EL MARISCAL DEL INFIERNO/THE MARSHALL OF HELL
Cast: Paul Naschy (Gilles de Lancre), Norma Sebre
(Georgel), Guillermo Bredeston (Gaston de Malebranche), Mariano Vidal
(Sille), Eduardo Calvo (Simon de Braqueville), Luis Induni (Paul), Sandra
Mozarovsky, Simon Arriaga
U.S. theatrical release: None known
Video: All Seasons Entertainment (as THE DEVIL'S POSSESSED)
Gilles de Lancre (Paul Naschy) is the "Marshall of Hell", a
medieval French Baron based on the historical sadist/mass-murderer Gilles
de Rais. The real life monster was executed for crimes of Satanism and
child murder, a kind of a male counterpart to Elisabeth Bathory. Today he
might be featured on the evening news alongside Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles
Naschy's human monster is a frustrated, ambitious, epileptic wreck who goes into convulsions while sexually assaulting a young virgin kidnapped for his pleasure. After returning from the war against England, Gilles is snubbed by the King and retires to chemical experimentation in an attempt to attain the Ars Magnus, the Philosopher's Stone. Along with the equally perverse Georgel (Norma Sembre) he establishes a ruthless dictatorship of ruinous taxes, kidnappings, torture and black masses. Somehow he believes all this will propel him to the throne of France and eventual control of the World! A heady agenda.
Simon de Braqueville (Eduardo Calvo), a quack alchemist, is employed to actually perform the experiments, which fail again and again. At first Gilles balks at a demand for sacrificial virgins, commenting: "Science should not be related to crime." But he gives in to his ambitions and earns the fear and hatred of his countrymen. A trusted henchman (Vidal Molina) scours the countryside for female candidates while an old war ally of de Lancre attempts to organize an armed revolt against the tyrant.
There's swordplay aplenty and even a jousting match for fans of spectacle. Director Klimovsky attempts to keep the action percolating with the help of Francisco Sanchez's colorful cinematography (some of the compositions bring to mind medieval woodcuts). Then there are the gougings, beheadings, stretchings, brandings in Gilles' torture chamber which signal this is indeed the typical export version, retaining bloody gore but carefully avoiding nudity. This "covered" version goes to extreme, sometimes ludicrous lengths to make sure the tortured damsels are properly attired during their inquisitions.
There's also an odd scene where the alchemist employs a Rube Goldberg style "microphone" system to force a confession from a severed head. Such charming details go a long way in making up for the sometimes stilted expository sequences where unintentionally funny dubbed dialogue undermines the period mood. Klimovsky has one final card up his sleeve, though, staging the demise of Gilles as an unabashed homage to the climax of Kurosawa's THRONE OF BLOOD. At least he's wise enough to steal from good films.
On the whole Klimovsky seems
unable to create the sense of unearthly menace which permeated the
somewhat similar HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB (1972). Another problem is
that Naschy appears uncertain as exactly how to portray his character. At
times he's an effectively bloodthirsty beast, at other times he appears at
a loss as to where the character is headed. Perhaps these tentative
moments add some complexity to a role which Naschy played as magnificently
evil in HORROR.... Still, it's always good to see Naschy in this kind of
lavishly appointed historical horror (realized on a limited budget, of
course). He would continue in the period modality with his self-directed
INQUISITION and the exceptional EL CAMINANTE.