• The Beast And The Magic Sword (Mondo Macabro) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Mondo Macabro
    Released on: February 25th, 2020.
    Director: Paul Naschy
    Cast: Paul Naschy, Shigeru Amachi, Beatriz Escudero, Junko Asahina, Violeta Cela
    Year: 1983
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    The Beast And The Magic Sword – Movie Review:

    Paul Naschy’s 1983 picture The Beast And The Magic Sword opens with a scene set way back in the 10th century where the origins of the Daninsky curse (that has plagued poor Waldemar throughout various films at this point in his filmography) first begin! From there, we jump ahead to the 16th century where Waldemar Daninsky (Naschy, of course), and his Hungarian lady-friend Esther (Violeta Cela), travel to the castle of a Jewish doctor named Salom Yehuda (Conrado San Martín) in hopes of curing his lycanthropy. Before much can happen there, the doctor is bought down by the Spanish Inquisition! Thankfully, before he was killed, the doctor told Daninsky of a man in Japan who might be able to help him. Soon enough, Waldemar, Esther and Salom’s blind niece are on their way to the land of the rising sun.

    Shortly after their arrival, a full moon appears in the sky, causing Daninsky to transform into his feral alter ego and wreak havoc in a brothel. After rampaging about a bit, werewolf Waldermar stops in the street and makes eye contact with a man watching him from the roof above. It turns out that this man is Kain (Shigeru Amachi), the one he is to be looking for. Some time passes and eventually Daninsky and Kain connect, the later hoping to be able to help him with his curse – but it won’t be easy. People will die, hearts will be broken, ninjas will appear, breasts will be exposed (sometimes at the same time the ninjas appear) and a werewolf will not only fight some samurai (alive and undead versions!) and a witch, but a real live tiger as well! All of this leads up to a conclusion that, yes, involves a beast and a magic sword – but we’re not going to spoil that for the purposes of a review.

    This movie is nothing if not ambitious. It’s clear that Naschy was trying to change with the times, as this isn’t really all that close to his more gothic-style monster mash pictures made in the years prior, but it’s still got his stamp all over it. As is the norm with his films, he’s got a way with the ladies and has no shortage of women after him, but the transcontinental aspects really do set this one apart from his other work. Shooting on location in Japan with a largely Japanese cast goes a long way towards making that happen (though it is a little odd seeing the Japanese cast members dubbed in Spanish), and it opens up the door for Naschy to do something different this time around. As noted, we get a great scene where the werewolf tears through the paper doors of a brothel interrupting customers and employees alike, a fantastic scene involving a ninja attack at a hot spring, and some genuinely amazing scenes where the werewolf battles samurai, ghost samurai, witches and yeah, that tiger. That very real, very big tiger. It’s impressive stuff on a visual level and the movie looks considerably more lavish and polished than you might expect. It’s also quite atmospheric and nicely shot.

    That said, there are some pacing issues here. We don’t necessarily need the opening explanation of the family curse (though, focus issues aside – see below for more on that – it is admittedly quite well done) and the middle section drags a bit. He could have trimmed twenty-minutes from the running time and been left with a leaner, meaner picture. But the vast majority of this is very entertaining stuff. Naschy struts about with all the self-confidence in the world, never seeming in the least bit uncomfortable with anything he needs to do on screen. The guy has screen presence and he knows it. The female supporting cast isn’t given as much to do, most of them are little more than eye-candy, but they’re nice eye-candy so there’s that going on too. Shigeru Amachi, an actor sure to be familiar to anyone into vintage samurai pictures, brings a nobility to his character that goes a long way towards making him interesting. His performance here, dubbed or not, is very solid.

    The Beast And The Magic Sword – Blu-ray Review:

    Mondo Macabro brings The Beast And The Magic Sword to Blu-ray with an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer taken from a 4k scan of the original negative. Two aspect ratios are provided here – the 1.33.1 fullframe (open matte) version that will look familiar to those who have seen it on home video before, and a 1.66.1 widescreen version (which Mondo Macabro believes to be its intended theatrical aspect ratio). Both options are taken from the same source and have the same picture quality, one just tightens things up a bit where the other allows for more breathing room. Oddly enough, the movie looks fine regardless of which option you go for, but the widescreen version does make things feel just a bit more ‘epic’ in scope.

    First things first, for the first fifteen-minutes or so of the picture, there are shots that are clearly out of focus, and shots that are in focus and then out of focus. While this might have been less obvious on older releases taken from lesser quality sources, it is quite noticeable here thanks to the higher resolution and better overall picture quality that the Blu-ray provides. This is how the film was shot (likely not intentionally, however!) and it is inherent in the film elements. That issue aside, once we get past that opening chunk, the transfer is excellent (though the focus issues do recur in a couple of quick flashbacks that recycle that same out of focus footage). There is virtually no print damage here at all, a few small white specks that eagle-eyed viewers might pick up on but otherwise, the image is squeaky clean. At the same time, this never looks overly processed, retaining a natural amount of film grain and with it the expected amount of detail and texture you’d want from a good high definition image (you can clearly see in this version that many of the Japanese actors are wearing wigs to give the impression that they’ve actually got period-authentic hair styles!). Colors look absolutely fantastic, especially the reds and other primaries, and black levels are nice and deep. There are no problems with compression artifact, noise reduction or edge enhancement to complain about either. The aforementioned element related issues in the opening set aside, this is otherwise an excellent looking transfer.

    The Spanish language LPCM 2.0 Mono track, which comes with optional English subtitles, is pretty strong. Dialogue is clean, clear and nicely balanced and there are no problems at all with any hiss or distortion. The score sounds good, as do the sound effects and the foley work. The English subtitles are easy to read and contain no noticeable typos.

    Extras start off with a commentary track from Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn, the hosts of the Naschy Cast podcast. It’s an interesting track, these guys have definitely done some research, but delivered in a very laid back, conversational style that makes it easy to listen to. They cover where Naschy was at during this point in his career, how he came to get funding from Japan to make this movie and what happened to that funding later in his career, shooting at Toshiro Mifune’s studio, how this film differs from other werewolf films of the eighties in that it doesn’t include a transformation scene, the attention to period detail, the ambitious scope of this picture, how the film is more of an adventure film than a traditional horror movie and more. Lots of interesting details here, including how excited Naschy was to get a handshake from Akira Kurosawa at the film’s Japanese premiere, some of the gifts that Naschy brought back from Japan for his kids and lots of fun little factoids like that. Good stuff.

    The Smile of the Wolf is an archival interview with star Paul Naschy that runs just over forty-six-minutes in length. Here the actor/director/renaissance man sits in a dungeon of some sort where he talks about how he got into filmmaking, different films that made an impact on him (not surprisingly the Universal Monster films were big), how he got his start in the film business, his work on the Daninsky character and a lost project that he started on in that arena and quite a bit more. He’s enthusiastic and engaging here, this piece is a lot of fun.

    The disc also includes a thirty-two-minute Interview with the writer and critic Gavin Baddeley, the man who wrote The FrightFest Guide To Werewolf Movies, wherein he talks about what makes Naschy’s films popular in genre circles, how his take on werewolf films stands out from others and how they were perceived in this later era of his career. He also offers some insight into the man’s charisma as well as his acting and directing styles and quite a bit more.

    Rounding out the extras is a trailer for the feature, a thirteen-minute video Introduction to the film by Paul Naschy (where he expresses some obvious pride over the film and shares some stories about the production history like what was involved with fighting the tiger!), the ever-expanding Mondo Macabro promo reel, menus and chapter selection.

    The Beast And The Magic Sword – The Final Word:

    Werewolves, samurai, ninjas and tigers… oh my! The Beast And The Magic Sword is as entertaining as it is ambitious, a wild cross cultural mix of monster movie mayhem, supernatural happenings and intriguing skullduggery all done in Naschy’s inimitable style. Mondo Macabro brings this one to Blu-ray in grand style, with a very nice presentation and a host of interesting extra features. Lots of fun to be had here – highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized The Beast And The Magic Sword Blu-ray screen caps!