EL CAMINANTE/THE TRAVELER
Cast: Paul Naschy (The Devil), Blanca Estrada,
David Rocha, Silvia Aguilar, Rafael Hernandez, Sara Lezana, Irene
Gutierrez, Eva Leon, Antonio Duran
U.S. theatrical release: None
Video: None known; Spanish language bootlegs available.
|Review: On the surface,
EL CAMINANTE (THE TRAVELER) can be considered a pitch black comedy much in
the tradition of TOM JONES, ribald and humorously wicked, a morality play
set against a backdrop of excessive fornication and gluttony. Yet, at the
same time, it is an evil rondo of debauchery, cold-blooded murder, robbery
and unfettered greed. But, above all, it is an artistís verbal and visual
portrait of the moral and ethical decay undermining the foundation of
mankind. On whatever level you chose to accept this movie, you will find
situations that may make you laugh, cry or even shout in outrage--and, if
you look within yourself deeply enough, you may even glimpse some
disturbingly recognizable traits.
Made by Horus Films SA in 1979 and released in April 1980, EL CAMINANTE was written, directed and acted by Paul Naschy and is a reasonably accurate measure of the manís own driven passion and exuberance for life as well as his disillusionment with same and, frankly, his none too optimistic opinion of humanity in general at that period in time.
Naschy portrays Senor Leonardo, the devil in human form, come to earth to see how mankind has progressed over the centuries. The only condition of his sojourn is that he accept the mantle of mortality. EL CAMINANTE follows Leonardoís year long journey across the countryside as he visits the seven deadly sins on those who have the unfortunate honor of crossing his path. All of his victims forfeit something for the encounter whether it be wealth, love, manhood, dignity, life or eternal salvation. None are spared as he takes delight in seeing the depths to which an individual will sink. His is a quest to tempt new souls to damnation and all is fair. Ultimately, however, he comes to realize that mankind, on its own accord, has far exceeded his own abilities to corrupt. So much so, that Leonardo, himself, falls victim to his own devices by filmís end.
Naschy has perfectly captured the bewitching lure of the devil. A rakish smile, sweet lies and seductive charm entice women to his bed, among them the mother superior of a convent. When sex is not an option he uses manís inherent greed to entrap. And when all else fails, he loots his victims of life and worldly goods with cold-blooded efficiency.
His escapades begin as impishly wicked--stealing melons from a farmerís garden, urinating in the drinking cup of an old man. It is with this incident that he takes a protťgť, Tomas, under his dark wing, educating the young man in the finer techniques of highway robbery and the pleasures of the flesh. Tomas is an apt pupil and they embark on a fateful journey.
The two comrades lustily romp with an assortment of females and one could almost envy them were it not for the underlying cruelty of each assignation. Every encounter is double-edged and no one escapes unscathed.
The cruelest vignette in EL CAMINANTE is Leonardoís encounter with a noblewoman and her sick daughter. The woman believes the child has been cursed by a witch. Leonardo offers the distraught mother a bargain, heíll return the child to health if the woman will share a night of passion and sex with him. She strikes the agreement, sacrificing her virtue for the life of her daughter. The child is miraculously cured and the devil comes to collect his due. The woman stoically endures Leonardoís advances as first, but finally, she surrenders to his impassioned seduction. In the morning Leonardo and Tomas leave and soon after the child is found dead. The worst, however, is yet to come, as the woman realizes she is pregnant by Leonardo. When she gives birth, her housekeeper, knowing the baby is the devilís spawn, will not even allow her to hold or see it. We must assume it was murdered soon after. In the end, grief-stricken at the loss of both children and spiritually broken by her carnal sin, she takes her own life--eternally damning her soul by this act of suicide. The devil has claimed yet another soul. The only saving grace is that her downfall coincides with Leonardoís beginning swansong.
During this same nine month period, Tomas and Leonardo have continued on in their pattern of thieving and whoring. And soon, it comes time for Tomas to learn his place in Leonardoís plans. Tomas is summarily sold by Leonardo into the rapacious hands of an old homosexual who brutally sodomizes him. Too late Tomas realizes that he should never have trusted Leonardo. The devil will always be a liar, a seducer, a betrayer of innocence, a chameleon who will adapt into whatever is necessary to achieve his goals. Friendship was only a ruse to achieve betrayal.
This particular betrayal, however, will not go unpaid in kind. Tomas, having learned his lessons well, yet resigned for the time being to his fate, uses the old manís desire to hunt down Leonardo and exact an ironic revenge that is the beginning of the end of the devilís holiday. Caught and nearly beaten to death by a band of soldiers led by Tomas, Leonardo is strung up on a wooden cross and left hanging in a terrible mockery of Christís crucifixion.
"Sir," Leonardo shouts angrily to the heavens, outraged at having been left in such an undignified position to thirst and starve to death. "How could you give your life for these pigs?" It is the ultimate question of the movie as it seems to be for Naschy himself. Is mankind worthy, no less even grateful for the sacrifice that was made on that other cross? Based on the futuristic visions Leonardo previously visited on Tomas, visions of impersonal, mechanized warfare that will kill nameless millions, ethnic genocide that will kill millions more and the atomic bomb which will have the potential to destroy the earth entirely, the worth of humanity has come up sadly lacking. We have, in fact, succeeded admirably without the devilís help in creating pure evil for its own sake.
In the end, EL CAMINANTE comes back to where it starts, a lone man sitting at a campfire, only now the roles are reversed and Leonardo is the victim-to-be. Though, in death, he is once again the victor, claiming yet another damned soul to join the legions already waiting.
The moral, indeed if there is one, seems to be this--the devilís influence is invasive and until mankind learns not to exult and embrace wealth, power, greed and immorality as positive role models it will never be free of the devilís influence.
EL CAMINANTE benefits from a terrific cast of actors lead by Naschy and also includes Sara Lezana, Irene Gutierrez Caba, Silvia Aguila, David Rocha, Blanca Estrada and Adriana Vega.
Alejandro Ulloa, director of photography, creates beautiful images of subtle shadows and naked flesh, using candlelight and subdued lighting to their best effect. Ulloa also worked as DP on MADRID AL DESNUDO, EL CARNAVAL DE LAS BESTIAS, EL RETORNO DEL HOMBRE LOBO (my favorite Daninsky film) and LOS CANTABROS.
The musical score by Angel Arteaga, though limited in the number of themes employed, is still one of the best for a Naschy film. Arteaga is a prolific composer who scored or co-scored fifteen of Naschyís films and Japanese documentaries, among them being, LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO, LA FURIA DEL HOMBRE LOBO, EL RETORNO DE WALPURGIS, EL HUERTO DEL FRANCES, LA BESTIA Y LA ESPADA MAGICA and EL ULTIMO KAMIKAZE.
Paul Naschy received the Award of Honor at the 9th Annual Festival of Fantastic Cinema and Science Fiction in Paris for his cultural contribution to film with EL CAMINANTE. That same year Naschy and EL CAMINANTE received a special award from the International Festival of Imaginary Cinema and Science Fiction of Madrid for innovative work within fantastic cinema.
It is easy to understand why Paul Naschy holds this movie in such high regard, as well as EL HUERTO DEL FRANCES. He considers these two films the best of his career. But he, himself, has described EL CAMINANTE as being "the most personal and sensitive" of all his films.
-- Denetia Arellanes