I finally got to see Paul Naschy’s HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE this weekend. I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time and I have to say it did not disappoint. I’ve been a fan of Mr. Naschy’s films for years and have tracked down quite a number of the Spanish Lon Chaney’s output. Luckily several of his monster/horror films have become available on Region 1 DVD in the past couple of years making my goal of eventually seeing all of his work a bit easier. Word is that BCI is going to release this one possibly later this year but I obtained a bootleg of the Japanese VHS because patience is not one of my stronger attributes. Wanna see it NOW, thank you.
I’d heard HUNCHBACK was a fine slab of Euro-Trash cinema and boy howdy- is it! Deformed men, beautiful ladies, a mad scientist, rotting corpses, ancient torture devices, a shambling monster and a deadly acid pit are front and center. Throw in angry townspeople, an unbelievable love scene and burning rats and you have a damned fine piece of entertainment! MAN! I love this movie!
As usual Naschy co-wrote the script as well as starring as the titular hunchback, a poor, sad soul named Wolfgang Gotho. Simple minded and naturally gentle he endures the cruel ridicule of medical students and doctors making fun of him as he goes about his job in the hospital’s morgue. The only bright spots in his life are his daily visits to his childhood friend Elsa who is slowly dying of what appears to be tuberculosis. Gotho is finally pushed to violence when a group of interns insult Elsa and although their fight is stopped he later tracks them down in the night and kills them. Vengeance thy name is Gotho!
Complicating things considerably is that after Elsa dies Gotho believes that she can be revived. He steals her body from the morgue and hides it in some hidden catacombs originally used by the Inquisition to torture sinners. He then goes to Doctor Orla (a suitably crazed Alberto Dalbes) who has been working for years on the reanimation of dead tissue. Orla is thrilled with the hidden location as the hospital has cut off funding for his experiments and he must continue them in secret. The doc lies to Gotho about the possibility of bringing Elsa back to life to get his help and then embarks on his biggest project yet- the creation of a living creature from scratch.
As with most of Naschy’s scripts this is a sometimes uncomfortable mix of pathos, gore, madness, horror and gothic images. Everything in Naschy-land is driven by either epic emotions or creeping madness and sometimes both in conjunction. At his worst his stories are painfully simplistic but at his best he can strike universal (or Universal) chords that bring life to his monsters. Here he mostly manages the latter even though the film suffers from the standard flaw of atrocious, often stilted dialog. In general I’d like to credit the awful English dubbing to someone other than Naschy but I’m not sure. I’d love to have someone re-dub big chunks of this baby to smooth over awkward scenes that would play wonderfully with just a slight tweak in a few places. But maybe that would ruin the atmosphere of the piece. Perhaps it could destroy the elements I find so endearing leaving behind a technically better film but a less enjoyable one.
Hell! We’ll never know. I’m just glad we have it. Now bring on the deluxe special edition Region 1 DVD.