Updated: Apr 27, 2019
Never shown theatrically in the United States, El Caminante (1979), what is perhaps Paul Naschy's most acclaimed film, finally makes its home video debut on a gorgeous Blu-ray from Mondo Macabro. Translated literally, the title means, "The Walker," but has also been known as "The Traveler," and arrives from Mondo Macabro as, The Devil Incarnate. These names all accurately represent the movie, in which the devil (Naschy), bored with everyday life, makes a journey across the country, wreaking cruel havoc as he goes.
I suppose he's having a good time, but the way he tricks and manipulates the people he encounters is humorous to neither them, nor to those watching the movie. "It's a beautiful world; I shall enjoy it," he claims, after he murders a man who offends him. He subsequently steals from a man temporarily indisposed in the woods, and then rapes every woman he meets. After playing a nasty joke on a blind man, Leonardo (the human name he gives himself) invites an innocent young man, Tomas, to join him, constantly reminding him how awful humanity is.
The inevitable corruption of Tomas (David Rocha) is one of the most interesting things about El Caminante to me. He first seems to perceive Leonardo as his mentor, but eventually becomes disenfranchised by the behaviour he witnesses. When he becomes the victim of one of Leonardo's betrayals, Tomas turns against him. He's first tempted by wealth and power, then sickened by what it does to him. In attempting to achieve payback, though, Tomas becomes as miserable as the devil claims all of mankind to be.
Cast in red lighting before he's about to be bad, Leonardo is quite a ladies man. Whether they're coerced by supernatural power or not, he gets them all in bed. There's much talk about how much pleasure he provides (and how… uh… large he is), but he ruins every experience afterward. For example, he makes one woman pay him since she was fully satisfied. After stealing her life's savings, he then carves an upside-down cross on her rear end for good measure. "How easy it is to condemn a soul," he muses, the more people that he punishes.
His most cruel act is promising to cure a woman's sick daughter in exchnage for sex. We then learn that she's pregnant when Leonardo tells Tomas that she provided "a fine garden for my seed to grow in." And, after the deed, the daughter dies, leaving the woman in anguish. "I committed mortal sin for this," she cries. This is one character to whom we return after all others have become memories. A baby is eventually born. She calls it a monster, then takes drastic action that proves our mistakes sometimes go with us to the grave.
Visually, El Caminante resembles other Naschy films that I've seen. However, there are two particular sequences with curious directorial choices. In the first, Leonardo and Tomas are ambushed and a sword fight ensues. The camera is obscured, though, only partially capturing the action through grass and branches. In the second, when Leonardo and Tomas spend time in a brothel, the film is sped and the score turns "wacky" as their gluttony is depicted almost as slapstick.
Perhaps these scenes, particularly the latter, are meant to provide a little comic relief, although "comic" is too strong a word here. Tomas tells Leonardo, "You paint such a dark picture of the world" but manages to retain a grasp on his faith in the future. As if proving how wrong he is, Leonardo causes him to dream of war and horrors of the future, depicted through actual black and white newsreel footage. If that's not bleak enough, the final shot of the dream… almost predictable… is that of a giant mushroom cloud.
Leonardo gets what's coming to him, but his punishment is fleeting. He is the devil, after all. In a final scene that brings the story full circle, he gets to tell his story to another traveler, complete with a "moral" that, after almost 90 minutes, reveals nothing surprising. What is surprising to me about El Caminante is its pessimism. Although he believes all mankind is despicable, most of the people he encounters, especially the women, are not… until he makes them so. It's as if the devil is on earth to perpetuate his myth.
In a 10-minute "introduction," Paul Naschy himself explains how El Caminante was a "key film" in his career because it portrays his views in a very different way. "Despite the passing of the years, despite everything that’s happened in the world and in my country, I’ve not changed my views at all." Those views were fatalistic, if not downright pessimistic. "Human beings are exactly the same way now as they were then. They have the same vices, the same virtues." Naschy didn't doubt the existence of the devil, "how else to explain the way things are."
On the commentary track, Troy Howarth, whose voice has become a familiar and welcome one on Naschy and Euro-horror releases like this one, calls El Caminante, "Naschy's masterpiece." He provides an accessible history lesson that describes a "newfound promiscuousness" after the Franco regime. Prior to 1975, religion was high on a list of forbidden subjects for filmmakers. El Caminante is just one of many films from the time and place that took advantage of freedom of expression. However, it remains one of the best.
Disc Content Includes:
Brand new 4K restoration from the original negative
Two different English language tracks - the Spanish export version and the US Island of the Damned dub - as well as the Spanish language track with optional English subtitles
Two options for the opening credits; the longer 'mondo'-style opening of the Spanish/export version and the shorter US Island of the Damned opening
Brand new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan of the Daughters of Darkness podcast
Brand new interview with horror historian and critic Kim Newman
Archival Spanish TV documentary on the film
Archival interviews with director Narciso Ibanez Serrador and cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine
Trailers and radio spots