Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Panic Beats (1983)

Despite the 1983 release date Paul Naschy’s Panic Beats (Latidos de pánico) still has much of the feel of classic 70s Spanish horror, but with some interesting twists.

It’s a kind of a combination of giallo and gothic horror. The basic plot is what you’d expect in a giallo-style murder mystery but with the added gothic elements being more than just window-dressing (as is the case with a number of giallos).

Paul Naschy is Paul, a struggling young architect who found the solution to his financial worries by marrying money. Lots of it. Only problem is, he quickly becomes tired of his rich wife Geneviève. She also has poor health - she suffers from a serious heart condition. And Paul has a younger prettier mistress. Actually he has two younger prettier mistresses which upon reflection might be one too many.

Paul welcomes the advice of his wife’s doctor to take her away to his country house for a while. The rest and relaxation will do her good, while he’ll be able to find recreation of a different kind with Julie. Julie’s a bad girl who was taken in by Paul’s old nurse and housekeeper Mavile. Julie might be bad, but she’s cute, and cute bad girls are Paul’s kind of girl.

Country life isn’t as relaxing as expected for wife Geneviève. In fact she is attacked and almost raped as soon as they arrive in the country. In fact she seems to be getting more shocks than relaxation, perhaps not the best therapy for a woman with a weak heart. Geneviève is also terrified by the stories she’s been told about Paul’s ancestor, Alaric de Marnac, who butchered his unfaithful wife back in the 16th century. This bloodthirsty ancestor re-appears every century or so, and this is always bad news for the current lady of the house.

You’d have to wonder if it’s really a good idea keeping Alaric de Marnac’s suit of armour in the hallway, and keeping his battle-axe and other assorted weaponry in the living room.

Most of the plot twists are not too difficult to predict, but that’s sort of the point of a horror movie. You can see the bad stuff about to happen but you can’t warn the protagonists about it. As a director Naschy handles this fairly skillfully, making us feel the appalling danger threatening one character in particular and forcing us to watch helplessly as our forebodings turn out to be all too accurate.

Naschy grew up loving the Universal horror movies of the 30s and 40s and he has a sound grasp of the basic mechanisms of the horror film. In the 80s commercial pressures meant he was forced to add a considerable amount of gore to the movie but he never relies on the gore - if you edited out the gore the movie would still work, something that cannot necessarily be said of the movies of someone like Lucio Fulci.

There’s also a fairly generous helping of nudity.

The acting is adequate. Naschy is fun, and we get to see him in a business suit and in a medieval suit of armour. Frances Ondiviela is especially impressive as the wicked but sexy Julie.

Mondo Macabro’s presentation of this film cannot be faulted. The DVD includes a brief featurette about Naschy, and an extended interview with the man himself. Naschy has several intriguing anecdotes to tell about the making of the film, the most interesting being that most of it was shot in a house that once belonged to the late dictator General Franco. When the crew arrived they found the house filled with Franc memorabilia, including a Mercedes presented to the generalissimo by Hitler!

It’s also fascinating to discover that Naschy had a huge following in Japan ad that Japanese money was crucial in allowing him to continue his film-making career. there’s also an attempt to place Naschy within the context of the Spanish tradition of the macabre. He talks about the influence on his work of the Spanish painter José Gutiérrez Solana, a painter I’d never heard of but whose work is certainly interesting.

Mostly though Naschy was a man who made good highly entertaining commercial horror movies, and judged by that criterion Panic Beats delivers the goods.


The Vicar of VHS said...

Unsurprisingly, I really like this movie. :) I think Naschy had the idea of doing the same thing with de Marnac that he'd done with Waldemar Daninsky--a series of movies connected by thematic elements and symbology, but not by continuity. I would have loved to see a few more Alaric movies, but this one is a shining example of how it might have worked.

Naschy gets a lot of flack for his presumed egotism and narcissism in casting himself as an irresistible lady killer in so many of his flicks (one of my blog buddies claims he must have had a "boob touching rider" on all his contracts :) ), but I often see it as rather tongue in cheek. I won't argue that Naschy always believed he was the coolest guy on set, but there's a bit of sly humor in many of his movies that I don't think he gets credit for, and often he makes himself the butt of it. I think he believed movies should be first about giving the audience a good time, and second about having a good time himself. And he delivered that almost always, imo.

In this one, his character's difficulty in juggling multiple mistresses is an example of that, I think, particularly the one in the amazing tiger-print jumpsuit who pops up out of nowhere about halfway through. I found myself thinking, "Dang, how many women does Paul have hidden around here anyway?" and grinning at the same time. I think he might be grinning about it too.

Finally, I enjoyed very much the mash-up of HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB with GASLIGHT that makes up the main plot, and the performance by Frances Ondiviela as Julie. A very accomplished film visually and plotwise, I think, and one of my many Naschy faves. :)

Samuel Wilson said...

This is second from the top on my Netflix queue right now, so I'm looking forward even more now to seeing it next week.

Fred said...

Great review, but I want to add that I think Fulci's work would be at least as good even with out the gore. I always seen him as a master storyteller, and just check movies like The Psychic and Lizard in a womans skin and they work with out any huge amounts of gore. Sure, some of his later eighties work was partly made because the gore, but still a movie like Murder Rocks works excellent with out the graphic stuff.