An American distributor retitled El Mariscal del infierno to cash in on Seventies Satan fever in the aftermath of The Exorcist, and to pre-empt any assumption that "The Marshall of Hell" was a Spaghetti Western. In medieval Europe, a marshall/mariscal was a high ranking military official and part of the royal household. Such a man was Gilles de Lancre (Naschy), a fictional amalgam of Macbeth and Gilles de Rais, who opens the film by retiring to private life as the lord of his castle and the nearby countryside. He's somewhat disgruntled over failing to get the recognition he feels he deserved, or failing to achieve the greatness he considers his destiny. In retirement, he hopes to win fame as a man of science.
Instead, Gilles strikes a decisive blow and is poised to finish his foe when the rest of the rebels appear. As soon as he was surrounded I knew to expect a Throne of Blood homage with Naschy as a Mifunian human pincushion. But the fun thing about Naschy is that his homages are often multilayered, riffing on more than one influence. Molina was a meta-auteur, and spotting the homages adds to the entertainment value of his films. Here he did not disappoint. Gilles defies his enemies, warning them that he has the ars magnus in his clenched fist, with which he can destroy them all and conquer the world. He unclenches his fist -- and there's nothing there. That's Phantom of the Opera all over the place, when Erik is trapped on the bridge and threatens his pursuers with a mini-bomb, only to open his empty hand and laugh, as if his last word will be, "Psyche!" Unlike Erik, Gilles in his final madness actually thinks he has a super-weapon, but the moment and the gesture are Naschy's bow to Lon Chaney Sr. and Rupert Julian across the decades. At least I saw them that way.
It sometimes seems as if Naschy was obliged to drool some substance in every picture. Below: Whatever you say to Gilles, don't mention the eyepatch!
This is my second and final contribution to the Naschy memorial blogathon organized by Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies to mark the anniversary this week of Jacinto Molina's death. I'm just the tip of an iceberg of terrific tributes and reviews all over the blogosphere. To learn more about the man and his work, just follow the links listed at viceducal headquarters. Happy browsing!