Monday, February 8, 2010

Wendigo Meets WEREWOLF SHADOW (1971)

My friend Wendigo claims an aversion to European horror movies, but he's the one who introduced me to the late Paul Naschy. It was back in the 1980s when he phoned one weekend to tell me about this awful movie he'd seen called Fury of the Wolfman. His most vivid memory was of the film's wolfman reeling through what looked like a dank sewer and babbling like a drunken Tasmanian Devil. Everything else about the movie was awful: the dubbing, the blood, the wolfman makeup. He didn't know who the actor was playing the wolfman, nor the name of the wolfman character, but he was not impressed.

My impression is that Fury, especially in its American cut, wasn't one of Naschy's finest hours. Nor is Frankenstein's Bloody Terror, the American travesty of Naschy's first werewolf film, "the Mark of the Wolfman." Over time, however, as Wendigo read more about werewolf cinema, he grew intrigued about Naschy's work and the Daninsky character, a Larry Talbot-like tragic figure doomed to reappear time and again and re-enact the curse that turned him into a bloodthirsty beast. When my own interest in global genre cinema led me to buy the Anchor Bay DVD of Werewolf Shadow, Wendigo was finally able to see a Naschy film fairly close to how Jacinto Molina intended it. We looked at it again this weekend to continue our current theme of werewolves vs. vampires.

Last week we claimed that Lew Landers' Return of the Vampire was the first cinematic conflict between a vampire and a werewolf. It's fair to note, however, that the wolfman of the 1944 film ceases to be a werewolf once he rebels against his vampire master. Hollywood wouldn't see an actual werewolf-vs.-vampire fight until Universal Studio's 1948 masterpiece, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, though Larry Talbot's animosity toward Dracula was established in 1945's House of Dracula. The antipathy seems natural despite what folklore tells us about werewolves' frequent servitude to vampires. As a man, a werewolf is usually a cursed dude like Talbot and lacks the evil inclinations that might ally him to a vampire. As a werewolf, done right, he's just going to attack anything in his path, including a vampire.

Waldemar Daninsky had already encountered vampires in his first adventure, which Wendigo has seen but I haven't. Werewolf Shadow (aka La Noche del Walpurgis, The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman, etc.) was the next film in the Daninsky series after Fury, and it opens with Waldemar somewhat worse for wear from the previous movie. In fact, he's dead, or as dead as Daninsky can be. Some thoughtful individual had shot him with a silver bullet, which the coroners promptly remove from the corpse's heart as a full moon shines outside. These medical imbeciles are in for some richly deserved lethal bitch-slaps from the restored wolfman's claws. After dealing with them, The Werewolf (as Naschy is billed in the credits) is off to the woods for more murder, after which he cleans himself up and lands a book contract with a German university press.

Waldemar Daninsky: sophisticated scholar by day; somewhat less sophisticated on some nights.

At least that's his story when he hosts two attractive female researchers at his current headquarters, a rehabbed French castle. Elvira and Genevive are looking for the tomb of the infamous medieval countess Wandessa, a Satanist who drank virgins' blood in pursuit of eternal youth. So is Waldemar, though his is a more selfish than scholarly interest. In the meantime, he's acquired a crazy Bronte-esque sister who's torn between strangling and fondling her brother's guests, and a malign influence seems to be spreading through the region. It isn't helped when our intrepid researchers discover Wandessa's tomb at the traditional crossroads, i.e. up on a mountain amid the ruins of a monastery. History says that she was killed with a silver cross that remains embedded in her chest. Were this removed and her corpse annointed with blood, Wandessa would return to life. Sure enough, they find the corpse with the cross in it, but Waldemar disingenuously dismisses the legend and does nothing to prevent Genevive from removing the cross and cutting herself on a splinter in the tomb.

Above, Gaby Fuchs resists the questionable attentions of Waldemar's crazy sister; below, she shows the more acceptable way to lay hands on an attractive female (Barbara Capell)

Before you know it, poor Genevive is vampire woman-bait, happily joining the ranks of the undead and frolicking about with Wandessa in slow motion -- because Spaniards think slow is spooky. Waldemar's sister ends up just plain dead, and things are scheduled to get worse because Walpurgis Night is nearly upon us, when "the devil has his power."

Genevive's blood brings Wandessa back to life, so it's only appopriate that the two women become friends.

Daninsky is torn about what to do with Elvira. She's in deep danger but he has an ulterior motive behind the cross extraction that requires him to keep her around. Like Larry Talbot, Waldemar wants to die. His latest scheme requires a woman who loves him to stab him with the cross. He has the cross, at who knows what cost to the nearby community, and now he needs to make Elvira fall in love with him. He does this the easy way. When he and Genevive extracted the cross from Wandessa's corpse, they inadvertantly caused a dead monk to rise and attack Elvira. When Waldemar strolls over and stakes the thing with his new cross, Elvira is quite smitten. But he decides to send her away for her own good anyway, hoping to deal with Wandessa himself. He has his handyman Pierre drive her to the nearest town, but Pierre is falling under the evil influence. This gives actor Jose Marco an opportunity to deliver a gratuitous aria of oddity that deserves quotation at length:
There is no post office [in town] but I would like you to see our nice butcher shop. There's many other interesting things in our village, like our peaceful cemetery, where I go every Sunday. You know, people are afraid of those who live near the monastery....heh heh... They think I'm crazy. You don't think I'm crazy, do you? I get angry when people think I'm crazy. Well, I have a good reputation. I think all people should have a good reputation. Yes, I do.

Did you hear about the woman, she was found murdered last night, near where you're leaving. Some say a werewolf tore open her throat. Even I've been under suspicion. Now, I've never killed anyone. People blab all the time. They say a lot of things about me. It is only lies they are spreading. Rumors, and none of them are true. You're very beautiful. I love your long red hair. It's lovely. Don't ever cut it. Why do women cut their hair? Maybe they think it makes them look nicer. But it doesn't, not at all! You know, I could like you. You know, there are many women I don't like, not at all. Ehhh!...hmm...

Best yet for Elvira, there's a return trip with Pierre to chez Daninsky when Wandessa blocks the road with a fallen tree. From this point things fall further apart as Pierre goes all rape-crazy just as Waldemar has shackled himself in anticipation of a full-moon transformation. Did those shackles ever restrain the werewolf? They break away pretty easily as our hero charges into battle with a crazy-brave Pierre, who actually charges the beast twice over after getting his face clawed nearly to ribbons. There's nothing for the werewolf to do but drop him, bite his throat out, and spit it out. He has a hard time keeping fluid in his mouth, and is the most drooly wolfman I've ever seen.

We could go on with other odd episodes, but suffice it to say that, assured of Elvira's love, Waldemar is ready for the big showdown with Wandessa, who captures Elvira and her mundane boyfriend from Paris and prepares the former for a sacrifice to Satan on the long-awaited Walpurgis Night. This sets up one of those awesome moments that won Paul Naschy so many devoted fans. The shadow of Satan has looked favorably upon Wandessa's preparations for the sacrifice. Then Waldemar shows up. Not the werewolf, just good ol' burly Daninsky. And the shadow of Satan backs off....

While Wendigo's a werewolf fan, it's his job here to comment on the vampire. He's quite taken visually by Wandessa, from her black veil and occasionally oversized fangs to her slow motion movements. While the Spanish proclivity to supernatural slo-mo sometimes turns out ludicrous (see the Blind Dead films), Wendigo thinks it works visually with eerie women in flowing garments. His only problem with Wandessa is her apparent lack of personality. She barely speaks during the film until she taunts Elvira with the imminence of the sacrifice. I saw a weirdly childlike quality to both Wandessa and the vamped Genevive in the way they dance and romp about hand in hand. Wendigo acknowledges this but finds her more interesting as a villain than as a vampire. He likes Genevive better as a vampire because Barbara Capell, in his view, had more character buildup and was the most attractive woman in the picture. Gaby Fuchs as Elvira isn't bad, in his estimate, but Capell leaves her in the shade. That's probably inevitable; Elvira is the Mina to Genevive's Lucy, and in cinema the Lucys are usually hotter than the Minas.

Love triumphs.

But this is Waldemar's world, and these vampire women just un-live in it. Wendigo is now quite impressed by Paul Naschy, though this time out the actor was hobbled by a nearly emotionless English dub. He thinks Naschy looks uncomfortable in the romantic scenes with Fuchs, but he admits the necessity of the romance if Daninsky is to walk the thorny path of Larry Talbot. Wendigo really digs the werewolf, though he thinks more could have been done with the facial makeup. He likes Naschy's fangs and claws and his complete savagery once transformed. He digs the pure monstrosity of Naschy's werewolf, a creature who kills not to eat or drink blood, from what we could tell, but just for the animal love of killing. But his monstrosity seems to be something beyond good and evil. Despite Walpurgis Night, he's not subject to Satan's power and Wandessa probably knows better than to try and control him. The dude's under a Tibetan curse, after all, so all this devil business doesn't mean squat to him. Overall, Wendigo found it a treat to see an old-school non-CGI wolfman go through his paces. It proves that you could still do a lot with relatively little back then. There's a lot of Naschy's work for him to catch up with, and now, compared with twenty years ago, he's very willing to give it a try.

TheFearChamber has uploaded an American trailer for "The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman" to YouTube.


dfordoom said...

I've seen this one under its Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman title. Definitely a guilty pleasure. I think most of Naschy's films come into the guilty pleasure category, but I like guilty pleasures!

Anything directed by León Klimovsky is worth a look. Vampires’ Night Orgy is a treat!

The Vicar of VHS said...

My first Naschy experience was VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES, which I love, but it was WEREWOLF SHADOW that cemented his place in my heart. I can see Wendigo's point about Wandessa's lack of personality, but I think Genevieve more than makes up for it. Have you ever seen a girl who seems more genuinely, almost innocently THRILLED to join the ranks of the hawt undead? Not I.

However, to address his complaints I would point Wendigo to Naschy's first directorial effort, NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF, which was pretty much a remake of this one but done better. The Wandessa character becomes what she was in all but name here, Elizabeth Bathory, and is given much more to do. Highly, highly recommended.

My comment verification is "cortly." Adjective used to describe a person or thing that evinces the gentlemanly qualities usually associated with character actor Bud Cort.