• The Frenchman’s Garden (Mondo Macabro) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Mondo Macabro
    Released on: August 10th, 2021.
    Director: Paul Naschy
    Cast: Paul Naschy, María José Cantudo, Ágata Lys, José Calvo, Silvia Tortosa, Julia Saly
    Year: 1978
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    The Frenchman’s Garden – Movie Review:

    Directed and co-written by Paul Naschy, 1978’s The Frenchman’s Garden, set in the early 1900s, stars Naschy as Juan Andrés Aldije, a Spanish man known to the locals as ‘The Frenchman’ as he lived in France for a while. Since returning, he’s married Elivra (Julia Saly), the daughter of one of the wealthiest men in the area. Elvira’s father doesn’t feel that Juan is good enough for his daughter, and given that he has a habit of sleeping with the prostitutes who work in the inn (which also doubles as a brothel and a gambling den) that he owns and operates, her father was probably right.

    In addition to sleeping around, however, Juan and his right hand man, José Muñoz Lopera (José Calvo), murder men for their money and bury their bodies outside in Juan’s garden. Things get tricky for Juan when a woman he slept with a few months ago, Andrea (María José Cantudo), shows up at his doorstep and tells him that she’s pregnant. This causes some jealousy with Charo (Ágata Lys), one of the aforementioned prostitutes who just so happens to be Juan’s current mistress. Juan arranges for Andrea to have an abortion, which she begrudgingly agrees to thinking that it will save her relationship with him, but Juan’s greed starts to get the better of him.

    Based on the true story of ‘The Frenchman Murders’ that took place in Peñaflor, Spain ending in 1904, The Frenchman’s Garden isn’t quite the straight horror film that you’d expect from Naschy if you’re only familiar with his better known monster movies. There’s very little gore here, no creature effects at all and the whole thing is surprisingly understated, save for the abortion scenes (which still shows quite a bit of restraint in terms of what is actually shown on screen compared to what could have been shown on screen). The movie is all the better for it. Some of the Naschy tropes are still on display (only a few minutes into the movie we see him in bed with a beautiful naked woman, for example!) but this is much more focused on the human drama inherent in the storyline than in the more salacious aspects of what Juan and José get up to.

    Naschy is also very good in the lead here, delivering a brooding performance that, at times, you expect to explode. It’s a solid turn, and quite a different role than we’re used to seeing him play, but one that he proves more than capable of handling. Supporting work from José Calvo, instantly recognizable from For A Fistful Of Dollars, is strong while both María José Cantudo and Julia Saly are very strong in their legitimately sympathetic parts. Ágata Lys’s character is less sympathetic but we even wind up feeling bad for her before the whole thing is over with, given that Naschy’s character is such a despicable rat bastard in the film!

    The Frenchman’s Garden – Blu-ray Review:

    The Frenchman’s Garden arrives uncut on Region A Blu-ray from Mondo Macabro in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.35.1 widescreen and taking up 21.6GBs of space on the 25GB disc. Taken from a ‘brand new 4k restoration of the original camera negative,’ the film has what we assume is a slightly golden hue to it but color reproduction generally looks quite good here. Detail is nice and strong and black levels are good. Skin tones also look lifelike and natural and the image is free of any obvious compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction problems. The image is also very clean, aside from the odd white speck here and there it is pretty much completely free of print damage.

    The only audio option for the feature is a Spanish language 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. No problems to note here, the score sounds really nice and the audio is clean, clear and properly balanced without any hiss, distortion or sibilance to complain about.

    Extras start off with a new audio commentary by The Naschycast's Troy Guinn and Rodney Barnett and Human Beast: The Films Of Paul Naschy author Troy Howarth. It’s a very conversational track that covers a lot of ground, from the film’s release history to the real life case that the story was based on and some of the historical inaccuracies that are present in Naschy’s version. Lots of details here about the different actors and actresses that appear in the film, as well as Nachy’s work in front of and behind the camera on this particular project. They cover the score, some of the cinematography (and the use of that ominous shadow in two scenes) and some of the symbolism in the movie like the use of bars in certain shots. They do a good job of making the case for this being one of Naschy’s best works, they cover the director’s own thoughts, compare it to some of the Italian art films that were being made in the sixties and seventies, share some interesting insight into how and why the notorious abortion scene was made the way that it was and quite a bit more. No dead air here, they keep the conversation going from start to finish.

    The disc also contains a twenty-eight minute archival interview with Naschy himself, conducted in 2003 by Ignacio Armada. In this piece, he speaks about how parts of his filmography are rewarding for him to look back on while others are dark. He then goes on to talk about his early days and how he got into filmmaking in the first place, meeting John Wayne and not knowing who he was, his education and his thoughts on going to school and then deciding to get into cinema as a career. He then talks about his early days in the industry, learning while doing on different productions, the influence of genre films and comic books, how he was ridiculed by many of his contemporaries for doing horror and monster pictures, where the ideas for some of his screenplays come from, the good and bad of working with other directors, his love of painting and writing.

    A separate three minute interview with Naschy, taken from the same 2003 session, sees him discussing The Frenchman's Garden specifically, discovering the real case that the movie was based on, writing the script, commissioning Rose Leon to write the balled used on the soundtrack, trying to get the details of the case right and how he feels about the movie overall.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are the Mondo Macabro promo reel, menus and chapter selection options.

    The Frenchman’s Garden – The Final Word:

    The Frenchman’s Garden is Naschy at his best, a very well-made thriller with some really strong acting and excellent direction. Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray release is really strong, presenting this rarely seen thriller in very nice shape and with a nice selection of extra features as well. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full-sized The Frenchman’s Garden screen caps!