After starring in a string of highly popular, well-mounted horror pictures, Paul Naschy (real name: Jacinto Molina) eventually rose to the enviable director’s chair with INQUISITION (INQUISICIÓN, 1976), which, after years of cruddy bootlegs, has finally surfaced in a superb new Blu-ray thanks to those brilliant folks at Mondo Macabro.
Foregoing with the usual – but always welcome! – monster-mash mayhem Naschy became associated for, he instead here turned his attention to far-more-authentic, historically-documented horrors. Naschy stars as Bernard de Fossey, an inquisitor / witch hunter who is summoned to a small town in 16th Century France to try and abolish heresy, aided by his assistants Nicolas (Ricardo Merino) and Pierre (Tony Isbert). The townspeople cautiously welcome this trio on their (quote) “sacred mission”, even opening-up their houses to them. At one such house, de Fossey notices Catherine (Daniela Giordano), a beautiful young woman who, according to local elders (quote) “pines for a young man” named Jean (José Luis Galiardo), but de Fossey is soon engaged in his “holy” work when Renover (Antonio Iranzo), a local – facially-disfigured – hired hand collectively accuses a group of young women of being witches. Upon returning from Toulouse, Jean is fatally stabbed, resulting in Catherine and her sister Madeleine (Mónica Randall) seeking answers from Mabille (Tota Alba), a local medium, thus enabling Catherine to seek vengeance. As Catherine becomes caught up in the dark arts (“Serve him faithfully, and he will please you!”), her suspicions begin to center around de Fossey, who is also becoming increasingly paranoid, not only about his jurisdictive rank, but his immoral fleshly feelings towards Catherine herself. All this, as the ever-encroaching plague slowly engulfs the region…
Taking cues from both Michael Reeves’ WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968) and Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS (1971), Paul Naschy’s directorial debut most certainly emphasizes plenty of horrific elements to please fans of his work, but at the same time, it’s compelling enough dramatically to merit a closer look. Grounded in reality, much of the fantastical elements, such as the ‘Sabbat’ or black masses, ought rightly to be construed as drug-induced fantasies on the part of Catherine – who even imagines “flying” through the night sky – which are merely imaginary products of her corrupted, broken mind. Well-rendered, many of these sequences are some of the film’s highlights, and in true monster-kid form, Naschy also doubles as both Satan and the Grim Reaper themselves. Accustomed to essaying dual roles in many of his productions, Naschy adds considerable gravitas to his role as de Fossey, the morally-conflicted inquisitor, who, although performing his duty, continually questions himself and his faith’s ideology, which ultimately leads to his downfall, à la Oliver Reed as randy nun-fucking priest Father Urbain Grandier in Russell’s THE DEVILS.
According to Pete Tombs’ very well researched liner notes (available only in the ‘Limited Red Case Edition’), Naschy also collaborated with the (quote) “prestigious Basque anthropologist” and author of THE WORLD OF WITCHES (1961) Julio Caro Baroja, who also provided him with the necessary information in regards to the witch hunts in southern France, which adds a level of detail usually unseen in projects such as this. Thanks to Naschy’s research and control of the entire project, INQUISITION’s period detail is perfectly accomplished thanks to the extraordinary work of art director Gumersindo Andres and the expertly-composed cinematography of Miguel F. Mila, both aspects which add considerable production value to the proceedings. Also, many of the torture devices seen used were also derived from Naschy’s meticulous research, and even though many of these scenes may provide an exploitation punch, they never come across as gratuitous and only add to the brutally horrific times of the period when such atrocious systemic abuses of the populace – often on only the flimsiest of hearsay evidence – were condoned by the very Church itself.
Never released theatrically in the U.S., INQUISITION first debuted on VHS videocassette in 1984 via that erstwhile prime Euro sleaze label Video City Productions, whose master print was fortunately uncut, but their fullscreen transfer left a lot to be desired. It eventually debuted on DVD in Spain courtesy of VellaVision, but, like most Spanish DVDs, it only had Spanish-language audio. Continuing to champion the works of Paul Naschy, this is Mondo Macabro’s third Naschy release following León Klimovsky’s DR. JEKYLL VERSUS THE WEREWOLF (1972) and Jacinto Molina’s sadistic PANIC BEATS (1983), and it’s easily one of their finest releases yet. Similar to the Spanish DVD, MM’s Blu-ray presents the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but the 1080p resolution definitely adds considerable detail and clarity to the picture, better to appreciate Andres’ fastidious set design and period detail. MM also provides both English – complete with clunky dubbing – and Spanish audio options in LPCM 2.0, the latter with optional English subtitles, which definitely bestow a higher pedigree on the film.
Lots of extras are included in MM’s package, which begins with an audio commentary from film historians Rodney Barrett and Troy Guinn (from NaschyCast). They discuss Naschy’s extensive diligent research prior to undertaking the project, as well as the handsome and exceedingly finely-detailed look of the film, and its abundant nudity – even for a Naschy film! – which surprised both of them as well. In ‘Daniela’s Inquisition’ (24m24s), Sicilian-born actress Daniela Giordano talks about her early years getting into the business through a (quote) “big American agency” in Rome; her satisfaction and belief in Naschy’s film and her attempts to secure Italian distribution, which quickly dissipated. In an archival on-camera interview (14m24s) which was originally used as the intro to the Spanish DVD, Naschy recalls his desire to make the film, and also relates various personal anecdotes about the production. Originally aired on British television, ‘Blood and Sand’ (24m23s), was the eleventh instalment of Andy Starke’s and Pete Tombs’ Eurotika! series (1999), which this time focused on Spanish horror films and included interviews with José Ramòn Larraz, Eurociné’s Daniel Lesoeur, Amando de Ossorio, Orchidea de Santis, Jess Franco, Jorge Grau and, of course, Daniela Giordano and Paul Naschy, the stars of the present show.
As usual, MM also includes their ever-expanding trailer reel, and for those of us who were lucky enough to snag a copy of the extremely-limited ‘Red Case’ edition, MM provides some nifty reversible cover artwork (and the aforementioned 10-page liner notes booklet), while the retail version features new artwork from the talented Gilles Vranckx. No matter which edition you choose, there’s no denying that MM continues to outdo themselves with this, their latest Blu-ray release, which sheds further light on one of Paul Naschy’s more neglected and lesser-appreciated efforts. It totals another highly recommended, outstanding release! Order it from DiabolikDVD or Amazon.