Panic Beats
Spain / 1982
Directed by Jacinto Molina
Starring
Paul Naschy
Julia Saly
Pat Ondiviela
Color / 94 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD (R0 - NTSC)
Mondo Macabro
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
6
    9   10 = Highest Rating  
If you're partial to gothic horrors — but also like them occasionally spiced up with liberal dashes of gore and gratuitous nudity — then Paul Naschy's Panic Beats (Latidos De Pánico) should fit the bill nicely.
    In a pre-titles sequence we see an armored knight on horseback, played by Naschy, pursuing a screaming naked woman through an eerie forest. The chase ends when the woman collapses and is brutally bludgeoned to death by the knight with a spiked morningstar. After the opening credits we're transported to modern day Paris, where wealthy architect Paul de Marnac (also Naschy) is given a medical diagnosis of his even wealthier wife Geneviève. A weak, diseased heart makes it imperative she receive a lengthy rest and avoid any sudden shocks. Paul suggests a prolonged stay at his ancestral country estate far from the bustling city. Before they even arrive, however, the de Marnacs have a terrible fright when their car runs out of gas and they're attacked by a pair of robbers. Paul beats up the thugs and sends them packing; Geneviève (Julia Saly) staves off a coronary by gobbling nitro pills.
   
The move to the country seems to bode well once established at the château. With the house tended to by devoted old servant Maville (Lola Gaos) and her fetching young niece Julie (Paquita "Pat" Ondiviela), the de Marnacs can focus their energies on Geneviève's recuperation and rekindling their love. But for Geneviève peace and tranquility are illusory. She's unsettled by the gruesome legend of Paul's ancestor, Alaric de Marnac, a 16th Century knight who murdered his unfaithful wife and became a devotee of Satan. Entombed in the family cemetery, Alaric is said to rise from the grave every 100 years to wreak bloody vengeance on any de Marnac bride who fails to meet his standards. One night, while Paul is away in Paris on business, Geneviève collapses and nearly dies of fright when she sees Alaric's armor-clad ghost stalking the château. Is it just a simple case of spooky stories playing on her already frayed nerves? Everyone else Paul included seems to think so...
    This was the first film I'd seen directed by Naschy, who helmed from a script he wrote under his real name (Jacinto Molina). With Panic Beats he demonstrates a solid grasp of, and obvious love for, the gothic aesthetic. Were it not for the nudity and gory murders the film would be a very old fashioned horror thriller/mystery melodrama sort of Horror Rises from the Tomb meets Gaslight. Naschy saves most of the blood 'n' guts for the final act, using them for maximum shock value but never overplaying his hand. There's even a nod to the Italian giallo in the form of a mysterious black-gloved figure seen briefly sneaking about the mansion. (Up to no good, of course). Foxy Pat Ondiviela, as the nubile young housekeeper who's anything but innocent, is afforded welcome opportunities to shed her clothes... Naschy's definitely a cheeky guy, penning a script for himself in which he's guaranteed a number of love scenes with naked ladies!
    Well performed by its small cast and ably directed by Naschy (who knows how to get mileage from a limited budget), the film nevertheless stumbles on occasion due to some awkward expository dialog and a few key scenes which go on much too long for their own good. (One character's demise, extremely important to the plot, is dragged out to the point where it becomes unintentionally funny. Like me, you may find yourself yelling "Just die, already!" at the screen.) The positives certainly outweigh the negatives, though. Euro-Cult enthusiasts — even those not enamored of Naschy's werewolf flicks — would be remiss to pass this one by.

With the new Panic Beats DVD the folks at Mondo Macabro continue their track record of high quality releases of lesser-known genre films. A nearly pristine widescreen (1.78:1) anamorphic transfer is complemented by a clean Dolby 2.0 audio mix in the original Spanish with optional, easy-to-read English subtitles. As presented on the disc this film certainly doesn't look nearly a quarter-century old.
    In addition to a sizable image gallery, two topnotch featurettes are included as extras. The 20-minute Blood and Sand, originally made for British TV, serves as an excellent primer on the Spanish horror film from The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962) to Panic Beats some two decades later. Featuring interviews with Paul Naschy, Jorge Grau and Blind Dead creator Amando de Ossorio (among others), it explains Spanish horror's "primal," "earthy" approach to tried-and-true genre conventions, its birth during the restrictive rule of Generalissimo Francisco Franco and subsequent liberalization as censorship was relaxed in the early Seventies and then done away with after the dictator's death in 1975. (And yes, he's still dead.) The second documentary, Paul Naschy On... (29 minutes), sees the venerable actor/writer/director musing on his influences, lengthy career and, in particular, crafting Panic Beats. Naschy fans will absolutely love it. 4/26/05
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