Rojo Sangre
Spain / 2004
Directed by Christian Molina
Starring
Paul Naschy
Mehn-Wai
Miguel Del Arco
Color / 90 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD / R1 - NTSC
Fangoria International
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
6
    8   10 = Highest Rating  
Spain's Paul Naschy born Jacinto Molina in Madrid is his country's greatest horror film star, best known for his physically demanding portrayals of the cursed Waldemar Daninsky in a series of movies spanning decades. (See EC's review of Werewolf Shadow, aka Werewolf Vs. The Vampire Woman, for a prime example.) Although his most prolific years were the 1960s and '70s, Naschy continues to work both in front of and behind the camera to this very day. In fact, thanks to DVD, the 21st Century has seen a major resurgence in his popularity with genre fans all across the globe. Naschy's latest film, Rojo Sangre (Blood Red), was not only scripted by him but features one of most compelling performances.
    Elderly actor Pablo Thevenet (Naschy) is over the hill and out of fashion the new breed of hip, young filmmakers won't cast him in even the smallest of parts. His lengthy resume of critically acclaimed movie and stage roles means nothing to them. Embittered and impoverished, Pablo goes to audition after audition only to come away humiliated, his anger at the smarmy directors and their tabloid-fodder starlets festering into hatred and disgust. But just when he's down to his last few euros a strange and very lucrative job opportunity comes his way... The mysterious Mr. Reficul (Miguel Del Arco) wants to hire Pablo to act as a 'living statue' at the doors of his exclusive nightclub, dressed in elaborate costumes depicting famous murderers from history. (Jack the Ripper, Ivan the Terrible and Gille de Rais among them.) At first Pablo balks at the offer when he learns that Reficul's establishment, Pandora, is a sex club for kinky sophistos. But the money is just too good to pass up. He's fronted 10,000 euros just for signing the contract. Oddly, Reficul also gifts the old man with a sword-cane and a set of astonishingly sharp Japanese knives, which the smooth and clever business tycoon assures him he'll appreciate.
    Pablo, of course, has just sold his soul to Satan. ("Reficul" spelled backwards is...) In exchange he's given a simple job that pays extraordinarily well, the company of a beautiful, exotic call girl known as Tick-Tock (for her habit of timing clients with a stopwatch), and that unusual cutlery. It takes a little while for Pablo to figure out exactly what he's gotten himself into; in the meantime he takes one more shot at auditioning for a movie role. Insulted by the snarky young director, Pablo flies into a rage and murders him along with the man's bimbo actress girlfriend. This cathartic act of violence sends the elderly thespian on a bloody killing spree, slaying those he holds responsible for his slide into artistic obscurity. For the murders to come Pablo dresses in the costumes of the various figures he plays outside the doors of the Pandora Club. His employer not only knows of his crimes but heartily approves, assuring him that he'll never be caught. It is only after he accepts an offer from some of Reficul's creepy associates to direct a real snuff film that Pablo comes to regret his Faustian bargain. (A terrible tragedy from his past, not revealed until mid-film, prevents the old man from going completely over to the Dark Side.) He learns that a contract with the Devil is very hard to get out of...
    It's a bit ironic that, given the semi-autobiographical nature of Naschy's script, Rojo Sangre was entrusted to a "young, hip" director who on the surface would seem the very type the veteran actor uses his screenplay to rail against this was the first feature film for 28-year old helmer Christian Molina (no relation to Naschy). The film's look is hyper-stylized in the modern MTV manner, making liberal use of digital effects and unconventional editing; every transition from one major scene to the next is achieved using one or the other techniques (or a combination of both). Visually Rojo Sangre is technically impressive and often cleverly arresting. But, for all the considerable visual panache on display, the film never loses focus on its central character and the biting black humor of the dialog. Naschy is simply terrific as Pablo, no doubt channeling some measure of personal anger over the downturn his career took in the '80s as changes in cinema and his own advancing years put him on the sidelines. It's a testament to his performance that we feel genuine sympathy and understanding, even empathy, for a bitter old man who's driven to murderous rage by his own personal failings as much as anything done to him by others. As the Mephistophelian Mr. Reficul, tempting Pablo down the path of self-destruction, Miguel Del Arco is also quite good and fun to watch he's Satan as smarmy Eurotrash entrepreneur.

    Fans of Naschy, then, are in for a treat with Rojo Sangre. Now in his 70s, he shows that he can still carry a film as the lead, that his reputation as a genuine horror movie icon is not only secure but well deserved. That the film in question was produced with a relatively high budget (over $5 Million U.S.) is a welcome sign that Spanish genre cinema is not only not dead, but may well thrive. That it's so visually interesting and technically adept certainly marks director Molina as a talent to watch in the future. The film has its share of flaws to be sure; at times almost too clever and showy for its own good, it falls apart in the third act and lurches to an bewildering, unsatisfying conclusion. (A CG-rendered tour through Hell is totally unnecessary.) Alas, these stumbles drag the flick down a couple of notches... Esto es desafortunado. Naschy, however, makes it well worth a view. It's his Theater of Blood only with a Faustian twist.

Rojo Sangre is one of the first releases under Media Blasters' "Fangoria International" banner. (Yep, MB has launched yet another sub-label.) A/V quality is top-notch, with a beautiful-looking 2.35:1 print which is not 16x9 enhanced, it must be noted and a solid stereo Spanish language mix. The well-written English subtitles are easy to read and can be turned off if desired. Menu screens are available in both English and Spanish.
    Two behind-the scenes featurettes are offered, each brief but informative. The first (14 minutes) is a general overview of the production, including an on-set chat with Paul Naschy; the second piece (11 min.) focuses on Christian Molina in his role as director. You also get an image gallery, the original Spanish trailer and trailers for other Media Blasters/Shriek Show/Fangoria International titles.
4/10/05
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