5 February 2011 | Bunuel1976
THE FRENCHMAN'S ORCHARD (Jacinto Molina, 1977) ***
This extremely rare Paul Naschy vehicle is actually one of his very best films – one that not only features perhaps his most commanding performance but showcases an infrequent seriousness of intent as writer-director. It is a serial-killer thriller which treats a real-life case from the early 1900s, about which it seems that even ballads were written (heard over the opening and closing credits).
The star plays the titular character quite sympathetically, and his garden is predictably used to bury the bodies of his various victims. At first, I thought these would be inconvenient girls, since he is not only depicted as a stud but runs an inn which serves as make-shift gambling-den and brothel as well (while also taking care of his lovers/prostitutes when they get pregnant)! His crimes – with a much older man for accomplice – relate to the former vice and lend new meaning to the phrase 'get-rich-quick scheme' (though, to be fair to Naschy's character, he was feeling stifled by the ruthless Spanish class system). The latter aspect, therefore, provides a mix of social commentary and black comedy – just as the combination of the anti-hero's illicit activities is ultimately what brings him down (having spurned a girl, who had hoped he would leave his bourgeois wife for her, she reports him to the authorities after stumbling upon his secret).
The narrative unfolds in flashback, eventually culminating in the meticulously-presented garroting execution. Nudity and violence are prominent here but not overstressed. Still, the haunting score by Angel Arteaga (also of THE DEVIL'S CROSS  and THE TRAVELER ) – sounding melancholy for lyrical passages and urgent for those requiring suspense – is practically a character all to itself; for the record, we get to see a midget performing a flamenco dance at one point! It is odd, too, that Naschy's two most highly-regarded efforts as director both indulge in homosexuality for one of its sub-plots! As for the quality of the VHS-sourced edition I watched, it was a very soft and murky print – even suffering from picture loss towards the end, not to mention sporting English subtitles which were so unevenly-placed that at times they obscured half the image! With this in mind, the careful photography (such as having Naschy's face suddenly thrown into darkness during a couple of especially revelatory moments) doubtless ought to benefit from a restoration but, while this seems highly unlikely given the title's obscurity, I would love to be proved wrong. Incidentally, on "The Mark Of Naschy" website, the running-time of the film is given at 109 minutes yet my copy only ran for 93!