"Jacinto Molina" / Paul Naschy
After stabbing and then robbing a war vet who calls him out as a liar, Leonardo (Naschy) walks away with a bag of gold and a smile on his face, proclaiming "The world is so beautiful... I shall enjoy it!" And that's just what he does in this episodic, blackly comic 'Merry Frolics of Satan' filled with mean-spirited vignettes hoping to eventually drive home a more enlightened message at the end. Naschy's character is a bearded vagabond who takes what he can get when he can get it and doesn't let little things like law, religion, guilt or morality stand in his way. If he wants your money, he'll find a way to swindle it from you. If he wants your wife, he'll seduce her. Hell, he'll even kill you just for the clothes off your back. Nothing is off limits. Leonardo sums up his philosophy to life rather succinctly early on: "The rich shit on the poor and suck their blood like leeches and then the poor slit their throats as soon as they get their chance. That's humanity." Leonardo also happens to be none other than Satan himself. Adopting a human look and, with it, a human's mortality, he's come to Earth (during Medieval times) to see just how man is progressing. He'll ultimately discover he has very little corrupting to do as we're doing a fine job of that all by ourselves.
The film follows Leonardo on a debauchery journey as he encounters one sad sack character after the next and leaves a trail of misery, heavily compromised morals and death in his wake. Accompanying him on his travels is troubled teenager Tomás (David Rocha), whom he easily woos away from his cruel (and blind) former master after pissing in his drink and pushing him into the water. The loyal but painfully naive Tomás has had a tough row to hoe thus far in life. Abandoned by his mother at a young age and abused by nearly every adult he's encountered up until this point, Tomás figures he has nothing to lose leaving his abusive last master and traveling alongside the amoral and mysterious stranger he's just met... especially considering he's promised all of life's perks (food, shelter, nice clothing, money, sex...) for doing so. He'll eventually discover the hard way that friendship and loyalty mean nothing to his new friend, especially when the almighty dollar is at stake.
Leonardo / Satan is driven by all of the seven deadly sins, but primarily by lust and greed; money and sex. He seeks shelter with a poor farm couple and, while the husband's away, decides to make his move on the crippled and neglected wife, Inés (Silvia Aguilar). After successfully seducing her (Satan is incredibly suave and apparently rather well-endowed to boot), he pays her back by threatening to gut her, robbing her at knife point, calling her a "slut" and then carving an upside down cross on her ass because he likes to "brand his cattle." From there, he gets word that filthy rich nobleman Juan Lopez (Pepe Ruiz) and his wife Blanca (Paloma Hurtado) will be traveling through the area. He and Tomás manage to intercept them and turn Juan's greediness against him in a clever way that leaves all of his guards dead and he and his wife hanging from a tree in their underwear, having been stripped of all their money and belongings.
Having been left with next to nothing aside from a deathly ill child to raise all on her own after her unfaithful husband managed to get himself killed, Aurora (Sara Lezana) becomes the next victim. Leonardo strikes up a bargain with her: he'll cure her child if she'll have sex with him. She reluctantly agrees, both parties go through with their part of the deal and, soon after Leonardo leaves the following day, Aurora finds herself not only stripped of her virtue but also her daughter, who dies shortly thereafter. However, Leonardo had been kind enough to leave her with another unpleasant surprise: his "seed" (the Antichrist) in her belly! Unfaithful miller's wife Maria (Adriana Vega), repressed nun Mother Elvira (Blanca Estrada), who claims to have been having sexual contact with a "demon" along with several other ladies in her convent, and whorehouse madame Leonor (Ana Harpo) will also have rather unsavory encounters with Leonardo that end on a sour note. And speaking of sour notes, things also don't pan out so well for Satan either when he gets a much-earned taste of his own medicine. After all, he's now just a mere mortal himself and just as vulnerable to the ills of man as anyone else.
The late Naschy considered this one of the very best films he ever did. Guess what? He's absolutely right. This is perhaps even *the* crown jewel in his long filmography and, for the most part, it's still waiting to be discovered all these years later. Even if you're not a Naschy fan; even if you've been subjected to the numerous mediocre or sub-par films he's been involved with over the years and given up on him in the process, I still recommend giving him one last shot here. It may even give you a whole new appreciation for his talents as both an actor and a filmmaker. Not only a well-crafted film with fine work by the production team to effectively evoke time and place, it's also stylishly directed, well-cast and exquisitely photographed by Alejandro UIloa to both bring out the natural beauty of the outdoor locations and to give a soft, other-worldly glow to any bright light that happens to be in frame at the time (the screen also glows red whenever Leonardo's feeling especially mischievous). Stylistically this certainly hits the bulls eye, but thankfully it has much more to offer than just visual splendor.
Best of all, this is uncommonly well-written and thoughtful for a Naschy movie (he shares writing credit with Eduarda Targioni). While littered with scenes of casual human cruelty, it never once becomes monotonous due to its fast pace and a steady stream of humor ranging from extremely dark and blasphemous to light, ribald and bawdy. By design, this is all meant to paint a grim and pessimistic picture of mankind where the innocent and sinful alike suffer as pawns on the same morbid playing field we call Earth. This is best illustrated during a sequence where Leonardo allows a conflicted Tomás to dream about what the future holds and he has (black-and-white newsreel) visions of war, death, atomic bomb explosions and the Holocaust.
As far as Naschy's performance is concerned, he's never been better than he is right here. This role is perfect for him and he plays it with an arrogant swagger and a sly, devilish twinkle in his eye. In this context, it finally makes sense for all of these women to fall at his feet! Watching his crucified Satan looking up at the sky and cursing God for his part in giving life to us "pigs" is perhaps the most powerful and poignant scene the actor has ever done. Irene Gutiérrez Caba as Aurora's loyal maid, Rafael Hernández and Manuel Pereiro round out a strong cast. Though a notable change of pace for the director, fans of his more exploitative films will be happy to know this is plenty violent and nearly all of the females in the cast get naked, including Taida Urruzola (a Spanish Playboy cover girl who also appeared in the giallo Red Rings of Fear) and Eva León (who'd appeared alongside the star in at least half a dozen other films).
So why is this film seldom discussed and viewed outside of Spain? Simple: It's never been officially released here in America, or most other countries for that matter. While the majority of Naschy's lesser flicks have enjoyed pretty wide exposure on both DVD and VHS (perhaps because they stick closer to horror / monster movie conventions and thus deemed more marketable by suits), this one has rested in limbo for decades. It deserves better treatment than that. What I viewed was the Spanish DVD from Video Mercury Films / Vellavision; a very nice, restored print. Though it doesn't come with English subtitles, fan-made subs are available.