One of the plethora of delicious EuroHorrors served up by Spain in the 1970s, THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE is genuinely surprising, possessing an outrageous approach that’s extreme even for a sub-sub genre not exactly known for its subtlety.
We open in a German village where either the beer seems to be served in gallon-sized glasses or the inhabitants are very very small. Walking home young student Ugo gets a bad attack of the tummy cramps and falls down dead in the street. Gotho, the hunchback of the title (Naschy in a bad wig but no ugly makeup – he’s the star, remember?) just happens to be nearby and finds a photograph of Ugo’s girlfriend Ilse while innocently searching the dead man’s pockets. We suspect Ilse isn’t going to last very long as she’s played by the same actress who was the first to get killed by the zombie Templar Knights in Amando de Ossorio’s TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD. Sure enough, after taking Ugo’s body to the morgue (and sawing his hands and feet off for no reason other than to up the yuk content – and why not) we see Gotho visiting Ilse in hospital. She’s a terminal case as according to Doctor Vic Winner “her lungs are all gone”. At least he actually sees some patients as opposed to his four colleagues who seem to spend their time taking the piss out of our hunchbacked hero and getting into fights with him. In fact these naughty medics give Gotho such a good kicking he ends up being taken home by local doctor Elke to heal his wounds. Whether it was his house or hers I’m still not sure but there was what looked like half a garden fence in the lounge as well as Ugo’s severed hands lurking in the bottom right hand corner of the frame. Still, seeing as Elke works up at the local women’s prison where cell-sharing seems to be on a ‘as long as you don’t flog the living daylights out of your room-mate’ basis it’s always possible they’re someone else’s hands that she picked up on the way home.
Ilse dies, which is too much for poor old Gotho as by now he’s hopelessly in love with her, so he does what anyone lovesick hunchback in one of these films would do and carries her off to the vast and labyrinthine catacombs beneath the town that no-one else seems to know about, even though the Spanish Inquisition seem to have left a lot of their torture instruments lying around. And some of their skeletons too, by the look of it.
And the movie’s only just getting started. Ilse’s corpse starts to get gnawed by rats which then get set on fire by Gotho (animal / rat lovers beware this bit as it’s obviously real) but just as things are starting to look bleak for the hunchback up pops mad doctor Alberto Dalbes who has just had funding for his research at the university refused, which is just as well once we find out what it is.
But first he has to build his laboratory in Gotho’s torture chamber, complete with acid bath to dispose of ‘unwanted flesh’. All that Gotho asks in return is that Dr Alberto brings back to life Gotho’s dear dead Ilse. “No problem,” says the rather optimistic mad scientist. Oh but there is a problem – the workman who have helped build the aforementioned underground “secret” laboratory, distracted from their game of ‘Snap’ by the odours emanating from the dead girl, decide to dump her in the acid.
Dr Alberto tries to console Gotho by getting him to bring him a corpse’s head, which he proceeds to cram into a large jar already filled to the brim with blancmange and lungs. This appear to do the trick as regards the doctor’s creation, however, as the resulting transformation is so terrifying and so beyond the limits of the budget that we aren’t even allowed to see it. The creation, living behind one of those heavily bolted wooden doors with a tiny window in it so the doctor can peek in and tell us just how terrible it is from time to time, needs girls to eat, so off goes hunchbacked Paul to pinch a few, taking time out to exercise the part his contract that says that no matter what part he plays he gets to go to bed with at least one naked Eurohorror actress.
The end is fast approaching and yes, we do eventually get to see the monster, which looks like more blancmange but more man-shaped this time. Nearly everyone dies except Dr Vic Winner (who doesn’t deserve to as he has done absolutely nothing throughout this entire film) and his girlfriend Maria Perschy, who ran the ladies loony bin but now gets to escape to face the blind dead herself in their third outing THE GHOST GALLEON. A lot of Paul Naschy’s films have finally seen release on DVD over the last couple of years. Some are great, some are middling, and some are downright awful, but if you are as yet unfamiliar with the work of one of the greatest stars of Spanish exploitation cinema THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE is a fine place to start.