10,000 Bullets   Exploring the world of Cinema from the Arthouse to the Grindhouse™

Hunchback of the Morgue 
Written by: on December 15th, 2009

Theatrical Release Date: Spain, 1973
Director: Javier Aguirre
Writers: Javier Aguirre, Alberto S. Insúa, Paul Naschy
Cast: Paul Naschy, Rosanna Yanni, Víctor Alcázar, María Elena Arpón, Manuel de Blas, Antonio Pica, Joaquín Rodríguez ‘Kinito, Adolfo Thous, Ángel Menéndez, Antonio Mayans

DVD released: January 12th, 2010
Approximate running time: 82 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: NR
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono Spanish, Dolby Digital Mono English, Dolby Digital Mono Italian
Subtitles: English
DVD Release: Mya Communication
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $24.95

Synopsis: A hunchback is persecuted and tormented all his life. When a beloved childhood companion dies from Tuberculosis, he cannot get over the shock. A mad scientist capitalizes upon this situation to further his immoral efforts to create artificial life.

Not only is this arguably Naschy’s finest film, this may be the ultimate example of Gothic horror in the hammer tradition. Javier Aguirre, directing the second of his two Naschy films, could well be the finest director Naschy ever worked with (including Naschy himself), and though Naschy is credited with story and screenplay, it is Aguirre who is co-wrote the literate script. The result is not only thrilling and shocking, but almost poetic in it’s examination of alienation, loyalty, the ethics of science. There is a strong Lovecraftian influence, as the doctor claims to have reconstituted a primordial being from the dawn of existence. There is even direct reference to the Necronomicon.

The credits sequence may lead you to infer that you came to the wrong movie: scenic mountain vistas backed by music appropriate for Disney’s Toby Tyler. But drunken revelry, busty bar maids, murder, and gory dissection follow within the next five minutes. Shock after shock continue unabated throughout the film. Certainly there are a few scenes that slow the frenetic pace here and there, only for the next horrific act, image, or atrocity to garner that much more impact.

Though many of the themes are recycled from earlier movies, this film pushed sleaze, gore, and violence to an unprecedented level. The excellent sets, script, and performances combine to make the tableau believable – something that H.G. Lewis, for example, never successfully realized.

The DVD:

The feature presentation is of the most complete available version, in anamorphic widescreen progressive scan on a dual layered disc. It contains the alternate nude love scene in the feature film; this can be played in comparison mode with the standard clothed version as an extra. The three original language options are provided in mono: Spanish, Italian, and English. The Spanish option is, of course, fuller and more dynamic. The subtitles do contain a couple of syntax errors, but these are newly translated titles, much preferable to cheap dubtitles. The original English dub was produced with both skill and care, making it a reasonable alternative for those so inclined.

The picture quality is muted and slightly soft, but that appears to be the intended ambience. Some of the outdoors night scenes are very dark, but scenes of the catacombs by torchlight are exceptionally effective. The limited edition DVD from Germany had extensive color boosting to ‘correct’ this ‘problem’ – but this appears to be the original vision.  This unrestored print does display grain, occasional dirt, and minor digital artifacting.

There are many extras, including the US trailer, poster, still, and press kit galleries.  A German lobby card indicates that the nude love scene was longer and more explicit – but no footage is extant. Extras in the German DVD not included here include a Naschy commentary and the 8MM edit of the feature.

Up to this point (and largely thereafter), most shock was schlock. The combination of a well made and intelligent movie combined with gruesome gore and horrible images make this milestone monstrosity from 1973 a classic of horror cinema.

Duly warned department – though the gore is old school, this movie is still strong stuff.  Especially scenes of live rats set afire. PETA members steer clear.

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