Javier Aguirre, 1973
Starring: Paul Naschy, Rosanna Yanni, Victor Alcázar
Gotho, a hunchback working at the morgue (as you may have guessed) is in love with Ilse, a sickly young woman who is kind to him in return. She soon dies, though Gotho believes she is only sleeping because of his limited mental faculties. When they attempt to autopsy her at the morgue, Gotho has a violent meltdown and commits murder. He is forced to go into hiding in the city’s catacombs to avoid the police. Soon he meets Dr. Orla, a scientist at a nearby hospital.
Orla agrees to revive Ilse if Gotho will help him find bodies for his unsavory experiments, and soon moves his equipment into Gotho’s underground lair. Meanwhile, a kind, lovely doctor named Elke begins to fall for Gotho and they strike up a relationship. Instead of stitching together pieces from dead bodies, Dr. Orla feeds human heads to a mysterious creature in glass tank. Of course Gotho must face off against this beast during the film’s insane conclusion.
One of star and writer Paul Naschy’s most popular and beloved films, Hunchback of the Morgue is another of his riffs on the classic Universal monster, though this script has an inspired twist, as it combines two stories into one. There are many elements of Hunchback of Notre Dame present, namely an ugly, violent, and unintelligent hunchback who loves a doomed woman. Naschy blends this with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Universal’s filmic adaptation of the novel: a mad scientist uses his hunchbacked-assistant to gather up corpses and build a monstrous creature.
Gotho the hunchback is one of Naschy’s most memorable characters (despite the awkward wig). He is sweet and caring with the film’s two leading ladies, but is also capable of some real ferocity. Of course plenty about his character is implausible, namely the fact that he manages to strike up a relationship with Elke. In all of his films, Naschy’s characters are inexplicably irresistible to women, often resulting in some unintentional comedy. Let’s not forget about the hunchback sex that occurs during the film. Though this isn’t the most erotic of his films (that honor probably goes to Count Dracula’s Great Love), there is some implied necrophilia, whipping, foot worship, and some other mild kinkiness.
This is certainly also one of Naschy’s goriest films and features plenty of spilled blood, including scenes of corpse play, decapitation, dismemberment, and even a body dumped in acid. There was also (according to IMDB) allegedly the use of a real corpse for part of the film, though it repulsed Naschy so much he had to go back to using a dummy. Animal lovers should be forewarned – there is a scene where rats are actually set on fire.
Director Javier Aguirre, who worked with Naschy on Count Dracula’s Great Love, again brings back a powerful sense of atmosphere that is critical to the film’s success. The scientist’s lab, crypt-like lair in the catacombs with torture implements and old bones, and decent effects all make the film worth watching. The film seems to be set in a German or Eastern European town and has a wonderful Gothic flavor full of picturesque houses, dark alleys, and some other nice visuals.
As with many of Naschy’s films, there are a number of genre regulars, including Maria Elena Arpon (Tombs of the Blind Dead) who sportingly let rats climb all over her, Antonio Pica (Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll), the sexy Rosanna Yanni (Count Dracula’s Great Love) as Gotho’s implausible girlfriend, and Manuel de Blas (Vampires’ Night Orgy). Jess Franco regular Albert Dalbes (Cut-Throats Nine) shines as Dr. Orla and chews scenery with gusto.
Hunchback of the Morgue is one of Naschy’s best paced films, though, as with all the others, the script is far from perfect. There’s some hilarious dialogue, nonsensical scenes, and characters doing things they shouldn’t, but this is definitely one of his most entertaining films. It’s Eurohorror, so it doesn’t really have to make sense. It comes highly recommended and fortunately Hunchback of the Morgue is available on DVD. While this will be of interest to all Eurohorror fans, Naschy newbies might also want to check it out. If you’ve seen one of his El Hombre Lobo films and were disappointed, this might just change your mind.