Paul Naschy, 1983
Starring: Paul Naschy, Shigeru Amachi, Beatriz Escudero
In Medieval Europe, Irineus Daninsky, right hand of the emperor, kills a barbarian and incurs the wrath of his mistress, a witch named Amese. She curses Daninsky so that his family line will be plagued with lycanthropy. The impressive cursing scene involves a wolf skull being shoved into the stomach of Irineus’s pregnant wife. The witch is killed, but of course she does not permanently die.
In the future, his ancestor Waldemar Daninsky turns into a werewolf and tries to find a way to end his curse. He tracks down a powerful magician, but the magician is slain before he can curse Daninsky. With his dying words, he tells him to go to Japan and find a samurai-magician named Kian. In order to help Daninsky, Kian must locate a magical sword, though many obstacles are in the way, including the witch, black magic, demons, rival samurai, partially nude female ninjas, and more.
This Japanese-Spanish coproduction is a fairly unique affair. Though there were some Western and Japanese co-productions during the period, I think this is the only one to feature a werewolf. The film is a little long, but has some great set pieces and maybe the biggest budget Naschy ever had at his disposal. Shot at Toshiro Mifune’s studios, Naschy continued to take the role of writer, director, and star for this tenth film in the El Hombre Lobo series. The success of this film allowed him to create another Japanese-funded film, Human Beasts.
The Beast and the Magic Sword has a big emphasis on fantasy and choreographed fight scenes, which gives this a fresh feel as far as the rest of the series is concerned. It isn’t overly bloody and most of the violence is implied, but it has a strong dose of exploitation so lacking in the previous films of the series. The sets are fantastic and Naschy somehow manages to transport a European Gothic flavor to Japan. Impressive, considering he had only been directing for a few years at that point and was working with a foreign-language cast and crew.
Shigeru Amachi (The Ghost of Yotsuya) is given almost equal running time with Naschy, which is another of the film’s major advantages. This is the tenth film in the series and by now, I think everyone has seen enough of the melodramatic moping and longing that has marked Daninsky’s character thus far. Amachi has some great scenes of his own, including a few fights. His quest for the magic sword involves duking it out with some well-designed demons and there’s a very entertaining battle in the baths with topless female assassins.
Amachi is not the only one to engage in fisticuffs. Daninsky fights a Bengal tiger, savages a whole group of samurai, and absolutely destroys a brothel full of scantily-clad geisha. He also fights some sassy female ninjas in a scene that would perfectly fit into to a Shaw Brothers movie like Five Element Ninjas.
The film manages to feel fresh even though it recycles some of Naschy’s earlier plot elements. First and foremost, there is once again a barbarian villain with a witch companion, just as in The Werewolf and the Yeti. As in Curse of the Devil, Daninsky’s love interest is named Kinga and there’s an awkward moment where her sister also falls for Daninsky. Despite these repeats, the film still feels fresh.
The Beast and the Magic Sword comes recommended to anyone who enjoys the rest of the series and to fans of Asian B movies from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Sadly, there’s no English-language DVD, but you should be able to find the film online with some digging. Naschy really should have stopped here with this fun, entertaining entry in the series and, for a time, he did. It was more than a decade before he made the next Daninsky film, Licántropo (1996), and several years after that before the last in the series, Tomb of the Werewolf (2003), though I won't be reviewing either of these. Definitely recommended.