Color, 1988, 96 mins. 56 secs.
Directed by Paul Naschy
Starring Paul Naschy, Howard Vernon, Caroline Munro, Sergio Molina, Fernando Hilbeck, Joseph Garco, Roberta Kuhn
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The career of legendary Spanish horror star and director Paul Naschy had more than its share of troubled productions over the years starting near the beginning with Assignment Terror, but none can compare to the jinxed film that he directed, co-wrote, and starred in towards the end: The Howl of the Devil, or El aullido del diablo. Featuring Naschy donning elaborate makeup as a wide array of beloved movie monsters (including an opening dedication to Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, and Jack Pierce), the film was breathlessly teased in the international horror press but ended up being almost entirely buried apart from an airing on Spanish TV. Badly duped and fan subbed over the years, the film was essentially considered lost apart from those terrible bootlegs until it miraculously emerged on Blu-ray from Mondo Macabro in 2021 with a pristine 4K scan of the original camera negative. To put it mildly, this is the answer to a lot of Naschy fans' prayers.
Foul-tempered actor Hector Doriani (Naschy) has a lot of issues. He's resentful that his attempts to be respected as a classical thespian were overshadowed by the career of his late horror star brother, Alex (also Naschy), and now he's the reluctant guardian of his nephew, Adrián (Molina), who sits around watching his dad's movies like Panic Beats. On top of that, women who wander around the area keep getting slashed up by a black-gloved killer, with some of the victims including the prostitutes Hector occasionally brings home at night. Meanwhile Adrián's fixated on the characters played by his dad including Frankenstein's monster, the lycanthrope Waldemar Daninsky, Quasimodo, Mr. Hyde, and the Phantom of the Opera. Also on hand are the sinister tarot card-reading family butler, Eric (Vernon), and the alluring maid Carmen (Munro), who rebuffs Hector's constant advances while dealing with an ill-fated affair she had with the local priest, Damian (Hilbeck), and a traumatic past of her own. Of course, it's only a matter of time before the serial killings and all the dysfunctional family drama collide during an eventful night of violence and retribution.
Tons of fun from start to finish, The Howl of the Devil is obviously a great showcase for Naschy as he gets to don about ten or so great makeup designs while getting some hilariously spiteful monologues about his own genre career. The film is also packed with gory murder scenes, lingering nudity, and the most profane dialogue of any Naschy film, which makes for a very weird contrast with the more fanciful monster scenes involving young Molina (Naschy's real-life son, credited here as "Serg Mills"). The film came at a vulnerable period for Naschy coming off of directing the mostly ignored wild action romp Operation Mantis and grappling with personal factors like the death of his father and the collapse of his own production company that gave him less control over this project. Nevertheless, he's clearly giving it is all here and playing nicely off of horror pros Vernon and Munro, both of whom get a lot to chew on here as well. Adding to the fun is the fact that his actor characters allow him to show them portraying an even wider array of characters here based on Fu Manchu and Rasputin, not to mention a shroud-covered specter, so you really get at least a dozen Naschys here for the price of one when it's all over. Then there's the last ten minutes, which... hoo boy; just get ready for a lot of dark twists thrown at you all at once!
As mentioned above, this film never had a legitimate theatrical or video release of any kind until the Mondo Macabro edition, which must have been a real blow to everyone involved given that this was obviously designed to be a commercially appealing production for fans of both monster and slasher movies. In fact, the film was even quite visibly shot in English (with Naschy speaking his lines phonetically), though that audio was either lost along the way or never captured in the first place. The standard Spanish-language version is what we get here, sounding great in DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono with optional English subtitles capturing all of those vulgar insults in all their colorful glory. Obviously the fact that we get a pristine video presentation of this as well is huge news, and it looks very nice here with rich colors and fine film grain and details. The film can get quite grainy and coarse at times in scenes shot with low light, but that's inherent in the original cinematography. Initially released as one of those limited Mondo Macabro red case editions that sold out very quickly (in this case containing a booklet with liner notes by Shane M. Dallmann), the retail version features the same disc contents starting off with a lively audio commentary by Naschycast's Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn who always know their stuff and pack this one with lots of info about Naschy's personal life around this time and other pertinent film projects, the story behind the film's puzzling disappearance, and the whole production history that made it such a bittersweet experience. That approach continues in a video interview with Molina (36m22s) that thoroughly covers the intentions behind the script (as both an expression of personal anxieties and a love letter to Universal monsters), the shooting process (primarily on a property owned by his grandparents), and his memories of how the production came together from the casting through the remaining location scouting around Madrid. Both the interview and the commentary also go into a colorful story about a stomach ailment that hit much of the cast and crew, which resulted in some unpleasant shooting conditions for a couple of days. Sourced from a very rare VHS copy and subtitled in English is a promotional making-of short (27m8s), which is wonderful to have here with tons of production footage organized around interviews with Naschy, Vernon, Munro, and producer Augusto Boue on the set. Perhaps the coolest thing here is getting to see a few glimpses of raw takes with the actors apart from Molina speaking English, which will probably make you appreciate the Spanish track a lot more!
Reviewed on May 23, 2021.