The Devil ascends to earth to walk among men in the guise of a lowly traveller named Leonardo (Paul Naschy), allowing himself to feel the physical pain of mortal men, and arriving penniless to set the stakes high. It’s all part of a game, The Devil making the personal challenge that he must work his way to the top using his cunning and guile- the only obvious power he has allowed himself is the ability to read minds so he might know a person’s weakness. But humans make it easy for him, for they are lustful, greedy, and weak, making them easy prey; this allows the demon in disguise to chew them up like tasty morsels by using their vanity and greed to manipulate, rape and pillage his way to success. Along the way he is able to secure a disciple in the form of the apparently misguided Tomas (David Rocha), whom old Beelzebub lures away from his abusive blind master and then perverts and corrupts in the interests of furthering his cause; even though this young unwitting accomplice has no idea who his travelling companion really is. The two become a kind of dark hearted Robin Hood duo, robbing from the rich to give to themselves in a bid to escape the confines of class suppression. Along the way the pair experience the gambit of human rottenness- from lustful cheating wives and girlfriends, sexually frustrated nuns, greedy landlords, and money obsessed brothel madams- all have their Achilles Heel, and The Devil knows exactly what buttons to press. But he doesn’t count on the pure of heart Dona Aurora (Sara Lezana ) to touch his shameful immortal soul, nor does he foresee the depths of deprivation mankind will allow itself to go to fulfil its own selfish ends.
Naschy takes up the directorial spot as well as performing writing duties- alongside writer Eduarda Tagioni ( the writer responsible for Naschy directed wildcard, Madrid al Desnudo). Again the star, although the pinnacle focus of the piece, allows his co-performers freedom to develop their own characters in their particular roles- rather than riding rough shot and grabbing all the limelight for himself. That is not to say Naschy is at any point seen giving a weak performance. On the contrary, here he is every bit the arrogant, evil and crafty devil you would expect. We do get a few of the Naschy staples inserted into the script- the Naschy standard inner personal struggle for instance; although it is perhaps not as pertinent as in other films given that essentially The Devil is beyond any salvation just on the grounds of being the Lord of all Evil. We also get a fair amount of the usual Naschyesque fisticuffs with a generous helping of expected impromptu brawling in scenes. Never one to hold back the actor takes to the part with his usual physical performance when it comes to throwing his fists around in the dirt.
Among the ample cast David Rocha as Tomas- the actor also pops up as a bandit in Naschy’s Night of the Werewolf (1981)– provides a decent sidekick to the larger than life lead star Naschy. The master/apprentice dynamic between the two is captured perfectly, making the fresh faced Tomas extremely likeable and sympathetic in his supporting role; especially when the tables start to turn for the misguided urchin.
Sara Lezana takes the part one of the only truly innocent characters involved in the piece, the ill-fated Dona Aurora. Although Lezana is only featured in a couple of scenes for her role she is nevertheless a memorable presence and makes a worthy contender for the all-important Naschy ‘love interest’- although we can hardly call a coerced bedding ‘love’, let’s just say things get complicated.
Naschy indulges his self-confessed penchant for both historical period settings and religious themes with this his fourth directorial effort. Given that a lot of the action takes place on route, in the Spanish countryside, the film has a wonderful earthy tone that compliments the feudal European backdrop. Things like woodland and ruined old churches are put to good use. Likewise the set design when it comes to the interiors are realised in inimitable Euro period fashion; including the piece de resistance a crude and blasphemous religious painting in the nunnery which remains a stand out highlight for the film- and also provides an excellent piece of cheeky black comedy by its appearance too.
For those looking for an example of Paul Naschy’s versatility and talent, El Caminante is a prime illustration. Part black comedy, part sex comedy, part scathing attack on the foibles of the human race and hypocrisy of The Church, the script is not only hilariously funny but cleverly sophisticated too. Horror elements give way for plenty of razor sharp wit and oh la la cheeky fun; with the star seen delivering some of his tastiest dialogue in his lengthy career, and of course having a ball while doing so. There is something about Paul Naschy- and I have said this in reviews before- that makes him immensely likeable- this is even applicable when he is playing the part of evil. Here is no different, even though arguably this is one of his most despicable roles and some of the things he does are unforgivable. Although this said most of his victims, although not all, deserve the life lessons he dishes out. On this level Naschy’s character and partly tongue in cheek performance encompasses a kind of Machiavellian anti-hero- utterly deplorable in every way but you just can’t help but love him all the same.
It’s a given that most Naschy films are hardly light on the nudity front, especially if you can get your hands on the coveted ‘unclothed’ versions of the bulk of his work. Yet, El Caminante manages to excel the expectations of the usual Spanish horror sleaze quota by tenfold; with Naschy himself even getting bare buttocked for his many sex scenes together the plethora of glamourous female co-stars he meets along the way. It would seem hardly anyone is immune from baring all, including the unfortunate sidekick Tomas who has to go full frontal- however briefly- for a scene where he rudely receives a spot of backdoor burglary in order to fill his master’s already over bloated purse.
Overall the film features some highly complex themes that might not be immediately apparent and demonstrates a feeling freedom that was developing for the post- Franco regime of Spanish filmmakers. The lighter themes contrast to perfection with some of the deeper analysis that bases itself around the cruel and rotten nature of humanity as a whole.
A clear highpoint in the career of genre mainstay Paul Naschy. This, fourth directorial spot for the king of Spanish horror, demonstrates his talent not only as a writer, but an actor and director too. Highly worth seeking for those who like their comedy with a deliciously dark and callous twist.