Orgy of the Living Dead (1973) and The Beast and the Magic Sword (1983)

Posted: February 12, 2021 in Uncategorized

Stephen D. Sullivan and I caught up with two more Paul Naschy films recently. The first, Orgy of the Living Dead, was a hired-gun exercise for him. He plays a supporting role as a tenderly necrophile gravedigger in a film that Phil Hardy’s horror film encyclopedia describes as both “lively” and “routine,” and that’s pretty accurate. Most of the film is a pretty familiar Gothic tale of murder and secrets in an isolated village, but just when you think the title is a cheat, we suddenly get zombies for the climax. While Naschy’s screen time is limited, and Stelvio Rosi’s hero is singularly unappealing, the setting is spectacular — drenched in grey atmosphere and perpetual drizzle, the village is as spooky and forbidding as one could possibly wish, and I would happily have spent even more time in the exteriors. Director José Luis Merino can’t quite work the same magic with his location that Mario Bava does with his in Lisa and the Devil and Kill, Baby… Kill!, but it still looks mighty fine. And though the final shot of the film makes little sense, it packs a hell of a punch.

The Beast and the Magic Sword, on the other hand, is an example of Naschy creatively unleashed. This, like Human Beasts, was a result of his partnership with Japanese producers, and it must rank among the most ambitious werewolf movies on record, spanning centuries and continents. A prologue in the 11th Century gives way to the main action in the 16th Century. There, Naschy revisits some of the themes of religious bigotry and persecution from Inquisition before shifting the action to Japan. There is enough high fantasy and horror imagery to fuel a dozen movies here, all handsomely mounted and frequently visually breathtaking. Seeing what Naschy could do with a larger budget makes one wish he had had the chance to do so more often. There’s also a tiger vs werewolf scene (of course there is!) which falls squarely into the “holy shit, how are you still ALIVE?” department.

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