The Hunchback of the Morgue directed by Javier Aguirre
From the jaunty circus music that plays during its opening credits to the closing shot of a steaming, bubbling pit of sulfuric acid, The Hunchback of the Morgue, a Spanish offering from 1973, literally busts a gut to please the jaded horror fan. Co-written and starring “The Boris Karloff of Spain,” Paul Naschy, the film is a wildly over-the-top, cheesy affair that yet succeeds in its primary intentions: to stun and entertain the viewer.
In The Hunchback of the Morgue, Naschy plays the title character, Wolfgang Gotho, a hunchbacked janitor in the morgue of the Feldkirch Hospital, in what the viewer must infer is Germany, in modern times (although the film, with very minor revisions, could just as easily have been set 200 years ago). Shunned, reviled and even stoned by the town’s populace, Gotho’s only joy in life is bringing flowers to Ilse, a beautiful young woman in the hospital who is dying of some unspecified lung disease, and played by the luscious Maria Elena Arpon. When Ilse ultimately does expire, the distraught Gotho steals her body, hides it in the subterranean crypts (once a torturer’s lair during the Inquisition) conveniently near the hospital, and asks the head man at Feldkirch, Dr. Orla (Alberto Dalbes), for assistance in bringing the dead lovely back to the land of the living. Orla agrees, but on one condition: that Gotho will help him in his experiments to create artificial life…
As I said, The Hunchback of the Morgue really goes out of its way to present itself as some kind of total horror show. The film boasts any number of satisfyingly tacky grossout effects, including some slit throats, various dismemberments, decapitations, a nasty ax blow to the stomach (as mentioned, literally busting a gut!), rats, rats on fire (apparently, some animals really WERE harmed in the making of this picture!), rats nibbling on corpses, acid-melted bodies, a gruesome iron-maiden spiking, and on and on. The creature that Orla creates, at first shown as a large jar of quivering viscera feeding on human heads, ultimately morphs into yet another pleasing horror image: a humanoid entity that looks like a glob of melted mud!
Naschy is quite fine as the simpleminded Gotho, even eliciting viewer sympathy for the grotesque character, despite his murderous tendencies; the early scenes between Gotho and Ilse are actually fairly touching, and even — dare I say it — a bit poetic! Besides the catchy circus music that opens the film, composer Carmelo Bernaola has also provided a morbid, dirgelike piece that permeates the picture very appropriately, and director Javier Aguirre does a better than competent job at creating an atmosphere of decay and unease. On a personal note, as an old fan of horror great H.P. Lovecraft, I must automatically give extra Brownie points to any film that mentions the Necronomicon, as this one so cleverly does. The Hunchback of the Morgue may be some kind of perfect film to watch with your favorite 12-year-old nephew, who will surely delight at the loopiness of the plot and the film’s many yucky visuals.
As for the Mya DVD that I recently viewed this picture on, it looks good enough, I suppose, if a tad dark in sections, but sports subtitles (for the English, Spanish and Italian language options) that have been very poorly rendered and, in spots, amusingly translated. Thus, in one scene, Elke — a beautiful psychologist at a women’s prison from which Gotho is abducting some victims, and played by Rossana Yani — says to Gotho, “I’ll medicate your wounds.” But at least the DVD comes with more extras than you might expect to accompany a film of this nature.
Bottom line: a highly pleasing horror outing, one that I have a, um, hunch that you’ll enjoy, although not terribly scary. Indeed, The Hunchback of the Morgue‘s single most frightening scene might occur at the very outset: the sight of one of Gotho’s future victims downing TWO gallon-sized glasses of beer in rapid succession. Now THAT’S scary!