British Horror, Italian Horror.... the reputation of these two European cinema powerhouses is cemented in the minds of horror fans. Hammer Horror weighs in for the Brits, and Argento takes the Italian corner. Not that these are are the only examples from the respective territories, but let's face it, most horror fans are familiar with both of these without need for further explanation. But what of the Spanish? I really don't know much about Spanish cinema, let alone horror cinema. I have had brief forays, such as Cannibal Man, which is excellent. However, I've somehow managed to avoid Paul Naschy all this time. I even went as far as to buy "Werewolf Shadow", and to never watch it! A couple of things changed that, mostly thanks for Rue Morgue magazine. Naschy is back in the spotlight with "Rojo Sangre", reportedly his best performance ever. Rue morgue ran an article on the film, and it looks very good indeed. I have put in my order courtesy of the semi-annual DDD sale. Along with this, Mondo Macabro have weighed in with another Naschy film on DVD, "Panic Beats". I have precious few Mondo Macabro films in my collection, although they seem to be a Something Weird Video clone. The Rue Morgue coverage, coupled with box-art hyperbole: "some of the most brutal murders ever filmed. Definately not the squemish", led me to Naschy's door finally. Today I watched Panic Beats, expecting the worst! STORY Paul Marnac is wealthy, but mostly due to having married a rich wife. Her family have never warmed to him, treating him pretty much like the peasant he was. Grudges run deep, and his hatred for his wifes family never abates. In the mean time, his wife has an ailment, the all-purpose horror standby a "weak heart". Let's face it, once you're diagnosed with that, you know things are going to go bump in the night. Wanting to care for his wife, Paul decides to take his wife to his old family vacation house, out in the wilds. There she can rest and enjoy the fresh air, away from the pressures of Paris (yes Paris, this is a Spanish film, but Paris gives a nicer backdrop). At the house they are greeted by an old housekeeper, and an neice who has recently been saved from a school that was more like a prison. With a past in prostition and drug taking, the old woman hopes this young girl can be led back to the straight and narrow. Who knows? The only fly in the ointment is an old tale about one of Paul's relatives. Having found his wife cheating, he had slain his wife and her three children (sparing two of his own), and had then been tried and executed. Every 100 years he comes back to take revenge on those that cheat.... and that 100 years is just around........ now! AFTER WATCHING THE MOVIE So now I have come out the other side of my first Naschy experience. I don't know how representative this movie is of the rest of his work, but the fact is, it was a middling affair for me. Does Panic Beats live up to that box-art hyperbole? Nah. Not if you've grown up on a diet of Fulci, Argento, Lenzi and Deodato. There's some gut spilling, couple of heads get cracked, and even some pretty damn good looking zombies, but somehow it never manages to get really nasty one way or the other. For those euro freaks there is some nudity to keep your interest, erm, up. And let me tell you, the women in this movie and gorgeous. So, with the two basic ingredients out of the way (gore and sex), what are we left with? Well, for one, you get a coherent story. Fulci was great, but sometimes you can think even he forgot the plot of the movies he was making. Not so with Panic Beats, where Naschy has himself a pretty good script. The subs on this release are excellent, by the way. Presented with its original Spanish langauge track (with or without subs), this gave the film a pretty solid basis. The filmaking itself isn't anything fancy, but it's certainly not terrible. There are no virtuosos on this film. Everything is pretty much played straight down the line. Frankly, this removes some of the impact of the action sequences, they never quite seem to bite if you know what I mean. There's a rather lacklustre soundtrack too, so that's not doing it any favors. The main failing in this film though was the plot itself. Oh, I'm sure at the time it played really well. However, as it want to happen, a decent story once written is destined to be replayed, remade and relayed over and over and over. The main problem with this film is that you know how it's going to play out within the first five minutes. Not because of anything the movie overtly does, but because the story itself has just been done many times before. It's all a bit sad really, time have overtaken the film somewhat. When you know every plot twist before it comes, the impact is certainly lessened. Of course, things are not helped by Mondo Macabro giving a huge spoiling on the back of the box. Sure the whole thing is predictable, but did they have to give up the ghost on any possible impact quite as early as that? Coupled with a snippet of the film, played before the menu comes up, that also gives away a key "experience", and you've got to wonder if Mondo Macabro realized the plot was, today, hackneyed, and they couldn't be bothered with any pretense of originality. THE DVD As I said, I have very few titles from Mondo Macabro. The transfer here is excellent, to be honest. The sound is mono, as it should be. The sound is clear, the sub great. The extras excel too. There is a 20 minute featurette on Spanish Horror cinema that gives the highlights, some good info here. Along with that we have a 30 minute interview with Naschy where he talks about his influences, his start in film, and memories of making Panic Beats. It's very well done, and Mondo get kudos. SUMMARY I have to say, I have mixed feelings about this one. The film itself is rather good, and straddles Hammer gothic along with a strong and strange, european influence, quite well. There is nothing really wrong about the film at all. Yet... I was left disatisfied due to a plot that is pretty threadbare through overuse. The promised gore never materialized (the one or two bits were quite good, but somehow with the plain jane filmaking style, it somehow fell flat), and at the end of the day, the sum was less than the parts. However, it's far from being bad. I own Werewolf Shadow, so I'll give that a go and do a comparison. Rojo Sangre is on order, so I'll see that too. Naschy does nothing wrong here, and it's a more than competent film. It's just not great. Which is probably more a case of me expecting too much, than anything else. Sort of.... recommended.