One year ago today Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy lost his battle with pancreatic cancer, so I'm watching his 1983 film Panic Beats as part of Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies' Naschy Blogathon, to which I was alerted by Jon Kitley of Kitley's Krypt fame. A sequel of sorts to 1973's Horror Rises from the Tomb, Panic Beats features the same character -- Alaric de Marnac -- and was made during the period where Naschy was directing his own scripts (under his given name Jacinto Molina). In fact, the film fell between Night of the Werewolf and The Beast and the Magic Sword, which were his last Waldemar Daninsky films for 13 years. Perhaps he felt it was time to move on to other characters.
In addition to Alaric, who's seen in the pre-credit sequence in full plate mail running down a naked woman and then beating her to death with a mace, Naschy plays a modern-day architect named Paul who brings his rich wife Geneviève (Julia Saly) home to his ancestral estate in the country for some rest and relaxation. Seems Geneviève has something of a weak heart, which is why it's not a good thing that the family housekeeper (Lola Gaos) has regaled her pretty young orphaned niece Julie (Pat Ondiviela) with tales of Paul's bloody ancestor, whose exploits are so dastardly that they give Julie nightmares. So what chance does Geneviève have? Answer: not much chance at all.
As a matter of fact, the couple runs into problems even before they make it to the house since their car runs out of gas and Geneviève is assaulted by a couple of bandits while Paul is retrieving some. He returns in time to fight them off, but the first of the shocks to her system has been delivered. Others include a couple of snake scares and the sight of Alaric's suit of armor standing outside her door. Afterward Naschy lingers on a shot of an unidentified person removing the armor piece by piece, but it's pretty easy to figure out what's really going on when we see Paul meeting up with his mistress (Silvia Miró) in the city. The only trouble for him is he's since fallen in love (and into bed) with Julie, which means he has two lovers too many. Guess the guy's greedy for more than just Geneviève's money.
While the rest of the horror field was starting to put the emphasis on piling on the gore, it's nice to see that Naschy was able to keep pace while still maintaining the eerie atmosphere that his films were known for. His sly sense of humor also peeks through from time to time, as when Julie remarks, "If every man killed his wife because their marriage wasn't working, where would we be?" She's referring to Alaric, but she could just as easily be talking about Paul. And the way the situation escalates after the first domino has fallen quickly becomes comical, like something out of Mario Bava's A Bay of Blood. Of course, that film didn't have an evil knight rising from the grave to complete the cycle of vengeance. That's the sort of capper only one man would dream up, and for that I salute you, Mr. Naschy. You may be gone, but your body of work lives on.