INQUISITION (1976) Blu-ray
Director: Jacinto Molina
Mondo Macabro

Paul Naschy hunts witches in his directorial debut INQUISITION, out on Blu-ray from Mondo Macabro.

The setting is sixteenth century France and plague is ravaging the lands. Believing the plague to be symptomatic of the region giving itself over to Satan, inquisitors Bernard de Fossey (Naschy), elder Nicolas Rodier (Ricardo Merino, THE RED RINGS OF FEAR), and apprentice Pierre Burgot (Tony Isbert, THE DRACULA SAGA) arrive in the village of Pyriac to stamp out heresy. Welcomed as guests in the home of a wealthy landowner, de Fossey finds himself disturbed by his attraction to the man's daughter Catherine (Daniela Giordano, THE GIRL IN ROOM 2A) who is already betrothed to handsome Jean (Juan Luis Galiardo, TWO MALES FOR ALEXA). An outcast because of his disfigurement, the family groom Renovar (Antonio Iranzo, CUT-THROATS NINE) accuses two of the young woman (VOODOO BLACK EXORCIST's Eva Leon and THE LORELEY'S GRASP's Loreta Tovar) who rejected him of witchcraft, setting off a chain of accusations by those who want attention, have ulterior motives, or are simply afraid of being consigned to the stake themselves. As de Fossey and the inquisitors torture confessions out of the accused and burn them at the stake, Catherine becomes convinced that de Fossey is the Devil himself. When Jean is killed by highwaymen on the road, Catherine falls ill and her adopted sister Madeleine (Monica Randall, THE WITCHES MOUNTAIN) takes her to witch Mabile (Tota Alba, THE SWEET SOUND OF DEATH) to cure her. Driven by grief and a thirst for vengeance, Catherine allows herself to be initiated as a witch in order to learn the identity of Jean's murderer. As De Fossey finds his tested by his desires for Catherine, he also becomes paranoid that Nicolas is trying to usurp his position.

After his fantastical treatment of the story of occultist/child murder Gilles de Rais (also one of Joan of Arc's knights) with Carlos Aured's HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, Naschy mounted a more historical take on the character with Leon Klimovsky's THE DEVIL'S POSSESSED but the results were quite dull. While INQUISITION's gory, sexualized tortures seem inspired by MARK OF THE DEVIL, Naschy's directorial debut INQUISITION might be more flatteringly seen as his WITCHFINDER GENERAL with a side of THE DEVILS. There is usually little acclaim for the screenplays for Euro horror – and not just because of the English dubbing – including those of Naschy, but INQUISITION is as impressively scripted as it is shot. Ambiguities in the plotting are not the usual plot holes but quite thought-provoking. It is very possible to interpret Catherine's Sabbat initiation as a drugged hallucination while the revelation of the identity of Nicolas' murderer may have less to do with magic than her subconscious suspicions and/or her revulsion towards de Fossey. Similarly, the film does not reduce the actions of de Fossey and the inquisitors to sexual sadism and opportunism, and de Fossey may indeed desire Catherine but his subsequent actions – including convincing her father to sign over the guardianship of herself and her sister Elvire (Julia Saly, NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF) to him – may indeed be consciously motivated by genuine concern. His lecture to Catherine on incubi and succubi upon learning that she has a lover could be taken at face value whereas it would be all too easy to make him a hypocritical villain like the inquisitors of Jess Franco's THE BLOODY JUDGE and THE DEMONS.

The most interesting characters are the supporting personages of Madeleine and village doctor Emile (Eduardo Calvo, HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN). Fearing that Jean might not be genuine in his promises to Catherine, Madeline went to Mabile to cast a binding spell, and it seems to be her guilt over this and the effect she believes it has had on Catherine that motivates her to bring her to Mabile and sees the harm she has done after the old witch is herself burned at the stake. Emile is the voice of reason, believing de Fossey and the others to be religious zealots and the witches to be poor wretches rebelling against hunger, sickness, misery, and tyranny. He believes the witches sabbat to have only been experienced by these women in dreams, and Catherine's initiation is presented as a hallucinatory set-piece on a different plane in which artifice is emphasized with imagery Catherine has already been exposed to by de Fossey showing her pages from the Malleus Maleficarum of the demons and church sermons reveling in the details of the practices of witchcrafts (rituals that were usually interpreted as the inverse of the Christian mass). The climax is a genuine tragedy of de Fossey's downfall, Catherine's grief turned to madness, and the deaths of good-natured characters at the hands of the greedy and lustful. The scoring of Máximo Barratas (NIGHT OF THE WALKING DEAD) stays away from the more psychedelic strains of Naschy's earlier films or the CAM library tracks of his later works, but the standouts here are the photography of Miguel F. Mila (RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD) – by turns stately and experimental – and the art direction of Gumersindo Andrés (CURSE OF THE DEVIL) that mixes real locations, impressive sets, and authentic period props from witchfinders' tomes to the torture devices.

Although one of Naschy's strongest films, INQUISTION went unreleased theatrically in the United States (and undistributed in many territories). The film first reached American viewers in 1984 via Video City's wonderfully lurid clamshell VHS release of a cropped but uncut print. A Spanish DVD was rleased in 2011 (as part of a Naschy set with THE LAST KAMIKAZE, THE BEAST AND THE MAGIC SWORD, and THE MUMMY'S REVENGE and then as an individual disc in 2014) with a brand new anamorphic transfer. Mondo Macabro's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray – which opens with the Video Mercury logo – appears to have been derived from the same master. Colors seem more vibrant and blacks truer than the upscaled clips in the Naschy introduction ported over from the DVD but the film actually seems to fare better in terms of crispness in wide angle long shots than close-ups which seem softer, but it is still quite the revelation in terms of color and composition compared to the more familiar Video City-derived transfer. Although the Panorámica framing is only 1.85:1, cinematographer Mila balances the frame with elements of set decoration or extras flanking the main components of the shots (although it was assumed that Mila was given secondary credit as DP on Sergio Martino's ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK and that his primary credit in the Spanish version was for quota purposes, the Sabbat scenes here make one question whether he might have shot similar scenes in the Martino film). Audio options include the English and Spanish dubs in LPCM 2.0 mono, with the latter being the superior choice (particularly when it comes to the voice casting of Giordano), and optional English subtitles.

Extras start off with an audio commentary by Naschycast podcasters Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn (who are also contributing commentaries to Scream Factory's forthcoming Naschy set) in which they discuss the deceptive nature of what Naschy himself called a "simple story", Naschy's use of authentic props as well as his extensive research (including some superstitious lore of which they have been unable to trace the sources), the polish of the production (with particular nods to Mila and Andrés), as well as background on Naschy, Leon (who was married to WEREWOLF SHADOW's Andres Resino), Calvo, and Saly (including the possible meanings of her nickname "La Pocha"). Drawing on interviews with Naschy, Giordano, and Naschy's son Sergio Molina, as well as information provided by Latarnia's Mirek Lipinski and Spanish Fear's Elena Anele, they keep the discussion moving over the course of the film's ninety minutes while making some interesting points of their own (including the way that Naschy eschewed his usual scripting practice of having multiple female characters desire him in favor of the story's requirements).

Ported over from the Spanish DVD is the introduction with Naschy (14:24) who recalls his fascination with the inquisition and desire to make a film about Torquemada only to be advised by a historian that the Spanish inquisition were pretty mild, focusing on heresy while the French, German, and Swiss inquisition were much more brutal (the Spanish having gained their reputation trough the "Black Legend" propaganda meant to discredit Spain and the power of the church). He regards the film as highly as actress Giordano who also appears in an interview (24:24) in which she refers to INQUISITION as her first "real film." She was disappointed that it did not sell to other territories including Italy and arranged a screening for Italian distributors in the early 1980s but it did not have enough of the requisite exploitable elements or any actors other than her who would have been recognizable to Italian audiences to go to the expensive of dubbing it for release.

Also included is the Eurotika episode "Blood and Sand" (24:24) featuring the input of Naschy, Giordano, actresses Caroline Munro (HOWL OF THE DEVIL) and Orchidea de Santis (SEVEN MURDERS FOR SCOTLAND YARD), Eurocine producer Daniel Lasoeur, and directors Jose Ramon Larraz (VAMPYRES) and Amando de Ossorio (DEMON WITCH CHILD). Larraz and Naschy discuss how Spain's traditions of the macabre were suppressed by the church and then by General Franco, with the filmmaking during his reign consisting primarily of religious films, musicals, and comedy until Jess Franco's THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF, but it was Naschy's own WEREWOLF SHADOW that kicked off the heyday of Spanish horror (clips include THE VAMPIRE'S NIGHT ORGY, CURSE OF THE VAMPYR, TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, INQUISITION, and plenty from DR. JEKYLL AND THE WEREWOLF), with Naschy being one of the few who continued on in the horror tradition as Spanish film moved towards sexploitation in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. The disc also includes the usual Mondo Macabro clip reel. A 666-copy limited edition included a red case but is now sold out. (Eric Cotenas)