Wednesday, May 26, 2021

THE HOWL OF THE DEVIL (1988) (Mondo Macabro Blu-ray Review)


Label: Mondo Macabro
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 97 Minutes 
Audio: Spanish DTS-HD MA 2.0 Dual-Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Paul Naschy
Cast: Paul Naschy, Howard Vernon, Caroline Munro, Sergio Molina, Fernando Hilbeck, Joseph Garco, Roberta Kuhn

Spanish horror star Paul Naschy (The Beast and the Magic Sword) plays a multitude of roles in a tour-de-force performance in one of his most personal films, which he also wrote and directed. Long thought lost and previously only available on dodgy VHS sourced bootlegs Mondo Macabro resurrects this supernatural slice of Spanish slasher-terror with a new 4K scan from the OCN!

In it Naschy (Panic Beats) plays Hector Doriani, a deranged, ego-driven, woman-hating failed actor who lives in the shadow of his late twin brother, movie horror icon Alex Doriani (Naschy in a tasty dual-role). Alex’s young son, Adrian (Sergio Molina, The Night of the Executioner) has come to live with his uncle Hector after the drug-fueled death of his mother left him an orphan. Adrian keeps his father's memory alive by watching his father's movies, Panic Beats seems to be his favorite, and immersing himself in a world of make believe, imagining himself interacting with the characters his father portrayed in the movie. This allows for Naschy to free his inner Monster Kid even more than usual, playing Mr. Hyde, the Frankenstein Monster, the Phantom of the Opera, and even his most famous character, the werewolf Waldemar Daninsky, among others! 

Jess Franco regular Howard Vernon (How To Seduce A Virgin) shows up as Eric, Alex Doriani’s former butler, now working for Hector as a chauffeur, who procure prostitutes for his new employer. He hires them to take part in Hector's sadistic, role-playing sex games, which allows Naschy to dress-up as more iconic horror characters, including Rasputin the Mad Monk, Fu Manchu, and Bluebeard, among others before having Vernon's character unceremoniously throw them out of the villa in the morning when he's through with them. Naschy's character is a true misogynist, and probably one of the more vulgar and despicable characters the Spanish icon ever played, which is a lot of fun to watch. 

Naschy is not the only villainous character though, as it seems that the women he plays his games with always seem to get murdered in a myriad of gruesome ways by a masked, black gloved killer that stalks the nearby forest. We also have Hector's attractive housekeeper and cook Carmen (Caroline Munro, Slaughter High) whom he cannot keep his hands off, much to her chagrin. However, Hector is the least of her worries, she has her own drama separate from him, by way of a local priest named Father Dami├ín (Fernando Hilbeck, Flesh+Blood) with whom she once had an affair. He still lusts after her but she is not interested, and he has hired a shady, fat, bearded bum named Zachariah (Cris Huerta, City of the Lost Children) to hang out around Hector's property to keep an eye on her and her daily activities. But wait, there's more! We also have Eric the butler practicing black magic in an effort to resurrect the late Alex, whom he keeps in touch with through spooky seances, hoping to cause the downfall of his brother Hector. All of which leads to some satanic shenanigans later in the film that brought a smile to my face. 

The film is absolutely overstuffed with characters and random subplots, including a weird home invasion scenario that comes from out of nowhere, and a prolonged nightmare sequence that features references to both a chainsaw-wielding Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Michael Meyers from Halloween, and later still we get a double-homicide that references either A Bay of Blood/Friday the 13th Part 2, take your pick. So you have the weird psycho-sexual stuff with Hector, the stalker priest that's after Carmen, a whodunit with a black-gloved killer, and then we have some potential satanic supernatural elements, and believe it or not, it all comes together in a nice messy wrap-up that involves the Anti-Christ! Overstuffed though it may be it's all fun stuff, and I found it most pleasing in a eurocult mish-mash sort of way. While it doesn't all come together seamlessly, logically or even coherently, it is a highly entertaining watch, filled with multitudes of nude women, some fun gore including throat-slashing and gut-spilling, and about a baker's dozen iconic horror icons being portrayed by the Spanish legend Naschy, it's just a damn fine time. 

Howl of the Devil (1988) was one of the last films to be directed by Paul Naschy, and it feels like one of his most personal films, with an opening credit text blurb declaring it's love for Boris Karloff, London Chaney, and the Universal monsters, with Naschy donning the make-up of many iconic characters, some of each he had never portrayed, before or since, which was super-cool, even if not all the make-ups were outstanding. It's also interesting to note the subtext and commentary being made about the horror business and horror icons, which is surely no accident. 

The film has attractive cinematography from Julio Burgos (Panic Beats), though I thought the nighttime, outdoors scenes were a bit over lit, but it's crisp, dramatic, and colorful, giving this bizarre supernatural flick a wonderful 80's sheen. The accompanying music from composer 
Fernando Garcia Morcillo (Voodoo Black Exorcist) is very 80's, with a gurgling synthetic score that might be a bit dated even for '88, but is totally appropriate for the vintage slasher vibe the flick puts off. 

Audio/Video: Howl of the Devil (1988) makes it's worldwide home video debut from Mondo Macabro on Blu-ray, presented in 1080p HD and framed in 1.85:1 widescreen, with the Spanish title card 'El Aullido Del Diablo'. It's a gorgeous restoration sourced from the original 35mm camera negative, and it showcases some natural-looking grain, lush colors and some pleasing detail throughout. This is a fantastic looking transfer for a film that Naschy fans have been watching for years from on VHS sourced bootleg that  taped off of a TV broadcast, so Mondo Macabro's release is a wonderful treat for Eurocult fans.

Audio comes by way of Spanish DTS-HS MA dual-mono with optional English subtitles. While the cast are clearly speaking English in many scenes, including Naschy who spoke phonetic English, the English audio was either never recorded or lost. Either way what we get here is the Spanish audio, and it sounds terrific, it's well-balanced and clean, has plenty of potency, and the score from Fernando Garcia Morcillo (Voodoo Black Exorcist) sounds great. 

Extras kick-off with a terrific audio commentary by Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn of the Naschycast. The guys always knock it out of the park with their insights, here more than ever as this Naschy gem is one I knew almost nothing about and they filled in the backstory of this troubled production that was plagued my personal loss, illness on set, drunk set designers, and so much more. If you're a Naschy fan or a lover of Eurocult I highly recommend you subscribe to their podcast, it's a treasure trove of Naschy delights, having covered this very film back on episode number nine!  

We also get a 36-minute interview with Naschy's son Sergio Molina, who appears in the film as Adrian. He gets into the themes of the film, a stomach illness that played the cast and crew, and much, much more. We also have a 27-minute, previously unreleased, archival "making of" documentary with interviews from Naschy, Munroe and others, with tons of behind-the-scenes footage. This is sourced from VHS and does not look great, but is still pretty fantastic, and it includes footage of Naschy shooting scenes in phonetic English that are not in the film. The last extra is a 14-minute Mondo Macabro preview reel, which is always a wild blast of bizarre world cinema.

The single-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork, featuring a new illustration from artist Rick Melton, who is the go-to guy for sleazy eurocult art. It looks fantastic, but unfortunately some of the naughty bits are obscured by the tag line lettering! Notably, the now sold out limited red case edition featured the same artwork but the lettering does not obscure the breasts, so good on you if you own that version, which also included a booklet with writing on the film.

Special Features: 
- New Audio Commentary by Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn of the Naschycast
- Previously Unreleased Archival Making-of documentary (27 min)
- Brand new interview with Naschy's son Sergio Molina, who appears in the film (36 min)
- Mondo Macabro Previews (14 min) 

Howl of the Devil (1988) might not be my favorite Naschy flick but it's certainly an entertaining and surprisingly sleazy late-80's gem that left me with a big smile on my face. Mondo Macabro unearthing it and presenting in such pristine shape on Blu-ray is a Eurocult miracle as far as I am concerned, so I hope you appreciate how  much love went into this restoration, this deserves a place on your shelf along with other their other fantastic Naschy titles. 

Screenshots from the Mondo Macabro Blu-ray: