The Beast and the Magic Sword [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Mondo Macabro
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (3rd June 2020).
The Film

As a certified Monster Kid, I can remember arguing with my friends about Universal’s classic film, "The Wolf Man" (1941) and whether Lon Chaney Jr. in his transformed animal self could drive a car or not. At the time it seemed important to me, and I can only suppose that Paul Naschy would seriously relate to that hypothetical question because he too shared a serious relationship with the character and his cursed heritage. The reason why I conjecture that Naschy would understand my dilemma is that because he had previously starred and directed himself in nine other outings as the tragic werewolf figure Waldemar Danisky but this time there is a changeup. Not only do we get some background history on the doomed figure, but most of the action takes place in feudal 16th century Japan. This was a historical Spanish/Japanese co-production and the film was never shown theatrically in Japan, or anywhere else except Spain. The film was never dubbed into English prior to this release and was never available on VHS or DVD in the states; this is your chance to see some interesting filmmaking on a much larger budget than what Naschy was accustomed to. And yes, it is certainly a flawed production with some sequences dragging on a bit too long, but hey, this is your chance to witness a duel between a Samurai and a werewolf! Come on, tell me that isn’t a cool idea?

The film begins with Polish warrior Iraenius Daninsky (Paul Naschy) as he has been ordered to slay presumed vampire Magyar Vulko (José Luis Chinchilla) and as a reward he is promised the hand of the emperor’s daughter Uswika if he should triumph over the brute. Of course, Danisky is victorious and after beheading his rival, Amese (Sara Mora), his sorceress gal pal, casts a curse on Danisky and his lineage: with this clause; the seventh son born during a full moon will become an animalistic killer. Fast forward to the 16th Century where ancestor Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy) is traveling the countryside with his consort Kinga (Beatriz Escudero) all the while seeking a cure to his monthly condition. Daninsky hears tell of a Cabbalistic mystic named Salom Yehuta (Conrado San Martin) and seeks him out to help cure the doomed man. However, the villagers start gossiping, as they are prone to do, about the strangers that are visiting the old mystic and soon the townspeople decide that an inquisition is necessary. Laying siege to his house, the superstitious villagers soon slay Yehuta, but not before he whispers a story about a fabled samurai scientist named Kian (Shigeru Amachi) who resides in Kyoto, who may be able to help him. The duo departs, along with Yehuta’s blind niece Esther (Violeta Cela) along for company, and they arrive in a foreign land with no clear destination. Some time later Kian is summoned by a Shogun lord to find out who or what is behind a series of blood thirsty mauling’s that been occurring in the area.

Kian’s general uncle (Yoshirô Kitamachi) has his reputation at stake and he cannot lose face, so it is up to him to get to the bottom of the savage attacks. Then there comes an incredible scene where the soldiers are having a soiree with some hot maidens when the werewolf busts in and lays waste to most of the guests. There are some interesting special effects as we get a good look in detail of Daninsky when he is in full transformation. Arterial spraying and severed jugglers are the order of the day and Daninsky lives it up.

As if we didn’t have enough plot threads going on Naschy includes some nefarious plotting by Kian’s old rival Eiko Watanabe (Jirô Miyaguchi) to muddy the waters and Eiko has some serious glowering scenes where he exerts his authority. Kian and his sister Akane (Yôko Fuji) find themselves torn between doing their civil duty and the more compassionate thing; guess which side wins out? Kian gets a good long look at the werewolf as he is spotted on the roof of a nearby building and this reminded me of Oliver Reed’s performance in "Curse of the Werewolf" (1961) as he too was fond of lurking on rooftops. This film is notable for several reasons: it has an interesting history of co-production between Spain and Japan; it was shot in the studios of Toshirô Mifune; this was the first ever melding of the werewolf legend with the darker elements of Japanese mythos.

There is a very intense battle between Waldemar Daninsky in his werewolf form and a real-life tiger. The commentary mentions that the staff had to ensure that the tiger was well fed, and it took at least a dozen chickens to guarantee that the tiger would cooperate during the filming of the set. Absolutely no CGI was used and Daninsky gets tossed about by the tiger until he triumphs. The film concludes with the prediction that Daninsky would be slain by the woman who loves him with a silver katana (authentically pure silver, of course). The film is fairly packed with interesting action pieces however at 120 minutes, I did think that it could have used a tad more editing at times. Nevertheless, if you are a Naschy fanatic or are looking for something unique to hold your interest, this is for you.

Video

Mondo Macabro’ s master was derived from a 4K scan of the original camera negative and they have opted to include both an open matte 1.37:1 pillar boxed full screen edition and a 1.66:1 widescreen 1080p 24/fps MPEG-4 AVAC presentation. It’s a matter of preference as to which one will appeal the most to the viewer. Julio Burgos was the cinematographer and his shots are interesting and colorful. It's a well-presented film the colors were excellent, and the higher budgets ensured that Naschy would produce a unique product. The exotic settings and interesting cast of international stars was a welcome addition to Naschy’s oeuvre. Blacks were strong and the scenes with the fog encroached landscapes were cool!

Audio

Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono (on both versions), overall it's satisfactory considering that the dialogue track was post-dubbed in the studio. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand, but it does seem bizarre to see Japanese actors speaking in Spanish. The score is attributed to “Cam Espana” and is appropriate for the variety of action that is occurring. English optional subtitles are included on both versions.

Extras

The extras are where Macabro really shines and they have devoted some serious time and money in making this a standout addition to your home video collections.

There's a brand new audio commentary track by Rodney Barnett and Troy Guinn of the Naschycast podcast.

Archival introduction to the film by the director, Paul Naschy (13:36).

The documentary "Smile of the Wolf" featuring an interview with Naschy as he discusses all his werewolf films (46:23).

A brand-new interview with author Gavin Baddeley, author of "The FrightFest Guide to Werewolf Movies" (32.12).

Original Spanish theatrical trailer (2:51).

The Mondo Macabro preview trailer that you can dance to.

The limited Edition to a 1,000 copies also included 5 lobby cards and a booklet with the essay “To Far Off Zipamgu-A Werewolf in Japan" by Richard Harland Smith.

Packaging

Packaged in a standard Red Blu-ray clamshell case featuring a new cover painting by Rick Melton.

Overall

this is most certainly a keeper for fans of Paul Naschy as it is the first time that this film has been released on Blu-ray in the states. An interesting variation on the werewolf theme as imagined by the man that loved wolves: Paul Naschy.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: B+ Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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