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INQUISICION / INQUISITION - 1976

 

 

Cast: Paul Naschy (Bernard de Fossey, the Devil, Death), Daniela Giordano (Catherine), Monica Randall (Madeleine), Juan-Luis Gallardo (Jean Duprat), Ricardo Merino (Nicolas Rodier), Antonio Isbert (Pierre Burgot), Antonio Iranzo, Antonio Casas, Julia Saly, Eduardo Calvo, Loretta Tovar, Eva Leon
Director:Jacinto Molina (Paul Naschy)
Screenplay: Jacinto Molina
Photography: Miguel F. Mila
Music: Maximo Barattas
Production Company:
Ancla Films (Italy), Anubis PC (Spain)
Running time:89 min.

Eastmancolor

U.S. theatrical release: None known

Video: <U.S. release on Video City; Spanish release on Manga

DVD: Vellavision (Spain)

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Source prints: Two videos were used for review: the old domestic Video City release and the recent Manga Films PAL video from Spain.

   

Video City Productions actually offered a few variants of the same film--one version is even missing a throat slicing sequence! Apparently Video City would produce a stock amount of tapes whenever orders would mandate it, and this caused a variety of different variants. Purportedly one version also contains contains a notable reel break. The best tape from this company that I have seen has been the one without the copyright notice over the beginning credits (one of their earliest dupes of this film): the picture is crisper and free of any transfer ghosting, and contains the full throat slicing sequence. Unfortunately, even this tape is not perfect as it contains a temporary glitch at the burning-at-the-stake sequence that appears to involve all Video City variants.

Another question involves cover art. There is a possibility that an earlier Video City version of this film was released with different cover art, using a Spanish ad mat artwork meant for the rougher "nude" version of the film. I remember once seeing such a cover in a video rental store, but it could also have been manufactured by some enterprising and artistic employee when the original was lost.

Those public domain dupers, Sinister Cinema, released their own version of this film, apparently mastering directed from the 35mm element, but we suspect the source is no different than Video City's. One other thing should be mentioned in regards to the variants of the film. Contact sheets and stills from this film clearly indicate two versions of this film: a "softer" version where the tortures were handled without nudity and the "harder" version where full nudity was shown. Even here, though, we must be careful, for some of these photos hint at sequences that contain much more nudity than are to be found even the harder version. Were these mere publicity stills and nothing more? Probably, as there is not even the rumor of any other stronger version than the commonly known nude one.

The contents of the Spanish Manga tape are the same as Video City's, though I did notice that at least one sequence was absent: a musical cue that is found in the English-dubbed version. Importantly, the Manga tape is widescreen, lending a substantial difference in effect, as the pictorial compositions are quite impressive when seen in proper aspect ratio (or at least its close approximation). Naschy and the director of photography, Miguel F. Mila, used the wide canvas well, positioning figures and objects at the sides of the frame as well as within its interior, and these side elements are lost in the American full frame release. The colors of the Manga tape are more dimensional and lifelike, though the images are not as sharp as the original U.S. NTSC tape.

Update: The Vellavision DVD from Spain released in 2009, in the Pal format, blows all other versions out of the inquisitor's dungeon. Superior clarity, color and widescreen. Unfortunately, no English options, though these have surfaced in the "gray market."

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A publicity photo, it seems, that was also used in an illustrated magazine of INQUISICION. In all versions of the film, Giordano is covered in this scene.

REVIEW. Witch-hunting lends itself easily to the strongest of cinematic exploitation, being used, for the most part, as a pretext for showing very attractive females in naked bondage undergoing horrors from monsters who, not surprisingly, happen to be men. Yet even the most notorious films of this ilk cannot but help manage to make some statement on the inhumanity of the time. There are, after all, those torture sequences that must be explained, the villainy that must be exposed and defeated. Infamous pictures, like THE MARK OF THE DEVIL, present the traditional--and easiest--view: the evil, inflexible Church abusing innocents. Witches, in such films, tend to be figments of the fanatical imagination of religious zealots who pursue and torture their female victims with unwholesome relish and eyes glittering with barely repressed lust. Even worse, some of these zealots know that their female victims are innocent, but, impelled by sexual sadism, they inflict their tortures nonetheless.

Paul Naschy's take on witch-hunting, and the period of the Inquisition that gave witch-hunters their greatest resources and rationale, is different, however. With his sympathies for villains made evident by the films he has scripted and starred in, Naschy makes his witch-hunting inquisitor, Bernard de Fossey, a more complex figure. Indeed, Naschy's inquisitor emerges a sympathetic soul toward the end of the film, a victim of love and the machinations of a woman, a person of stubborn dedication unimpressed by feminine charms except for the one special woman who vanquishes his will and subverts his duty.

INQUISITION marked the first time that Paul Naschy directed a film, more out of necessity than anything else. Of course, he scripted and starred in the film as well. As usual, Naschy spent time researching his subject matter. The story is based on a factual occurrence in medieval France, in the region of Carcassone, where a magistrate fell in love with a suspected witch; the lovers wound up being burned at the stake. Naschy's research doesn't end here. As the film evolves we get an educational primer on the witchery and witch-hunters and Satanism through the characters' dialogue. Exposition is buttressed by dimensional authenticity. We are invited to see real furnishings of the time, real tableware, real torture implements. The legendary book of witchery, the Malleus Maleficarum, was borrowed from a museum. Daniela Giordano, who plays Catherine, even had to pick up a real skull with real maggots crawling over it (you can easily see the distaste in her face as she does so). Such attention to detail and realism pays off. INQUISITION is clearly one of the most authentic looking of Naschy's films, and its authenticity singles it out with stunning relief from the cadre of other witch-hunting films of the time.

Surprisingly to those who have accused Naschy of misogyny, the story spans out to underline a woman's need to achieve some measure of power in a male-dominated society. Women's secondary role in society is continually on display. Women are seen carrying out the duties of the day: sowing, preparing food, serving food, while the men talk and eat away. "Women are weaker," De Fossey claims at the first dinner he attends after his arrival in the town of Pyriac. They are ones Naschy and his two comrades in witch-hunting will concentrate on, for they, according to the theory, are the easiest conduits for Satan's work. Victimized or ignored, women cannot but help to seek some measure of equilibrium and justice in such at atmosphere. With the Church involved in their persecution, they naturally seek out the antithesis of God, Satan, who when an angel rebelled against God and, punished with banishment from heaven, set up his own domain of power and influence. It is to Satan that desperate women seeks retribution and relief, and it is to Satan that Catherine goes when her lover, Jean, is ambushed and killed.

So in INQUISITION witches exist, though there supernatural powers are illusory. (In the film there is a hint, however, that the plague is the work of the Devil, but that is another subtext.) There is even a unexpected poetry and tenderness in their impressions of Satan's gifts, highlighted by Catherine's wonderment and joy at "flying beneath the moon" during the witches' Sabbath. But Catherine's plot against the inquisitor is misguided. We later find out her accusation is wrong: De Fossey is innocent of her lover's death. She becomes as much deluded as De Fossey, though they serve different masters.

Salvation for this duo, if it exists, arrives through affirmation of moral guilt. As the flames engulf the repentant De Fossey and the proud Catherine, it is Catherine who screams, finally and pathetically made aware that Satan is powerless to save her or, worse, has abandoned her. De Fossey, meanwhile, raises his supplicant eyes to heaven, the flames at his feet not just punishing him for his sins, but cleansing his soul, if such be the will of God he serves. The ironic pathos of the ending, and the evident humanistic and understanding spirit of its creator, the scriptwriter Naschy, comes as another surprise to those who have merely expected base exploitation and nothing more.

Naschy and co-star Daniela Giordano play well off each other. Giordano, who had starred in many Euro-productions, was chosen primarily because of the partial Italian financing of the film and her understanding of Spanish. Her no-nonsense approach is welcome, particularly when Naschy films falter on occasion by starring actresses who are vapid, doey-eyed counterpoints to the stronger men about them. Determined and serious, Giordano ably lets Catherine become more than a match for De Fossey. When she gazes back at him, it is a gaze of insolence that Giordanro pulls off with naturalness. Giordano thinks highly of the movie and her role, and commented recently in the book 99 DONNE: "The film ruined me, because it made me fall in love with the cinema, which previously had been just a game: for the first time I understood what 'professional' means, but I also suffered a lot, because from then onward I kept waiting for good script which just didn't come."

It is with the torture sequences that many a witch-hunting film is judged by horror aficionados, and here Naschy does not come up short. The screams of the naked or half-naked women reverberate in a dungeon that is a sadist's dream, harboring, as it does, an authentic paraphernalia of torture instruments aged by the patina of centuries' old blood and suffering sweat. The renowned nipple clipping scene is a wincer, but also apparently some sort of crowd pleaser, as Naschy used forced nipple removal again in HOWL OF THE DEVIL. Yet even these purely exploitative elements, and the abundant nudity of the film, do not dilute the serious tale that Naschy relates, nor do they lessen the sad moral of the story. A carefully crafted film, in many respects impeccable in intent and execution, INQUISITION is one of the glories in the cinema of Paul Naschy, and a high point in the cinema of the perverse.

-- Mirek

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A clean-shaven Naschy directing the film.

It's nice to take a break with your female co-stars

 

Screen captures from Spain's Vellavision DVD of INQUISICION

Contact info: Mirek Lipinski at eurosin@aol.com