You know, I've never been a huge fan of the original Death Wish. Or indeed vigilante films in general, except when sleaze and trash is the focus, preferably with a handy admixture of cheese. Fortunately Night of the Executioner delivers on all three of these elements with enough aplomb to override my natural dislike of the simplistic, morally vacant set up. The plot is as simple as can be, Dr. Hugo Arranz is celebrating his 50th birthday with his wife and daughter, when vile hoodlums break in, rape and kill both wife and daughter and cut off his tongue in fairly graphic fashion. Fortunately he survives and unsurprisingly goes all Bronson on their punk asses, after some training with knives, guns and weights. And this is how the rest of the film goes, there are a few breaks for musing on the failure of justice, the faults of liberal ideas and the destabilising effects of trauma, but the sociological context is hardly explored, it is there more as a counterweight to the violence a means of breaking the tension, alleviating the slightly one note nature of the film. Director/star Paul Naschy (Jacinto Molina) proves a dab hand with the material, though showing his age his past as a weightlifter enables him to pull off some impressive lifting during the training sequence, and while he takes a comically short time to become a sharp shooting, knife throwing master, he wears a face of such grim determination that his character becomes believable. Its a fine performance in a stony sort of way, he does little more than occasionally nod his head or shift an eyebrow but is never dull, he radiates a cold, unfeeling menace, stark urge for vengeance that really fits the material. The rest of the performances are generally fair as well, though since I can't find a cast list that actually matches actors to characters (this being quite a rare one) I won't go too much into details. The lead villain, Ralph, is a particularly effective scumbag, so props to whoever played him, and the women tend toward the rather beautiful, which is another definite plus. The action gets a bit repetitive as is perhaps inevitable and the film could have done with a little more ambition in its violence, knives and guns may be an efficient way of taking out the enemy but they aren't the most interesting of methods. Still, some bloody squibs and a decent body count keep things fun and the film isn't afraid of letting its baddies get down to some real mean behaviour. The opening violation is particularly good, sleaziness worthy of the 70's even if it isn't quite as excessive as some of that glorious decade. Later in the film this opening is revisited to god effect as well, jagged cuts to choice frozen highlights of his wife and daughters demise driving Dr Arranz to frenzy In fact the film in general looks as if it was made in the late 70's, the only thing that really connects it to its actual time of release is a number of cheeky references to Hollywood action, including one to Charles Bronson. Its a nice touch, as if Naschy is purposefully positioning his film over American ones as the definitive mindless action thriller. Definitive it ain't but the film is still a lot of fun, with even a few cheesy moments to raise chuckles it has a whole package, mean violence, nudity, rape, some fun bloodshed and some unintended laughs, its all there! Not a film likely to appeal to anyone outside of violent action trash and vengeance lovers, but to those its a rarity worth seeking out. Happy hunting!
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