The Film (4/5)
Three inquisitors of the Catholic Church, led by Bernard de Fossey (Paul Naschy), traveling through plague-infested France decide to stop in a small village to rest for a while. Their presence gives a local sleazeball the chance to accuse some ladies who spurned his sexual advances of being witches in league with the devil. A firm believer in his cause, Bernard has no choice but to investigate and it isn’t long before folks start getting tortured and executed. To make matters more complicated, a local girl named Catherine (Daniela Giordano) catches his eye in spite of her being the fiancé of another man (Juan Luis Galiardo).
Everything goes to hell in a handbasket when Catherine’s intended is murdered on the roadside by unknown assailants. Believing that Bernard was the one who arranged the hit, Catherine turns to an actual witch in her village and gives her soul to Satan for the power to destroy the inquisitor. Feeling empowered by Old Scratch, she easily seduces Bernard and leads him to start a vineyard where they lived happily ever after. Just kidding. The whole dang scene turns to shit for pretty much everyone involved!
For his directorial debut, Paul Naschy attacks the Inquisition by mixing the serious and the exploitative rather deftly. The torture scenes, while brutal and wince-inducing, never seem overly long and only slightly lurid. This is no gorefest but the camera does linger for a bit on all that luscious female flesh. Hmm, funny there aren’t any sequences of men being tortured. Go figure! What’s really smart here is that Naschy (who also wrote the screenplay) portrays both sides, the Inquisition and the local witches’ coven, as equally crazy in their devotion. He also shows that the worst of human nature (such as rampant ignorance and sexual obsession) will always conquer common sense when the chips are down. The Late Middle Ages were a superstitious time (to say the least) and falling on the wrong side of belief -even if your accuser happens to be a child- could get you killed.
There is a combination of library music and some intense fuzz guitar badassery by composer Máximo Barratas in the music score for Inquisition. This seems an odd combination for a period piece and it makes an already interesting film even more so. Prolific cinematographer Miguel Fernández Mila lends his assured eye to this film and it looks fantastic. Paul Naschy’s acting, directing, and writing are all on point here. He was no stranger to the Spanish film industry at this point and it really shows onscreen. The cast is outstanding with Sicilian beauty Daniela Giordano in one of her best roles. Tony Isbert is amazing as the young, naïve inquisitor that is crestfallen when his mentor sinks so low.
Inquisition looks pretty damn good on this disc but it is by no means a pristine presentation. There’s nothing that distracted me from the enjoyment of Inquisition but if I have to be nitpicky… All of the issues seem to be with the source material and the age of the film itself so there’s the accompanying grain and very minor scratches. Both the English dub and the Spanish dub sound clear with an excellent sound mix between music and dialog. The Spanish audio track is more serious in tone with more subtle nuances while the English seems to be (perhaps unintentionally?) catering the drive-in crowd.
One company that DOES NOT play around with extras is Mondo Macabro. They always go the extra mile to give you something good to sink your teeth into (or rip your nipples off with) on their releases and Inquisition is no exception. There’s an awesome 25-minute documentary on Spanish horror, a lengthy introduction to the film by Paul Naschy himself. The disc also has an interview with Naschy’s co-star Daniela Giordano and the always fun Mondo Macabro trailer reel with the other films released by their label. Last but not least is an audio commentary track accompanying the film by Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn of the Naschycast, a podcast dedicated to the films of Paul Naschy. I’ve been a longtime fan of the Naschycast and their commentary doesn’t disappoint. It’s a fun, extremely informative, and totally charming listen from beginning to end.
When it comes to films depicting the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, or other utterly heinous miscarriages of justice in the name of religion, I usually end up screaming at my TV in rage at the perpetrators. Maybe I’m mellowing with age but during Paul Naschy’s Inquisition my attitude was more like, “Hey y’all, let’s just calm down. In a few hundred years, you’re gonna feel real dumb about all of this. Unless of course, you were right all along; so good on you for torturing those people and burning them alive. Good on you.”
Should you be excited every time a Paul Naschy film gets a Blu-ray release? Yes! Is this the definitive edition of this film? For my money, it totally is. I was one of those people who was hesitant to look into Naschy’s non-horror and non-giallo output but forget all that jazz! Consider me a convert or a cultist. The Mondo Macabro release is one of the best releases of the year for Spanish cult film enthusiasts and just for the extras alone, it’s worth a blind buy. Also, Paul Naschy also plays Satan in this movie. Yeah, that’s a thing and it’s amazing. I love the way the devil is portrayed in 1970s movies. So much swagger.