Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Querido Paul

I'm away from home this week, so it is difficult to write something lengthy that would be appropriate for this one year remembrance of Paul Naschy's passing. And I don't even have my webmaster's access to the Naschy website. So for my tribute, I've dusted off something that really has almost no dust on it, for it seems fairly recent and still remains in my heart the way I wrote it after Naschy's death. Some of you may have read this before on Latarnia or elsewhere, but for those who have not or who wish to reread it, I offer it up here.

In his correspondence to me, Paul Naschy would frequently address me as "Querido amigo"--"Dear friend." To me he was more than that, however. He was part father-figure, part screen legend, part hero. I could never approach him with the familiar equalizing term of "friend." Yes, he was much more than that to me, and always will be. I believe this holds true for all of us, his fans. And it will hold true for the new fans that are coming in the years and decades ahead.

Who was Paul Naschy? He was born Jacinto Molina Alvarez in 1934, two years before the start of the devastating and brutal Spanish Civil War. He was a family man, for sure, who loved his wife, Elvira, and his sons, Sergio and Bruno. He was a graphic artist (he illustrated Elvis Presley album covers in Spain), a writer of Western paperbacks, a champion weightlifter. Regarding his cinematic career, he was most certainly a fighter. In his correspondence and conversations he would refer to attempts at setting up film deals and generating sales as battles, and would gather his troops (film people, fans, anyone possible) to join him in the war.

An admirer of Napoleon and Cortez, with the fire of a competitive sportsman, Naschy was driven by a need to express himself artistically and overcome whatever challenges stood in his way. He fought for a Spanish monster movie when Spain did not have a tradition of them; he fought to make more and more monster movies, writing dozens of scripts himself, as no one else had the knack and verve for creating something similar. When producers stopped backing Spanish horror after its golden age in the early 1970s was over, he became a producer himself, investing his own money and accruing financial risks and hardships because of that. When directors couldn't quite get his vision across the way he wanted, he became a director himself. Take away Paul Naschy from Spanish fantastique and your take away its strength and sinew. Take away Paul Naschy from international fantastique and you are left with a significant emptiness in soul and sincerity.

Except for the two times he was in Los Angeles, I would get together with Naschy whenever he would come to the United States to be a special guest at a convention. Each of those times was in a grouping of three days each. His immediate family was usually with him--Elvira, his wife, and Sergio, his son--and once, Bruno, his other son. Though my time with him was probably only nine days in total, after the first meeting in New York for a Fangoria convention I already considered the Molina family "my Spanish family." All of them were intelligent, down-to-earth people, with open arms and hearts. Treasures to meet and talk with. How I wish I could have spent more time with them, how I wished I could have visited them in Spain.

My memories of Paul Naschy were warmest in the context with his family, and the breakfasts, lunches and dinners we had together. There are a few special memories, though….

I had been invited to meet him in his hotel room on the first night he arrived in New York for the Fangoria Convention in 1998. He wasn't in his room, so I waited in the lobby, and then he showed up, with his interpreter, Angel, by his side. He was attired in a simple jacket, sweater, a hat over his head. Not richly dressed or in any vain, showy artistic way, but as an ordinary man, a "regular Joe." A short man, too, but big-boned wide with power and determination.

I approached him and, putting out my hand, said, "I'm delighted to meet Waldemar Danisky." After Angel translated this to Naschy, Naschy added immediately: "Y Alaric de Marnac." ("And Alaric de Marnac.") It was then I realized how important that wicked demonic character was as an alter-ego to Jacinto Molina. Here's an interesting man, I thought!

Another memory is one that causes me some embarrassment. We were eating lunch or dinner (I forget which) at a Chiller convention in New Jersey, and Naschy inquired which film of his I had seen the most. I knew what he was ready to hear me say--certainly one of his best films would be a splendid choice to tell the man and make him happy--but not being someone who is comfortable with lying, I quickly decided to answer truthfully, even though I knew Naschy hated this film: "La furia del hombre lobo" ("The Fury of the Wolfman"). Naschy almost choked on his food, turning a beet red. I hastily told Sergio to tell Naschy in Spanish that I could watch Furia any time because it was like fast food, but that a superior film like El Retorno del hombre lobo or El caminante, one had to savor, for it was like a main meal, full, robust, memorable. Sergio translated, but when Naschy still remained a bursting red color and appeared to have lost the ability to swallow or speak, I asked Sergio to repeat my explanation, which I thought quite good and deft under the circumstances. I think a couple of glasses of water saved the occasion, but my explanation didn't.

Naschy certainly was most proud of his later, more mature period in his work and rightfully so: El Caminante and El huerto del Frances stood out, with films like El retorno del hombre lobo, La bestia y la espada magica and El carnaval de las bestias, following behind. This is actually an amazing period in Naschy's life that deserves attention and study. Anyone who sees El Caminante and El huerto del Frances will understand immediately the significance of Paul Naschy and how his disparaging critics got it all wrong.

Naschy's sincerity in the horror genre was searing and inspirational. Everyone I have interviewed who worked with Naschy has remarked on how seriously he took the proceedings, how much he put himself into whatever role he was playing. Making horror films was not frivolous for him. It was life. This was man who would privately weep when the filming of his script was not turning out the way he had written, who could slug someone who toyed with him by dangling the creation of a Naschy film studio in Paris (using Naschy's money), a dream fell apart through that person's tall-talk but no action.

Few know that when Naschy would start a Waldemar Daninsky script, he would preface the entirety with that legendary quote from Universal's 1941 The Wolf Man, in its shortened Spanish dubbing:

"Hasta un hombre de alma serena puede volverse lobo si el acónito florece y brilla la luna llena." (The full English text: "Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.")

This was Naschy's personal invocation to the cinematic legend of the werewolf, his respect and honor for the tradition. Always in his work is respect to the source, either the cinematic history of horror or real history with its angels and demons, its heroes and villains. He was also true to himself, for as his filmography grew, those attuned would pick up on special Naschy traits and repeated motifs. Naschy was revealing himself through his work. Even in those supposedly "simple" monster films, he was exposing his character and worldview.

Throughout most his cinematic life, one of Naschy's biggest regrets was that Spain did not value him as he should have been valued. He had more recognition and more fans, it seemed, in countries like the United Sates and Germany. This began to change in recent years, as younger Spaniards began to notice, appreciate and honor Naschy, even addressing him as "Maestro."

This was one of the most significant battles of his life, and he won it before he left us. Thank you, my Spanish friends (and those special ones who fought to make this happen) for honoring him in this way. It meant a lot to him to feel your love and your respect.

So here we have a man who created, fought, struggled, and won many battles and lost a few, too. That is a perpetual challenge in life, to make something out of nothing, to create and witness the realization of your dreams through will power and plain guts. Naschy didn't turn away from this challenge, almost embracing the struggle, though at low points he surrendered to despair and depression.

He was passionate about cinema, passionate about the horror genre (its traditions and history), passionate about his work. We will probably never see anyone like him again because he was of a unique disposition, born in a unique time, and someone who produced unique, personal works, generally hidden by the patina of being "monster" or "horror" films.

Obviously, his work, and in a sense "Paul Naschy"--the greatest alter-ego of Jacinto Molina--live on. I am confident that this work and his name will become better known and more respected throughout the world in the future. To those who loved him--his family, friends and numerous fans--this should give a measure of comfort and even happiness.

When I corresponded with Naschy, either in letter or e-mail form, I would always begin, "Querido Paul." ("Dear Paul.") I will never write those words to him again, but they will always be in my heart.



  1. I love this! That you got to spend time with the man, that is so amazing! I love your anecdotes and insight. Truly beautiful! A great addition to the blog-a-thon! Thank you!