Paul Naschy (born Jacinto Molina Álvarez, September 6, 1934 – November 30, 2009) was a Spanish movie actor, screenwriter, and director working primarily in horror films. His portrayals of numerous classic horror figures—the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster, Count Dracula, the Hunchback, and the Mummy – have earned him recognition as the Spanish Lon Chaney.
His signature role was that of the werewolf, Waldemar Daninsky, whom he played a staggering twelve times. He had one of the most recognizable faces in Spanish horror film, though his long filmography reveals Naschy also starred in dozens of action films, historical dramas, crime movies, TV shows and documentaries.
In addition to acting, Naschy also wrote the screenplays for most of his films and directed a number of them as well. King Juan Carlos I presented Naschy with Spain’s Gold Medal Award for Fine Arts in 2001 in honour of his work, the Spanish equivalent of being knighted.
Jacinto Molina Álvarez was born on September 6th 1934 to an artistic family – his father, Enrique, was a renowned fur and leather craftsman, his grandfather, Emilio, a celebrated sculptor of religious iconography. His family members’ success in their respective fields allowed Jacinto a relatively comfortable upbringing.
The tranquillity of Jacinto’s childhood in Madrid was dramatically punctuated by the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, an event, along with the rise of the dictator General Franco, staining his view of the world and inevitably influencing his later career.
Despite his young age, Molina’s mind was etched with images of spiralling aircraft, a disembodied soldier staggering for a few brief seconds before collapsing in a twitching heap, rows of executed traitors, as well as the tales from his father who served on the frontline.
As the Civil War gave way to the Second World War, further horrors revealed themselves, not least the German school Molina attended, bedecked with Nazi paraphernalia. At home, comics occupied his mind with more fantastical thoughts, though his uncle’s gory tales of sights he’d witnessed at local bull fights continued to draw Molina back to the death and the brutality of both life and death.
Cinema soon became a big attraction, initially the weekly serials which demanded you return to learn the resolution of the cliffhanger – particular favourites were The Drums of Fu Manchu and Mysterious Doctor Satan. The real revelation was a screening of a reissued Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, Lon Chaney Jr’s portrayal of the doomed Larry Talbot changing Molina’s life forever.
When asked by his mother what he wanted to be when he grew up, Jacinto replied, “a werewolf”. After briefly befriending the ‘spree killer’, José María Jarabo Pérez Morris, a man with such a muscular neck his eventual execution by garrotting took over twenty minutes, Molina’s first obsession away from cinema was weightlifting, another passion which stayed with him throughout his life.
By his twenties, Molina concentrated on both weightlifting and acting, the first presenting him with almost immediate success, decorating him with an array of titles and accolades, the latter proving significantly more difficult to break into. Molina had an uncredited bit part in the classic 1961 Biblical epic King of Kings and a few other films of that period, and the experience drew him further into film-making.
While appearing as an extra in an episode of the American TV show I Spy that was being filmed in Spain in 1966, Naschy met horror icon Boris Karloff on the set, a thrill he never forgot. Karloff, in poor health, having difficulty walking and suffering with cold, broke down in tears one day, the frustration and pain just too much. The sight of his hero displaying emotion in this way, despite his history of terrorising and killing on the Big Screen was also to have a profound effect on Molina’s future acting career.
Tired of waiting for success to find him, in 1968 Molina penned the screenplay to what would eventually become the film The Mark of the Wolfman (La Marca del Hombre Lobo) a film following the Polish Count, Waldemar Daninsky, who, afflicted with lycanthropy, battles both other werewolves and vampires in a bells and whistles fest of the gory and the Gothic.
The screenplay was picked up by German producers who, when finding their first choice for the role of Daninsky, Lon Chaney Jr, was far too ill with throat cancer to take the part at the age of 62, offered it to Molina. Though not his intention, Molina gratefully accepted but was required by the financiers of the film to adopt a more Teutonic-sounding name. Thus Paul Naschy was born, ‘Paul’ after the then Pope, Paul VI, ‘Naschy’ after the Hungarian weightlifter, Imre Nagy. A Spanish name would simply have been too uncommercial for worldwide distribution – at the time, Spain was churning out endless dismal ‘comedies’ and little else, apart from providing many of the settings for Italian-made Westerns.
The success of the film was enough to allow Naschy the comfort of continuing to develop his own projects – regrettably, a swift return outing for Daninsky in Las Noches del Homo Lobo, is now considered a lost film, though it was only two years later when his most famous creation was to reappear, in both 1970’s Dracula Versus Frankenstein (Los Monstruos dos Terror) and 1971’s The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman (La Noche de Walpurgis).
Over the course of the twelve films Naschy made featuring Waldemar Daninsky there is little narrative connection, the wolfman existing essentially only as a recognisable and well-loved monster, the tenuous links between films either ham-fistedly managed or non-existent.
Naschy’s ‘straightforward’ horror career was punctuated by many notable films outside of the cobweb-strewn fang-baring type. 1971 saw him star in the Tito Carpi-penned giallo Seven Murders for Scotland Yard, as well as perhaps Spain’s most famous entry into the cycle of usually resolutely Italian thrillers, The Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (1973), though purists may argue convincingly for the same year’s A Dragonfly for Each Corpse.
Also of note around this period are Naschy’s turns as the warlock Alaric De Marnac in Horror Rises from the Tomb, 1973), the eyebrow-raising Vengeance of the Zombies (1973), the role of the priest in the Spanish Exorcist take-off, Exorcismo (1975), the witchfinder of his directorial debut, Inquisition (1976), and the effective, gloomy apocalyptic vision of The People Who Own the Dark (1976).
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Despite, this, it was his more direct horror films which continued to make him such a star, especially in his home country where he had affectionately come to be known as “El Hombre Lobo”. Many of his most successful films were directed by the Argentine, León Klimovsky, who forever yearned to make blockbusting mainstream films but had to settle for a career making horror, exploitation and schlocky westerns – he needn’t have worried, his films are rarely anything less than excellent entertainment.
Having now played all the major monster roles, including The Mummy in The Mummy’s Revenge (1971), Count Dracula in 1973’s Count Dracula’s Great Love, the hunchback in the terrific The Hunchback of the Morgue (1973) and an attempt to do all of them at once in 1987’s Howl of the Devil, by the mid-80’s he was spreading himself a little too thinly and making several curious decisions.
1983’s Beast and the Magic Sword (La Bestia y la Espada Mágica) was just one of several projects Naschy produced either in Japan or with Japanese involvement. They proved surprisingly popular in Japan but less so back in Europe – Naschy’s eagerness to please the Asian market with films of Samurai and warriors simply proving impossible to satiate both markets’ demands and tastes.
Even more upsetting was 1982’s Spanish-made Buenas Noches, Señor Monstruo (Goodnight Mr. Monster), which, although made for children, upset horror fans with its musical japes involving the classic monsters Naschy had done so much to revive in the post-Universal wastelands.
On June 20, 1984, Naschy’s father, Enrique Molina, died of a heart attack while fishing alone on the shores of a lake. The unexpected sudden loss of his father (with whom he had always been very close), coinciding with the bankruptcy of his production company, plunged Naschy into a lengthy period of depression, only returning to filmmaking in 1987 with his cult classic El Aullido del Diablo. Naschy’s son Sergio starred in the film, along with famed horror icons Howard Vernon and Caroline Munro (the film was very poorly distributed unfortunately, and is still not available on DVD).
Brief film roles followed in the late 80’s and early 90’s but it was a return to weightlifting which occupied his time; despite his advancing years, he was still in enviable shape and was still both entering and winning many competitive events.
Sadly, he suffered a near-fatal heart attack himself on Aug. 27, 1991, triggered by weightlifting in a local gym. He was hospitalised for more than a week, then had major heart surgery performed on September 5th. A rumour circulated throughout horror film fandom that Naschy had died, since he disappeared from the film scene for a while after his operation. He had to later contact a number of fanzine publishers in various countries to inform them that he was still very much alive – he also appeared at film festivals and conventions such as Eurofest in London in 1994.
This virtual rebirth revitalised both the actor and his audience but his efforts lacked the imagination and vitality of his earlier roles and they were largely critical and commercial disasters. Even in this relatively short time, the Spanish film industry had become, in his words, “corrupt” and his efforts were on miniscule budgets and Naschy’s attempts to invest his own money into them left him on the verge of bankruptcy (his Japanese-based production company, Aconito Films, had already gone bust a decade earlier).
After penning his autobiography, Memoirs of a Wolfman, in 1997 and further filmic misfires, he fled to Hollywood in what would be a distinctly lacklustre final hurrah working for directors who certainly revered Naschy but had no vehicle suitable for him; both Brian Yuzna’s Rottweiler (2004) and Fred Olen Ray’s straight-to-video Tomb of the Werewolf, were a poor reflection of an actor who once could have claimed to be one of the biggest horror stars in the world. Fortunately, he managed to make one final classic, 2004’s Rojo Sangre, directed by the unrelated Christian Molina.
Naschy died of pancreatic cancer on November 30, 2009 in Madrid, aged seventy-five. Although he ended his life in poor financial straits, Naschy always received a tremendous outpouring of love from his many fans and died knowing he would always be regarded as a major horror film icon.
Naschy was married only once, on October 24, 1969, to a woman named Elvira Primavera, the daughter of an Italian diplomat living in Spain. They were still happily married 40 years later at the time of his death. He was survived by his widow Elvira and his two sons, Bruno and Sergio Molina.
Naschy’s legacy is one which reflects his passion and understanding of horror film. His evil characters often have a very human side, a sympathetic and anguished counterpoint to the fury and violence of the monster. His best work often had magnificently evocative Gothic backdrops and, equally regularly, voluptuous, disrobed ladies, eager to fall at Naschy’s feet.
He can be credited with perpetuating the popularity of characters largely already abandoned by Hollywood, if his later choices were sometimes a little wayward, it wasn’t for lack of enthusiasm. Perhaps more often forgotten is that Naschy at his best could be a superb actor, the most athletic of wolfmen, a believable romantic lead and a hypnotically-eyed icon. In 2010, a documentary about Naschy called The Man Who Saw Frankenstein Cry was released.
A much truncated overview of his huge output.
1968 Mark of the Wolfman (La Marca del Hombre Lobo) aka Hell’s Creatures/Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror – the first outing for Waldemar Daninsky
1968 Night of the Wolfman (Las noches del Hombre Lobo) – now lost
1971 The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman aka Shadow of the Werewolf – Daninsky
1971 Seven Murders for Scotland Yard
1972 Fury of the Wolfman – Daninsky
1972 Doctor Jekyll vs. the Werewolf (Doctor Jekyll y el Hombre Lobo) – both Daninsky and Mr Hyde
1973 The Man With the Severed Head (Las Ratas No Duermen de Noche) aka Crimson
1973 Curse of the Devil (El Retorno de Walpurgis) – Daninsky
1973 Bracula, the Terror of the Living Dead (La Orgía de los Muertos) aka The Hanging Woman
1973 The Mummy’s Revenge (La venganza de la momia)
1973 The Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (Los ojos azules de la muñeca rota) aka House of Psychotic Women
1973 A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (Una libélula para cada muerto)
1974 Devil’s Possessed (El mariscal del infierno) – a second outing for the Knight of Marnac under his more familiar Gilles de Rais moniker
1975 The Werewolf and the Yeti (La maldición de la bestia) aka Night of the Howling Beast. Daninsky. Possibly his best recognised title due to it falling foul of the British authorities and becoming labelled as a ‘video nasty‘. It’s actually one of Naschy’s dullest outings during his prime period.
1975 Exorcism (Exorcismo)
1975 Los Pasajeros – Rarely seen, it is based on the urban myth of snuff films
1976 Inquisition (Inquisición)
1978 El Huerto del Francés – much overlooked but highly lauded serial killer film
1980 Human Beasts (El carnaval de las bestias) aka The Beasts’ Carnival – his first Spanish/Japanese co-production
1982 Buenas noches, Señor Monstruo (Goodnight, Mr Monster)
1983 Panic Beats (Latidos de pánico) aka Cries of Terror – a final outing for Alaric de Marnac
1983 The Beast and the Magic Sword (La bestia y la espada mágica) – Daninsky
1989 Shadows of Blood – more serial killer action
1989 Aquí huele a muerto – abysmal Dracula spoof which was inexplicably a Spanish box office hit
1993 The Night of the Executioner (La noche del jjecutor)
1996 Hambre mortal (Mortal Hunger)
1996 Lycantropus: The Moonlight Murders (Licántropo: El asesino de la luna llena) – Daninsky
2001 School Killer (The Vigilante)
2004 Tomb of the Werewolf – Daninsky’s final appearance
2004 Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood
2004 Rojo Sangre
2010 La Herencia Valdema (The Valdemar Legacy)
2010 The Valdemar Legacy II: The Forbidden Shadow (La Herencia Valdemar II: La Sombra Prohibida)
Daz Lawrence, MOV!ES and MAN!A