Mondo Macabro: The Devil Incarnate (1979) - Reviewed

The tale of Christ coming down to Earth as a human being to spread the word of God before sacrificing himself for mankind’s salvation is a tale as old as time, as are stories of God’s work to deliver mankind from the source of evil.  But in Spanish horror film star/filmmaker Jacinto Molina/Paul Naschy’s sardonic and wickedly funny dark comedy El Caminante (aka The Devil Incarnate in the US), the tale is turned upon its head with the dark lord of the underworld giving the trip to Earth in human form a try, resulting in an episodic, misanthropic and bitterly funny allegory about the folly of mankind’s capacity for evil. 

Coming to Earth as a traveling drifter named Leonardo (Naschy in a role that rivals the charisma and physical prowess of Oliver Reed), the mere mortal murders the first man he encounters and begins his sojourn and exploits through 16th Century Spain with a gullible young follower named Tomas (David Rocha) taken under his wing.  What follows plays less like a supernatural gothic horror film and instead takes on the form of a subversive, dialogue driven indie replete with frequent carnality involving many naked women, startling moments of violence and betrayal and ultimately an implication of the dark lord’s place in the weathers of the human spirit.

Bawdy and often impish, the poster art with Leonardo carving an upside down cross onto a naked woman’s derriere suggests a sexploitation grindhouse medieval demonic thriller akin to the likes of Mark of the Devil or low grade soft porn like The Satanist.  The actual film, however, is a largely snarky dialogue driven venture chronicling the evil one’s abilities to exploit, degrade and discard the many female and male characters he comes into contact with.  

The film’s mixture of politically incorrect mean spiritedness and wicked humor largely comes through thanks to Naschy’s performance who makes the film’s Beelzebub a great, boorish demon whose infectious gaze proves irresistible to women while masking to his fellow man his mercurial and sinister intentions.  Some scenes near the third act indeed borrow too heavily from the sped-up comic lunacy of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange but for the most part this is a taut and confident black comedy anchored by Naschy’s charismatic presence and his bleak but humble outlook on life.

Photographed in soft focus by Alejandro Ulloa with an ironic and sometimes comical score by Angel Arteaga, The Devil Incarnate is a frequently beautiful looking and sounding period piece which like Ken Russell’s The Devils is designed to create an allegory for how man’s self-serving ways of violence and wrongdoing remain unchanged by time and tide.  In one of the film’s few genuinely chilling anecdotes, Leonardo’s partner-in-crime Tomas is given a glimpse into the future through a feverish nightmare of 20th century warfare including but not limited to Nazis and nuclear holocaust. 

Moments like this lay bare Naschy’s true intentions for the movie, suggesting there isn’t anything the lord of darkness can do that mankind hasn’t already done, is doing and in time will do again.  Some viewers may take the message as bleakly nihilistic while others will regard Naschy’s worldview as matter of fact.  As we continue to move forward into the modern age, its people like Naschy and the aforementioned Russell that wisely remind viewers that the more things change and evolve, the more they stay the same.

- Andrew Kotwicki