The Spanish horror industry had pretty much come to a halt by 1975, even though that was the year General Franco died and censorship was no longer a burden for the country's filmmakers. By 1976, Spanish horror star extradonaire Paul Naschy started directing his own films (he was already starring in and writing them) and was really able to put his imagination and creativity in full swing -- 1982’s PANIC BEATS (LATIDOS DE PANICO) continues this tradition, giving us Naschy at his most outrageous best, and it’s a fine introduction for those not familiar with his eccentric world of cinema.
PANIC BEATS begins with a totally nude woman with welts on her body, running through a misty forest full of decayed skeletons. A knight on horseback is chasing her, and we soon learn that he is Alaric de Marnac (a wicked character Naschy first created for HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB), viciously killing her for her unfaithful ways. After the credits role, we are taken to the present where a descendent of Marnac named Paul (Naschy) is married to the wealthy Geneviève (Julia Saly) was has some serious heart problems. Paul decides to take her to his ancestral home in the country for some peace and quiet, but the superstitious-filled setting opens a Pandora’s Box of terrible occurrences.
We soon discover that Paul is a real son-of-a-bitch who plans to scare his wife to death, planning to control her fortune and continue his secret affair with seductive bad girl Mireille (Silvia Miró), who happens to be the niece of the tarot card-reading housekeeper, Mabile (Lola Gaos). Paul’s malevolent scheme works, but he still has to worry about an additional money-hungry mistress (this guy really gets around!), the unforgiving Mabile, as well as new fianceé Mireille who might be hiding a thing or two herself. More grisly murders follow, and the ghost of Marnac returns from hell to punish the most despicable human character in the film.
PANIC BEATS was also written by Naschy (under his real name Jacinto Molina) who injects the film with an old-fashioned spooky house motif, beefed up with a modern movie sense of violence and sexuality. The film offers nothing too innovative storywise, and even Naschy admits on the disc’s extras that it was partly inspired by GASLIGHT and REBECCA, but he seems to just toss in a hodgepodge of exploitation and horror ingredients, while delivering a stylish and enjoyable effort with a number of twists and some genuinely chilling moments. The camera shots and lighting are both effective, and there's even does a cool set-up (much like what Freddie Francis did in THE SKULL and THE CREEPING FLESH) where we see the point of view of Marnac through his dark helmet as he stalks his female prey. Graphically, we are exposed to everything from a plate of bloody eyeballs, to victims being beaten relentlessly with the various Medieval weapons affixed on the house’s walls (for example, someone is axed in the stomach, followed by the soaked entrails oozing out!). Naschy’s most frequent 1980s leading lady, Julia Saly, is not given much to do, but with her offbeat looks, is a nice presence nonetheless. The prominent female star here is Silvia Miró who is seen in the buff frequently, and she certainly makes for some well-appreciated Euro starlet eye candy. Naschy himself is very good in the film, putting on conniving facades, carrying a number of women on a string, being a real malicious bastard, and for the umpteenth time in his career, playing two roles in a one film.
This is the first time that PANIC BEATS has been available to an English-speaking audience, and Mondo Macabro has done a wonderful job on all levels. The transfer is first-rate, showcasing the film in a stunning 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors look very bright, and picture detail is excellent, with little or nothing in the way of print damage. PANIC BEATS is presented in its original Spanish language, with a fine Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track wich includes optional English subtitles.
Extras include a documentary on Spanish horror entitled “Sand and Blood” (19:28). Originally produced for U.K. television, it presents a nice overview on the subject, with a number of film clips and poster art on display, as well as on-camera interviews with Naschy, Caroline Munro, Jorge Grau, José Ramón Larraz, the late Amando Do Ossorio and others. Even better is an all-new featurette entitled “Paul Naschy On... His Life In Cinema,” which runs nearly 30 minutes. Here, Naschy (speaking in Spanish and supported by English subtitles) discusses his early influences, his first starring role, the success of WEREWOLF SHADOW, as well as PANIC BEATS, a film he seems to be very passionate about. Among Naschy’s anecdotes is the fact that the film was actually shot in a house formerly owned by the late General Franco! Naschy gives a great, enthusiastic interview, so hopefully his participation will be graced on the countless number of his classics yet to make it to DVD! Also included is an impressive still and poster gallery (including some behind-the-scenes photos and shots of the poster-decorated theater when the film premiered in Spain), as well as a Mondo Macabro promo trailer of current and future releases. (George R. Reis)
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