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.