decca. He also wrote several Western dime novels under the pen name Jack Mills. Mr. Naschy was also a superb athlete, becoming a seven time Spanish champion in weightlifting and placing third in the javelin in a Spanish competition.

It was in 1960 that Jacinto Molina (not yet Paul Naschy) made his first appearance on film as an extra in the movie El príncipe encadenado (known as King of the Vikings in the United States). It was in 1961 that  he appeared as an extra in Nicholas Ray's King of Kings, much of which was shot around Madrid. He appeared as an extra in such films as 55 Days in Peking, L'ultimo gladiatore (known as Messalina vs. the Son of Hercules in English), an episode of the American series I Spy, and other films before receiving his first big break with a role in the film Dove si spara di più (The Fury of Billy the Kid). It was in 1968 that he appeared in the lead role of the werewolf Waldemar Daninsky in Las noches del Hombre Lobo (Nights of the Werewolf). Sadly, director René Govar died while the movie was being shot, so that it would never be completed. As history shows, this would not be the end of El Hombre Lobo. That same year Paul Naschy wrote the script for La marca del Hombre Lobo (The Mark of the Wolfman) and reprised his role of Waldemar Daninsky in the film. Naschy would appear in eleven more El Hombre Lobo films, the last being the American made The Tomb of the Werewolf in 2003. Unlike the Universal horror films of the Forties and the Hammer films, for the most part the El Hombre Lobo films lack any sort of continuity, a fact which never cost the series fans.

Paul Naschy made over 100 films, so that the El Hombre Lobo movies were only a small part of his career. He played one other character who appeared more than once in movies, the medieval warlock Alaric de Marnac. Based on the historical Gilles de Rais, de Marnac first appeared in the movie El espanto surge de la tumba (known as Horror From the Tomb in the United States) from 1973 and again in Latidos de pánico (Cries of Terror) in 1983. Mr. Naschy made many horror movies, including Jack el Destripador de Londres (Jack the Ripper of London), El Jorobado de la Morgue (The Hunchback of the Morgue), La Venganza de la Momia (The Mummy's Revenge), El gran amor del conde Drácula (Count Dracula's Great Love in the United States), and many other. Ultimately Paul Naschy would accomplish something that even Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee never did--he is the only actor to play such classic horror characters as Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein's Creature, Fu Manchu, Mr. Hyde, Jack the Ripper, and a werewolf.

 Mr. Naschy also appeared in other film genres beyond horror, including crimes drams (Disco rojo), adventure films (La batalla del poro), spy dramas (Operación Mantis), and family drama (Octavia). He wrote around forty films and directed fourteen (starting with Inquisición in 1976).

It would be exaggerating to refer to most of the films of Paul Naschy as classics. As an actor he could often be wooden and unbelievable. Yet there can be no doubt that Naschy was an auteur, directing and acting in Gothic horror movies (most often on a shoestring budget)  in the Seventies, well after the cycle had exhausted itself in the English speaking world. And what Mr. Naschy lacked in finesse he often made up for in gusto. While his films might have shot cheaply and even had inconsistencies in their plots, they were always good fun. Quite simply, his movies were often more enjoyable than many well films.

1 comment:

Toby O'B said...

Just checked out his TV credits re: that 'I Spy' appearance and was interested to see that it was in an episode with Karloff!

I never heard of him before, and I'm glad you're out there, Merc, to bring attention to such people. I doubt I'd have seen mention of this in the obits of the Times!