Review: Inquisition (1978)

Written by Paul Naschy
Directed by Paul Naschy
Starring Paul Naschy
Released January 9, 1978 (Madrid)
RT 86 min.
Home Video Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray)
Classic Horrors rating = 7 (out of 10)

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Thanks to Jon Kitley, Rod Barnett, and the general excitement in the air surrounding “the year of Naschy,” I started giving the films of Paul Naschy a serious look this summer. I liked the first two I watched on Scream Factory’s The Paul Naschy Collection and decided to watch Inquistion (1978) recently.  So far, I’d rate them more or less the same. There’s not one of them that stands out in my mind as superior.

That’s good news for Inquisition, because, while it’s nearly the 50th film in which Naschy starred, it’s also the first one he directed.  He does a job comparable to the directors of, for example, Horror Rises from the Tomb (Carlos Aured, 1973) or Vengeance of the Zombies (Leon Klimovsky, 1973), the two other Naschy films I’ve seen.  There seems to be style for a Naschy film that’s familiar, whether he’s in front of the camera or behind it.

Here, after a fairly slow opening (that I swear I’ve seen done similarly in another movie) that sets the general place and time (France at the end of the 16th century), the action evolves into a series of short scenes, oftentimes making time jumps between them.  Naschy plays Bernard de Fossey, a French magistrate who’s traveling the countryside with his men hunting for witches.  At an extended stop in Peyriac, a lovely young lady catches his eye, then later tempts him.

This is Catherine (Daniela Giordano), a woman so in love with a man named Jean (Juan Luis Galiardo) that her friend, Madeleine (Monica Randall) visits a local witch, Mabille (Tota Alba), on her behalf, for a love potion that will make sure he never leaves her… well, not of his own volition, anyway. When he’s robbed and killed on the way home from a business trip, Catherine ends up being devastated anyway.

In another kind of Naschy movie, the love potion may have been so strong that Jean returned from the grave to be with her forever. This is a historical drama, though, not a zombie movie, so the event pushes Catherine to visit Mabille herself.  The old woman tells her she must worship “her Lord” in order to see the face of the person who killed Jean.  She gives her a list of things she must do, which begins with removing the head from a hanging corpse.

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Before you know it, Catherine is attending her first Sabbat. “The Master” appears as a human-like creature with blue skin, red eyes and five horns (one of which doubles as a candle holder.)  He marks her face, they have dinner, and then they kiss.  Catherine really takes to the lifestyle, but isn’t discreet enough to keep Bernard from learning about it.  He’s so taken with her that he protects her by not bringing her in front of the inquisitors.

This puts a kink in his plans to “punish without pity those who have made pacts with the devil.” When she dreams that it was Bernard who killed Jean, she returns his attention in a conspiracy to bring him to his end.  I’m not quite clear if Bernard really killed Jean.  He denies it, which any villain would probably do, but he may be sincere.  He’s an ambiguous character, torturing suspected witches one minute and lashing himself the next when he has an impure thought.

It may have all worked out if not for Renover (Antonio Iranzo), a one-eyed busybody who tattles on anything odd he’s seen happening around town. He reveals to the inquisitors that he saw Catherine return from the Sabbat, which results in her being taken to the torture chamber.  She’s quick to confess, as long as she can bring Bernard down with her.  Complicating the story, though, is the fact that he became her legal guardian when her father died.

If Inquisition sounds more like a soap opera than a horror movie, you’re partially right.  However, the moments of horror that arrive in the torture chamber keep it rooted firmly in the genre.  Every once in a while I witness something happen in a movie and say to myself, “Hmmm, I’ve never seen that before.”  In this case, I’d rather not repeat what the torturer does to an accused witch’s right breast.  I have to cringe and cover my own man-boobs just thinking about it.

While Naschy the director does a competent job, Naschy the actor really shines playing Bernard. As hinted earlier, you can’t really hate him; he has conflicting emotions about his career which prevent him from acting in absolutes.  In his final moments, his reaction to his fate stands in sharp contrast to Catherine’s.  I’ll be darned if his eyes didn’t tear up. Inquisition is a solid effort.  I’ll be watching more Naschy.

Today’s passport stamp:Spain

Part of the Countdown to Halloween.  Tomorrow… more Spain!

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