Our Paul Naschy Weekender reaches its shattering climax tonight with this eye witness account by one hapless hack of the great man’s guest appearance at London’s Eurofest in 1994…
“What’s he saying now, Eva?”
I KNOW that he’s played The Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dr Hyde, The Phantom Of The Opera, Hunchback Of The Morgue, Old Nick himself, Grand Inquisitors, sadistic knights, mysterious manservants, cops and robbers, vampires, sailors and low-rent Tarzans, but when I finally achieved my ambition of meeting the great Paul Naschy he proved as elusive as one of the few classic horror characters that he never actually played… The Invisible Man!
As “luck” would have it, we’re thrown together in the bar of his hotel in Victoria a good 90 minutes before our interpreter is due to turn up… did I say “good”? After searching in vain for a lingua franca, we resort to “Give Us A Clue” style dumb show. Awkward or what? I produce some posters and stills for señor Naschy to sign, which kills a few minutes while I take stock of this Spanish megastar of menace…
Conservatively dressed, in a suit and tie (nice waistcoat, too) and sporting a Bobby Charlton hair-do, he’s even shorter and certainly thinner than I expected… still a dead ringer for John Belushi, though. I ask him if he’s taken the opportunity to see some of London while he was over here? “No.” Does he plan to? “No.” Fair enough… On the plus side, he doesn’t speak in the mumbly manner suggested by some of his detractors… at least, he doesn’t seem to, on the rare occasions that he does actually speak. So much for the bellicose bragging I’d been briefed to expect… and which I was hoping would result in some lively copy. Pete Tombs, co-author of the excellent immoral Tales tome, later told me that Naschy was feeling a little nervous about this trip, fearing that the ridicule he’s recently be subjected to in Spain would be repeated over here. But I’m tempted to conclude that this paranoia / ridicule thing is a bit of a chicken-and-egg affair… which came first?
I certainly didn’t set out with the intention of doing a hatchet job here. I’d undertaken the expense and effort of the disagreeable train trip from Nottingham to London because I thought it would be worth it to meet this Iberian horror icon and as I once wrote elsewhere: “It’s impossible to come down too hard on Naschy, because his heart is so obviously in the right place.” It still is, thanks to the surgeons who opened up that famous barrel chest to save him after a near fatal coronary infarction in the late ’80s. I wonder if Naschy’s membership of the zipper club now is a contributory factor to the low-key manner in which he currently seems to be approaching life…
When our interpreter – the lovely Eva Carlo -turns up, the interview begins in earnest… well it begins, anyway. Asked what he’s up to now, Naschy does indeed display a certain sensitivity. He’s “working on a couple of things” but he does not want to talk about them for fear of “jinxing them.” I enquire whether he’s finished anything since 1988’s Howl Of The Devil and he cites a couple of titles that none of the assembled horror hacks seem to have heard of. The name of Salvador Sainz, who has contested authorship of that film’s screenplay with Naschy, brings out the first signs of El Hombre Lobo’s wrath: “That guy is just crazy… you’ve seen it happen before, you know, a film wins the Oscar and suddenly all these opportunists appear, claiming that their screenplay was stolen.”
Our hero isn’t above making such claims himself, though, when the subject of John Gilling’s The Devil’s Cross (1975) comes up: “It was my idea to bring the work of Gustavo Adolfo Becquer to the screen…” he seethes: “… but the producers and director basically stole the project from me. In the end all that was left was my script… and they stole that, too. They only put my name in the credits because they were legally obliged to.”
He bristles at the oft-repeated myth that Tulio Demichelli’s astonishing 1969 “monster rally on board a space ship” Dracula Vs Frankenstein, was shot in six days (“Six months… Six months!”) and contradicts the widely expressed belief that it was difficult for genre directors to work under General Franco’s repressive regime: “It wasn’t that big a problem… I feel that other people have exaggerated it. I certainly never experienced any difficulties and in fact Spanish cinema at the moment is in a far worse state. In the Franco era we were making 180-200 films per year, now it’s just 25-30. When Franco was in power, politics don’t have so much to do with it but now politics is what it’s all about…. so it was actually easier to work in the Franco days.”
Perhaps predictably, Naschy comes over all animated on the subject of his love for the old Universal horror films that inspired his own monster movie cycle: “When I was very young, watching the Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff films, I was deeply impressed and conceived the ambition that one day I would be able to make movies in that style. Of course by the time I was making my movies, I couldn’t ignore the way that genre was going – more violence, more sex – so that was another influence on my films, though basically they were still like the Universal pictures… very simple stories, almost like fairy tales.”
Seemingly tiring, Naschy now subsides into minimalistic responses when quizzed about such subjects as his Japanese co-productions (“The Japanese producers had seen my movies and were very impressed, so they called me and asked if I would like to make a horror film with them”); the lack of narrative consistency in his Waldemar Daninsky series (“Even though the Daninsky character was the same, all the films were independent entities”); the mooted match-up between his werewolf and Amando De Ossorio’s Blind Dead Templars (“We discussed it but nothing ever came of it”); the respective merits of his directorial peers (“Klimovsky was the best of the lot”); the mysterious Rene Govar, credited with direction of 1967’s Night Of The Werewolf (“He was a French guy”); The Werewolf And The Yeti’s designation as a “video nasty” in the UK (“It’s absurd!”) and whether A Dragonfly For Each Corpse (1973) was a deliberate attempt on the part of its director, Klimovsky, to make a Spanish giallo (“Not consciously.”)
As Naschy’s utterances threaten to dry up completely, I’m increasingly distracted by certain other things, my description of which when a version of this piece originally appeared in print came back to haunt and embarrass me… twice! Suffice to say, I’m going to draw a discrete veil over such matters here, with apologies to all concerned.
Just before we break up the glee club, Naschy manages some interesting (albeit unlikely to warm the hearts of The Humane Society) reminiscences of what is undoubtedly his wildest film, Javier Aguirre’s The Hunchback Of The Morgue (1972.) “We collected all these rats from the actual sewers of Madrid because we needed big ones, and they were all disinfected and injected with anti-rabies vaccine. Then my trousers were rubbed down with coarse grease and the rats, which hadn’t been fed for about a week, swarmed all over me, attacking me really viciously.”
This is the kind of stuff we want to hear… and what about these persistent rumours about the use of… (ulp!) … actual dead bodies in some scenes from that movie? “In the morgue where we were actually shooting there was a dead body that was about to be dissected”, reveals Humpy: “and the director asked me if I would be capable of starting it off by making the first cut on the neck. I thought about it, had a whisky, braced myself and made the cut but that’s all we did. That scene caused a lot of comment at the time, though nothing ever actually came of it.”
As a parting shot, the ol’ corpse-dissector rhapsodises over Hollywood’s recent vogue for reviving holy old monster characters, e.g. Coppola’s Dracula, Branagh’s Frankenstein and Mike Nichols’ Wolf, starring Jack Nicholson… “So far I’ve only seen the Coppola picture and I like it a lot. I think it’s great that big budget American pictures are reviving all the classic monsters. I only wish that the Spanish industry was involved… I’m really envious, actually!”
And off he goes, dreaming no doubt of past and (hope springs eternal) possible future glories. Naschy shouldn’t beat himself up too much though, over the relative prestige of the Hollywood and Spanish film scenes… the memory I’ll always cherish from this day is that of Robert Altman, darling of the chattering Arthouse set, sitting in the hotel bar looking increasingly bemused, perplexed and resentful as assorted genre journalists completely ignored him while flocking all over an ageing Spanish horror maven.
Despite that unforgettable highlight, the meeting with Paul Naschy which I had anticipated so keenly was undeniably an anti-climax… it’s almost as though it never happened. Indeed, as an ironic post script, when the photographs that I’d cajoled David Flint into taking of me with the great man came back from the developers (I realise that I’ve totally lost out younger readers there) they looked as though they’d been taken in an unlit cellar without the benefit of flash… also like Dave had been bouncing up and down on a trampoline when he clicked the button. Maybe something was distracting him that night, too…
R.I.P. Paul Naschy / Jacinto Molina Alvarez… 1934 – 2009.
“Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!”
And that’s yer lot. Our Paul Naschy Weekender has concluded and we hope you’ve enjoyed it half as much as we have. Now bugger off and be warned… we counted the silverware before you arrived. We wanna know what you think about the last three days and to what subjects you’d like us to devote future Weekenders here at The House Of Freudstein. Ciao, babies!