Sunday, July 29, 2018

Latidos de Pánico / Panic Beats (Spain, 1983)

(Spoilers.) Aka Nightmare House, Cries of Terror and Frantic Heartbeat.
Paul Naschy movies are a bit like Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. They've been around forever and (generally) have terrible ingredients — i.e., dull direction, bad acting and worse dubbing, hilarious storylines and etc. vs. "no artificial ingredients" and empty calories — and are in no way a culinary cum cinematic treat in accordance to traditional values, but if you're a fan no one will ever be able to convince you just how terrible they are. But then, much like eating crap is more fun than eating healthy, watching crap is usually more fun than watching quality.
John Landis & Joe Dante on Paul Naschy: 
And what's crappy about Panic Beats? The acting, for one. Perhaps some of those involved in this movie can act — we've seen a believable Naschy in other movies, for example — but the atrocious dubbing guarantees no one will ever know here. And then the direction: for the most part, it is of the Tom Slaughter school of static filming — see, for example, Slaughter's Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1935) — displaying the workmanship simplicity of point and shoot, a constant exercise of the kind of dull and inexpressive camerawork endemic of no-budget productions or visually uncreative directors. (We love the long, dull scene of Naschy, to the right, and his on-screen wife, to the left, shot from the waist up and with the Eifel Tower in the background — why cut and edit or give an expository scene life when you've got the Eifel Tower?)
Then, of course, there is the improbable narrative involving an innately extreme number implausibly successful murders in a short succession — Wifey! Loyal family maid! Bothersome mistress! Bothersome husband! — and a poorly timed re-marriage that ruffles no feathers, a bloody murder site that is easily cleaned, two unscrupulous henchmen who simply disappear when no longer convenient to the plot, and so much more. Including that classic of low-caliber movies we (meaning: us men) all love: attractive babes with respectfully trimmed bushes doing gratuitous female nudity! (Gals get Naschy discreetly naked in the bathtub or bed, something that all women outside of his movies probably don't really want to see.)
But then again, all those flaws — all that which is "crappy" in the movie — are also a major contributing factor to the appeal of Naschy's movie. Were Panic Beats a tad more professional, a tad more efficiently made, it would play out like a second-rate TV movie with nudity and gore. And thus be indefinitely less enjoyable than it actually is. 
As is the case with so many Naschy movies, Panic Beats hearkens back to both a previous Naschy production, Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973 / trailer), as well some cinema classics of the past, in this case Gaslight (1940 / clip and 1944 / trailer) and Diabolique (1955 / trailer). But in regard to Horror Rises from the Tomb, although Panic Beats utilizes both the character of the long dead, killer knight Alaric de Marnac and the basic location of a secluded countryside mansion, the film is not a direct sequel to the earlier movie. No, as is the case with the let's-scare-her-to-death plotline and the dead-man-rising-from-the-bathtub scene, Naschy merely reuses familiar aspects to cook up a new movie. In the case of Panic Beats, an almost schizoid one: up until the very last five minutes or so, it remains solidly grounded in the realm of the thriller (albeit with occasional scenes of cheap but exorbitant gore) only to suddenly pull the supernatural stops out of the hat before ending abruptly and bloodily. One could, basically, compare the last three minutes to a vodka or tequila chaser that follows a beer: it sure adds a nice kick. 
The title, Latidos de Pánico / Panic Beats, is an obvious reference to the heart of the doomed and uniquely beautiful Geneviève (Julia Saly, aka Julia "La Pocha" Salinero*), the loving if annoyingly clinging and slightly hysterical wife of the fawning Paul (Paul Naschy [6 Sept 1934 – 30 Nov 2009]), a man who cannot say a single sentence to his wife without an endearment. As she is weak of heart, her doctor suggests that Paul remove her to the countryside for her health, and so, after a long scene in which Paul tells the doc all sorts of stuff that one would normally not tell a doc but that does well to fill in the viewer about everything they might need to know about the husband & wife and their past, the Parisian couple make their way to his family manor.** What follows is a tale of greed, betrayal, evil, horniness, death and killer ghostly knights that has as many twists and turns as it does women with speaking parts. The result is a movie as incompetently told as it is enjoyable — and, yes, you will laugh when you aren't supposed to.

* July Saly, who aside from the 14 films she made directed by Naschy also appeared in two directed by Amando de Ossorio (6 April 1918 – 13 Jan 2001), Night of the Seagulls (1975 / trailer) & The Possessed (1975 / full movie), as well as two by León Klimovsky (16 Oct 1906 – 8 April 1996), The People Who Own the Dark (1976 / trailer) & Death of a Hoodlum (1975 / credits), stopped making movies by 1985 and has seemed to have disappeared completely. That's her below on the cover of a flamenco record. (Ole!) In Panic Beats, the only thing more notable than her extremely bad acting and extremely protracted death scene — she literally (and hilariously) groans and moans and grasps at her heart for forever — is her exquisite, non-traditional beauty... and her penchant for wearing furs.

** According to Ninja Dixon and others, Panic Beats was shot in General Franco's old villa. If true, the film reveals that Franco had an absolutely horrendous taste in interior design. Half the rooms look like those of a cheap whorehouse (or at least a cheap film set). But then, has good taste ever been expected of mass-murdering fascists?
Like during Panic Beats' opening scene, before we are even introduced to Paul and Geneviève, which is set in a time the long past with a modern-looking naked woman (Carole Kirkham*) running through a foggy and strobe-light-lit forest,** only to stumble, fall, and be beaten to death with a mace by the evil knight Alaric de Marnac. It seems that his cheating wife robbed the crazed knight of all mercy for women, and legend has it that he returns every 100 years to kill the wives of his descendants. A legend that Julie (Frances Ondiviela), the conniving niece of housemaid Mabile (Lola Gaos [2 Dec 1921 – 4 July 1993]) makes sure to tell Geneviève: from the moment Julie and Paul first cast lust-filled eyes upon each other, any viewer with a brain knows that Geneviève is in the way. But, wait! There's more to Paul than meets the eye: he not only has an unwanted wife, but an unwanted mistress, Mireille (Silvia Miró***), as well. With or without Viagra, the guy gets around it seems.

* Kirkham's auspicious film career of exactly four movies includes Eligio Herrero's post-apocalypse set Animales racionales / Human Animals (1983 / trailer), in which she gets porked by a dog, and ended with Ismael González's intriguingly entitled I Love Hitler (1984 / full film).
** A type of lighting of scenes extremely popular in horror films of the 80s, a decade in which nights and graveyards were always fog-filled and lit by strobes (see: The Night Flier [1997]).
*** A woman of intriguing facial features, she hands down has the best bod of the movie (below). Panic Beats appears to be her final film appearance.

Although Paul Naschy is the nominal lead of the film, he probably has less screen time than that of the women combined, despite his presence in two roles, possibly three: aside from playing Paul and Alaric de Marnac, the physical shape of the junky boyfriend, whom one never fully sees, looks an awful lot like that of Naschy. (He's also the director, actually: "Jacinto Molina [Álvarez]" is his birth name — a fact that probably already known to fans of the man.) But if one character truly gets the most attention, then it is Julie, a woman as rotten inside as she is youthful and beautiful. She commits the most unexpected and gore-laden killing in Panic Beats, and at one point also offers a nice homage to the Euro-gothics of yesteryear by wandering around the darkened house in a long and lacy white nightgown. 
As mentioned, Panic Beats is hardly the best film in the traditional sense of a good movie. But if you make it past the somewhat plodding bit after the opening scene of gratuitous nudity and blood, it proves to be a twisting and turning, trashy and entertaining hodgepodge of borrowed ideas and bad dubbing lightly splattered with nudity and guts. And as an added plus, everyone dies in the end!

For your added pleasure:

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