Mondo Macabro: The Howl of the Devil (1988) - Reviewed

Courtesy of Mondo Macabro
Spanish actor-writer-producer-director Jacinto Molina Alvarez, aka Paul Naschy, was often dubbed the Spanish Lon Chaney for his frequent portrayals of classic Universal Horror monster movie characters throughout his career.  A prolific actor who got his start in the industry around the mid-60s, Naschy has been a cult favorite of exploitation horror cinephiles for years and yet many of his films still remain unreleased in the United States.  Thankfully the good folks at Mondo Macabro have been fixing to change that over the past few years, gradually rolling out the director’s oeuvre in lenticular limited editions newly remastered and featuring a handful of extras.
The latest Naschy film to be unearthed and made available to the world over for the first time is one of the director’s last and most personal works to date, the 1988 Universal Monsters tribute The Howl of the Devil.  Starring Naschy as Hector Doriani, a stage and film actor who is overshadowed by his late identical twin brother/actor Alex (also played by Naschy) from his work in horror films.  After Alex’s death, his son young Adrian now resides within Hector’s home and tries to keep his father’s legacy alive by imagining himself alongside many of the various movie monsters Alex played during his lifetime. 
Meanwhile, Hector amuses himself by having Alex’s former butler Eric lure young women to his mansion for the purposes of sadomasochistic sex games involving characters he’s played before.  For some odd reason, each woman who has sex with Hector turns up dead later at the hands of a masked assailant who offs the girls in increasingly gruesome ways.  To top it off, the butler Eric raises the stakes by holding a séance attempting to resurrect his former master Alex, only to summon something else that’s far more sinister and dangerous.

Courtesy of Mondo Macabro
Something like an autobiography chronicling Naschy’s own legacy as Spain’s Lon Chaney and a tribute to horror movies in general as well as another foray into Naschy’s penchant for carnality (often involving himself) and a thinly veiled aura of the occult permeating it, The Howl of the Devil flew under the Spanish radar as a straight-to-television venture and like The Devil Incarnate before it, the film is a plotless, episodic journey through Naschy’s sexploits and occasional slayings.  Not 100% sure what kind of film it really wants to be, the film unfortunately tends to meander towards some sort of climax/conclusion though much of it seems to be about Naschy’s lamentations of the state of legendary iconic horror stars like himself when they reach the end of their rope.
Available on home video for the first time anywhere in the world in a new 4K restored blu-ray disc from Mondo Macabro, The Howl of the Devil is a strange crossbreed that’s neither really horror or complete exploitation in spite of the numerous scenes of women getting their clothes ripped off or having wine poured on their chests.  No this Naschy effort seems to be both a tribute to a bygone era of monster moviemaking as well as questioning whether or not he’ll still be relevant or remembered when he’s gone.  Though a lot of characters die in it, the grisly and violent murders throughout don’t really add up in the scheme of things and the cross-cutting between fond childhood memories of various Universal Monsters all played by Naschy and Naschy disrobing/seducing women feels at odds with one another.

Courtesy of Mondo Macabro
For Naschy fans, the re-emergence of this long thought-to-be-lost effort near the end of his film directing career is a cause for celebration as the film was more or less buried upon release.  Intended for theaters originally, the film was dumped on Spanish television before being forgotten completely.  The new 4K restored transfer overseen by Mondo Macabro is a gorgeous and pristine looking image beautifully displaying the many makeup forms donned by Naschy throughout the film.  In that sense, it’s a blast with Naschy’s own sense of self-deprecating humor shining through.  On the other hand newcomers unfamiliar with Naschy’s work will come away largely indifferent to the actor/director’s career summation as contemporary Spanish horror.

--Andrew Kotwicki