HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE: Gothic Goes Gonzo With Naschy

You can’t discuss Spanish horror cinema without mentioning Jacinto Molina, a.k.a. Paul Naschy.  He was Spain’s Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff all in one, working at a furious pace throughout the 1970’s as he had a go at virtually every classic horror character imaginable.  He was most famous for his tragic werewolf character, Count Waldemar Danisky, but he played vampires, mummies, Satanic cult leaders, exorcism-specialist priests and witchfinders as well as frequently writing his own scripts.

Schlockmania’s favorite from his oeuvre is Hunchback Of The Morgue, a gonzo variant on gothic horror that crossbreeds The Hunchback Of Notre Dame with Frankenstein-esque mad science.  Naschy toplines as Gotho, a hunchback who works as a morgue attendant when he isn’t being picked on by the local villagers (seriously… even the kids team up to hassle him by hurling rocks at his head).

Gotho snaps when a sickly girl who is kind to him dies and kills the doctors who want to cut up her up body.  He then spirits her corpse to an underground lair, ultimately crossing paths with a shifty mad doctor.  He cons Gotho into getting corpses so he can build a monster of his own, promising his experiments can revive Gotho’s lost love.  As the cops close in on their trail, tempers and experiments heat up as the film heads for a collision course of splat-happy massacre and monster mash.

The result is a head-spinner that will dazzle cult film fans who like their horror trashy.  Hunchback Of The Morgue takes stylistic cues from both Universal horror and Hammer horror but filters them through its own madcap grindhouse vision, pumping the sex and violence up to early ’70s levels.

It’s gleefully lurid from start to finish, veering from melodrama to proto-gore scenes to wrestler-style fights to cheesecake.  The only place where the wildness goes off the rails is a few unfortunate scenes where real rats are set on fire when Gotho is trying to scare them away from his girlfriend’s corpse – it’s no worse than nastier moments in Italian cannibal fare but those sensitive to such scenes will want to look out for these bits.

The result is blind to its own eccentricities – like the straightfaced lunacy of trying to pass off a distinctly Spanish cast as German characters – but the target audience won’t care because it smacks you in the face with one wild moment after another.  Naschy plays his role for maximum pathos but his actor/writer ego also allows him a gorgeous love interest (yes, he writes in a sex scene for himself, hunchback and all).  Director Javier Aguirre gives the wildness the right straight-faced gothic atmosphere that helps it all hang together and his pacing is ruthlessly swift.

In short, Hunchback Of The Morgue shows Naschy’s wild  take on classic horror firing on all cylinders.  If you aren’t familiar with his work, this is a solid introduction.

Blu-Ray Notes: This title recently appeared in Scream Factory’s The Paul Naschy Collection II, a five disc/five film set that also includes The Werewolf And The Yeti and A Dragonfly For Each Corpse.  It comes from an older master but it’s the best-looking version available in this country.


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