EL HUERTO DEL FRANCES/THE FRENCHMAN'S GARDEN
Cast: Paul Naschy, Maria Jose Cantudo, Agata Lys,
Jose Calvo, Julia Saly, Silvia Tortosa, Yolanda Rios, Carlos Casaravilla,
U.S. theatrical release: None
Video: None known; Spanish language bootlegs available.
Mexican title: La case que abre de noche
Review: Paul Naschy is most commonly, if not exclusively, known as a "horror star." His portrayals of such entities as a werewolf, a mummy, Dracula, a hunchback are finally earning him international respect and honor. But perhaps his greatest role has been of a different type of monster than those mentioned, a monster all too human and familiar in the history of criminal behavior: the serial killer. The pity is that the movie in which he acts in this role (and directs and co-scripts), EL HUERTO DEL FRANCES/THE FRENCHMAN'S GARDEN, is one of the least seen of his films, even as, covered by a fog of unfamiliarity, it triumphantly stands front and center as a testament to a cinematic career of over forty years.
One of our first
views of Juan Andres Aldije (“the Frenchman”) is sympathetic: a
protector of a woman from the sexist bullying of a macho male, but scene by
scene we descend into his world of deceit and murder, and view with
growing repugnance his disregard for life and the suffering of those about
him. While he spends charming hours in his city house with his upper-class
wife (played with smiling sweetness by Naschy regular, Julia Saly), his
working and late night hours are spent in adulteress couplings and brutal
murder. Compelled by the need to make easy money and a hidden rage against
his lower-class situation, Juan bludgeons, hacks, and mallets wayward
travelers and guests of the inn. Their robbed bodies are then dumped into
freshly dug pits in the Frenchman’s garden, the fauna covering the
horror below--the showy external hiding the ugly inner truth. Helping him in these efforts is the simple-minded Munoz
Lopera, played with sympathy by the droopy-jowled Jose Calvo, a veteran of
character roles in Bunuel films and spaghetti westerns, including FISTFUL
OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE.
We know where the story ends, for it begins with Juan and Munoz Lopera awaiting their execution, and most of the story is told in flashback, sweetened by the guitar soundtrack of Spanish veteran movie composer, Angel Arteaga. Thus the whole film has a patina of sadness about it, even as the nightmare unfolds and the body count mounts.
Gathered together are a cast of familiar faces--actors and actresses previously seen in other Naschy films. Maria Jose Cantudo had appeared briefly in HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB (her first role) and made little impact aside from her beauty, but by the time of the making of this film she must have grown tremendously as an actress and a presence, for she manages to meet the significant, pivotal challenge of her role with unexpected success. On her character rests the moral awakening and center of the story, and Ms. Cantudo is perfected tuned for her emotional performance. Agata Lys, who plays Juan’s current paramour, had appeared a year earlier with Naschy in EL TRANSEXUAL. Most welcome are the familiar faces of Carlos Casaravilla and Jose Nieto, the concerned parents from LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO, who helped battle Naschy when he was in a different guise and under a different moon.
direction, as his acting, is superb. He crafts two scenes that must be considered his best as a
director. The first is needle abortion performed on Maria. This abortion
is compelled on her by the Frenchman, and only when the time arrives for
the operation and she is on the table does Maria fully comprehend the
savagery of the forthcoming intimate attack upon her body and the fetus
she is carrying. The actual abortion scene is quite raw, a scream of a woman's
soul entrapped and ravaged and abandoned.... The second scene contains
another entrapment: the garroting sequence of Juan. Naschy helms this with
silent majesty, underlining the dreadful pace of certain death
approaching. Juan's expression as he looks about at his executioners is
tragic moment of illumination of the melancholic ridiculousness of life
and a life wasted. Trust me, in these few moments, you've never seen Naschy act like this.
Tellingly, the Spanish poster doesn't mention Naschy's name, as if the producers (and perhaps Naschy himself) wanted to prevent the mistaken impression that EL HUERTO DEL FRANCES was just another Paul Naschy horror film. In a nod to the personal nature of the film, however, Naschy's real name, Jacinto Molina, is listed as director.
For those who
consider Naschy merely "El Hombre Lobo," EL HUERTO DEL FRANCES
will be an exciting revelation; for others, who have known that his talent
has far greater range and depth, EL HUERTO DEL FRANCES will amaze, too,
but also confirm Naschy's uniqueness as a true artist of the cinema.
A fair copy of EL HUERTO DEL FRANCES can be ordered in our Naschy Store
Spanish lobby; Naschy with Agata Lys
Mexican lobby; Maria Jose Cantudo