EL JOROBADO DE LA MORGUE/THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE

1972

Cast: Paul Naschy (Wolfgang Gotho), Alberto Dalbes (Doctor Orla), Maria Perschy (Frieda), Rossana Yanni (Elke), Victor Alcazar (Tauchner), Helen Harp (Lise), Manuel De Blas, Antonio Pica, Antonio Mayans
Director: Javier Aguirre
Screenplay: Jacinto Molina, Alberto Insua, Javier Aguirre
Photography: Raul Perez Cubero
Music: Carmelo Bernaola
Production Company:
Janus Films (Spain)

Running time: 88 min.

Eastmancolor

U.S. theatrical release: At least limited distribution in 1973 through Jerry Gross' Cinemation company

Video: U.S. release on All Seasons Entertainment, as THE RUE MORGUE MASSACRES; Spanish release on Manga; also released in Japan and Germany

DVD: Tripictures (Spain, 2005)

             

 

Review: For sheer over-the-top entertainment, it doesn’t get much better than EL JOROBADO DE LA MORGUE (THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE or, as released in the U.S., THE RUE MORGUE MASSACRES). After all, how can you not love a movie that encompasses foot kissing, hunchback sex and burning rats, now I ask you?

Paul Naschy portrays Wolfgang Gotho, a shy and simple-minded hunchback who also has occasional murderous sociopathic tendencies. Other cast members include Vic Winner as the stalwart Doctor Tauchner, Maria Pershy as Dr. Frieda Meyer (Tauchner’s girlfriend), Alberto Dalbes as the mad Dr. Orla and Rossana Yanni as Dr. Elke (an extremely beautiful woman who could have her pick of any man she wanted but sets her determined sights on Gotho).

This is Naschy’s picture from frame one to end credits and one cannot help but sympathize with Gotho, a gentle soul who has been the victim of cruel ridicule all his life and is eventually taunted and/or tricked into committing several heinous murders. While many of Naschy’s past and future characterizations revolved around darkly brooding, savagely aggressive portrayals, there is a subtlety to his performance here that makes Gotho’s meek and awkwardly humble of character completely believable. Even watching the film in original Spanish language or without any sound at all does not diminish Gotho’s pathos or tragedy. His lethal violence is spurred by violence done to him. He kills, deluded by the hollow promises of Dr. Orla who uses him as an instrument for his own unethical medical experiments. The messages of this film are simple--tolerance for those who are different and appreciation for the beauty within and not the physical facade.

Gotho works in the morgue of Feldkirch Hospital. The hospital is a training school for medical students and Gotho prepares the various body parts and cadavers for the students to dissect. He is verbally and physically abused by the students, especially when they discover him bringing flowers to a young woman who is a patient. Her name is Elsa and she is dying of tuberculosis. She and Gotho used to play together as children and she has always been kind and friendly to him. Gotho loves her but contents himself with just their friendship.

One day, Gotho is attacked by the town children who pelt him with rocks. Elke, a doctor at the Feldkirch Women’s Reformatory chases them away. She takes Gotho back to her office to treat a gash on his forehead. Quickly, it becomes obvious Elke is fascinated by the hunchback. In gratitude for her show of kindness, Gotho humbles himself before her, kneeling to kiss her feet. Elke is deeply moved by this submissive action, however, Gotho is oblivious, only caring about Elsa.

Sometime later, on his way to bring Elsa flowers, Gotho is set upon by some of the medical students. He finally gets away from them but only with the intervention of Dr. Orla. When he arrives at Elsa’s room he discovers she has just died.

Gotho returns to the morgue. Elsa’s body is brought to him and he is ordered to prepare her for dissection. The men delivering her corpse try to steal her jewelry. In a fit of grief and outage, he kills them in most disagreeable ways--disemboweling one and decapitating the other. And then, believing that Elsa is only in a ‘deep sleep’, he steals her body and hides it in the catacombs deep below the hospital and city streets. When he returns to her hours later, the rats have started to scavenge her body. Angered beyond reason, he grabs a torch and sets them on fire.

Denetia’s helpful-hint-of-the-day (and based on personal experience): Never! Ever! Under any circumstances watch this scene with an animal rights activist. There is no statute of limitations where live, rat burning is concerned and you will never hear the end of it. Trust me on this.

Those little rats give their all for their moment of glory on the silver screen. There is a saying that sometimes you nearly have to kill yourself to break into show business but this is taking things a bit too far. Much has been written about this particular scene and even by today’s jaded reaction to death and violence on the theater screen, it is disturbingly memorable and rarely fails to get a gasp of shock or an "Oh my God!" from the most strong-stomached viewer. And, even if you don’t like rats, immolation is a bad way to go. What it comes down to is that the scene must be judged in context to European animal rights standards (or the lack thereof) of the time when torching a few rodents for shock value was not considered ‘politically incorrect’.

In the meantime, Elke’s attraction to Gotho has continued to grow and eventually she lures him to her bed. Her kind and genuine love for Gotho are his redemption and this makes him realize how he has been used by Dr. Orla.

In the end, Gotho breaks free of the doctor’s evil influence but he must pay the price for his past crimes. He sacrifices himself to save the lives of Dr. Tauchner, Frieda and his beloved Elke. During a knockdown, drag-out fight with Dr. Orla, the crazed scientist shoots him, but Gotho tumbles them both, along with Orla’s ghastly creation, into a vat of acid.

Oh, did I forget to mention the convenient acid pit down in the catacombs?

EL JOROBADO DE LA MORGUE was directed by Javier Aguirre and shot from a script by Jacinto Molina, Alberto Insúa and Aguirre and was released by Janus Films S.L./Eva Film S.L. in association with F. Lara Polop in 1972. ZIV released the film through All Seasons Entertainment here in the U.S. under the title of THE RUE MORGUE MASSACRES despite the fact that the Rue Morgue is a street in Paris and the movie appears to take place in Germany.

The two things that least endeared me to EL JOROBADO DE LA MORGUE were Carmen Bernaola’s musical score with the exception of Gotho’s theme which is rather melancholy and fitting his character and Raul Perez Cubero’s cinematography. With such wonderful catacombs this film screamed for the magical touch of Alejandro Ulloa.

There is great romance, sensuality and violence in EL JOROBADO DE LA MORGUE--a little something for everyone’s taste.

Naschy received the Georges Meliés Best Actor Award for his portrayal of Wolfgang Gotho from the International Festival of Fantastic and Science-Fiction Cinema of Paris in 1973. In 1976, as Jacinto Molina, he received an award best screenplay at the International Festival of Film at Amberes.

The one big disappointment of the movie--that I didn’t get to see both Elke and Gotho doing the wango-tango naked as promised in glorious color in the Spanish pressbook. But, to paraphrase an infamous quote, "Maybe there are some things best left unknown to man or woman-kind."

-- Denetia Arellanes