Hunchback of the Morgue (1973)

a.k.a. - El jorobado de la Morgue (ESP)

Paul Naschy plays the hunchback in a dark and gory horror film for Javier Aguirre. MYA US R0 DVD.

The Film

In a small town in Germany a hunchbacked morgue assistant Gotho (Paul Naschy) has fallen for a terminally ill hospital patient Ilse and takes her flowers every day, but a group of rowdy doctors tease and lure him into a fist fight causing him to miss her death. After killing two hospital porters who try to steal a necklace from Ilse's corpse, Gotho takes the body to his underground home, an old Inquisition chamber. He gets in touch with his friend, Dr. Orla, a doctor experimenting with artifical life and he agrees to help Gotho bring Ilse back to life if he can build a secret lab in the chamber and continue his illegal experiements...

Ever since James Whale's iconic Frankenstein (1931) every cinematic mad scientist had to have a hunchbacked assistant, but often they were minor roles and sometimes even completely mute. Hunchback of the Morgue, co-scripted by Paul Naschy and director Javier Aguirre, takes this hunchback and makes him the centre-point of the storyline. The script retains the classic Universal horror Mittle-Europe settings, although like many of Paul Naschy's films, despite many gothic and period trappings, it is actually set in the modern day (probably a budgetary factor more than anything else as the story could have been set in the late 19th century without any changes to the script).

The plot is straight out of one of the myriad of "Poverty Row" films of the 1930s and 40s, with a mad scientist experimenting and dispatching his assistant to rob graves and commit murder. The twist is, of course, that we see everything from the perspective of the assistant and so rather than the science and creation, the emphasis is on the dirty work and the murders which would normally be carried out off-screen, accordingly the film is generally very grim and indeed seems to revel in treating its characters brutally. Unfortunately there is not a huge amount more to the storyline than this and the storyline is quite slowly paced, particularly in the final third. A good ten to fifteen minutes of police proceedurals and Gotho's trips to collect more victims could easily have been cut without affecting the storyline - although this would have left the latter part of the film with nothing more than the unconvincing romance between Gotho and a female doctor (which serves to ruin a lot of the otherwise almost nihilistic atmosphere). The ending is at least good and fitting although completely predictable.

Under director Javier Aguirre, Hunchback of the Morgue looks very good - the ancient underground lair is atmospheric and the lab has all of the classic bubbling vials and electronics that we would expect. Aguirre seems to relish the chances to show the hunchback at his work and the film contains several very vividly gory death and dissection scenes, aided by some well made effects, although it seems surprisingly coy on nudity with just one brief scene despite the potential gold-mine setting of a women's prision featuring several times in the story. The soundtrack is a decently effective mix of classic horror themes.

Paul Naschy takes centre stage again here and provides a typically strong peformace, really convincing as a hunchback and providing enough decent acting to keep the dialogue scenes moving. A number of familiar faces crop up in the generally strong cast including the attractive Maria Perschy (633 Squadron (1964)) and a brief appearance from future Jess Franco regular Antonio Mayans (Macumba sexual (1983)).

An effectively dark and vividly gory look inside the life of the mad scientist's assistant, Hunchback of the Morgue is well served by a typically strong Paul Naschy lead performance but let down somewhat by an over-padded storyline and an unconvincing romance - the original 1930s horror films from which it takes its inspiration were generally only 60 minutes long and this film would perhaps have been more effective left to that length. Of interest to Paul Naschy fans.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Paul Naschy - a legendary Spanish horror star who began with La Marca del Hombre-lobo (1968)
Directed by anyone interesting? Javier Aguirre - a Spanish director who also worked with Paul Naschy on the sex filled El gran amor del conde Drácula (1972) and the little known El asesino está entre los trece (1973)
Any gore or violence ? Several very vivid gory scenes. Some brief shots of rats being set on fire.
Any sex or nudity? One very brief unrevealing sex scene.
Who is it for? One for Paul Naschy fans.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print is in decent condition. Limited print damage and good colours, but it is very dark in a few places and there is some digital shimmering on the transfer in several scenes.
Audio English, Spanish and Italian - mono.
The Spanish is probably the best sounding of the three tracks, with background sounds and music coming through very strongly despite some slight hiss. English is generally good although slightly muffled, the Italian is quite tinny and seems to be comprised of a couple of sources.
Subtitles English - these translate the Italian audio with a few spelling errors and some odd use of slang (terms like "gotta" and "ain't" seem quite out of place) but are generally fine. They do also fit quite well to the Spanish, there are just a couple of extra lines present that are not spoken on the Spanish print and some names are changed.
Extras The disc includes:
  • US theatrical trailer
  • Alternate 'clothed' version of the sex scene, presented both fullscreen and as a side-by-side comparison.
  • Original English and German language titles and end credits - otherwise identical to those used on the main print.
  • Italian opening and closing credits - using a different soundtrack and with the credits playing over a black screen.
  • Photo, poster, promotional material and home video galleries. As video files with chapter scrolling.
Region Region 0 (ALL) - NTSC
Other regions? Available as a limited edition release in Germany from Anolis with English, German and Spanish audio (subtitled in German only). Did include an English subtitled audio commentary with Naschy along with various other German only features. Available from Tripictures in Spain with Spanish audio only.
Cuts? The film is missing the extended sex scene originally filmed but cut by Spanish censors and now considered lost but does include the shortened, partly nude sex scene (a completely clothed version was also used on some prints which is included as an extra on the DVD). It is otherwise uncut and includes all of the gore scenes. Print language is Spanish.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 13th December 2010.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

Please contact: