Paul Naschy plays Wolfgang Goth, a hunchback with below average intelligence who works at the local morgue. He is in love with a sickly girl who happens to be the only person who is kind to him, each day bringing her flowers until the day she dies. He never really accepts her death and believes she is just sleeping. The girl eventually ends up at the morgue where she is being prepared for burial.
Naschy’s character flips out at the desecration of the girls body and stabs and decapitates the men prompting the police to look for him. The hunchback meets up with a mad scientist whose work isn’t accepted by the general society. The scientist promises the hunchback that he would re-animate the girl’s body if the Hunchback brings him fresh body-parts from the graveyard and live victims which he uses to create an ungodly monster.
Directed by Javier Aguirre, Hunchback of the Morgue was made in 1972 back-to-back with Count Dracula’s Great Love (El gran amor del conde Drácula) with many of the same cast members. This is all well and good but of course the film is all about Spain’s answer to Boris Karloff/Lon Chaney, Paul Naschy (Jacinto Molina Álvarez), who most famously portrayed the doomed werewolf, Waldemar Daninsky, in a dozen films but featured in a smorgasbord of horror films as well as many other genres.
The film is deliciously over-the-top, the gothic tone and atmospheric underground catacombs a wonderful backdrop to Naschy’s gritted-teeth slap in the face with a wet fish of a performance. Despite the ever-more ludicrous plot, Naschy plays the role with an oddly straight bat giving great empathy for the picked-upon character which is aided by a movie which moves as a rattlingly enjoyable pace.
The film is not without gore and brief nudity and is one of the strongest Naschy made. Permission was apparently sought to the use real corpses to depict the beheadings which, remarkably, was granted but due to practical reasons (Naschy made a mess of it) dummies were eventually used.
The film is also notorious for the use of rats that attacked both Naschy and actress María Elena Arpón and can be clearly seen in the finished film (Naschy had to have shots to prevent rabies afterwards). It could be said some revenge was enacted upon the beasts as a later scene shows them being set on fire. Stunt rats were not used!
Hunchback of the Morgue is well worth sticking around to see the diabolical, in all respects, monster that was created for the bring-the-house-down finale.
Daz Lawrence, HORRORPEDIA