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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

WEREWOLF SHADOW and CURSE OF THE DEVIL -- Two Paul Naschy Wolf Man Reviews by porfle

I grew up seeing pictures of Paul Naschy's werewolf character in "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazine and, since Universal's Wolf Man was my favorite monster, I always wondered what Naschy's Spanish version would be like. Now, with the special edition DVD releases of 1971's WEREWOLF SHADOW (aka "La Noche de Walpurgis") and 1973's CURSE OF THE DEVIL (aka "El Retorno de Walpurgis"), I finally get to see what all the howling was about.

WEREWOLF SHADOW opens with a scene reminiscent of the first minutes of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, as two medical examiners summoned to check out the dead body of Naschy's Waldemar Daninsky character (the Spanish equivalent of Lon Chaney, Jr.'s "Larry Talbot") foolishly remove the silver bullets from his chest, bringing him back to hairy, fang-baring life. Flash forward a bit, and we join Elvira (Gaby Fuchs) and her painfully-cute cohort Genevieve (Barbara Capell) in the French wilderness searching for the lost tomb of legendary vampire woman Countess Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy. They run into Waldemar, who is living in isolation with his demented sister Elizabeth (Yelena Samarina), and he invites them to stay in his villa while he helps them with their search.

Needless to say, they eventually uncover the tomb and release the revived Countess (Paty Shepard), who turns Genevieve into a vampire and then sets her sights on Elvira. But a lovestruck Waldemar, armed with the same silver cross that first killed the vampire woman back in the old days, comes to the rescue, turning into the Wolf Man just in time for a climactic werewolf vs. vampire woman showdown.

Naschy's outlandish werewolf makeup and bug-eyed overacting make for a really fun monster, which is quite the opposite of his effectively restrained demeanor as Waldemar. Gaby Fuchs, on the other hand, is almost comically expressionless most of the time. As the vampire woman, Paty Shepard wears flowing black clothing and runs around in slow motion a lot. My favorite non-werewolf character, though, is Genevieve, simply because Barbara Capell is just so gosh-darn cute.

The film is marred by ultra-pedestrian direction, photography, and editing and a wildy-inappropriate musical score, and it creeps by at a snail's pace from beginning to end. Some scenes, such as the one in which Elvira's detective friend Marcel (Andrés Resino) questions the mayor of a nearby village, are almost lethally boring. Night scenes take place in broad daylight so it's often impossible to tell what time of day it's supposed to be.

But for all its faults, WEREWOLF SHADOW is still interesting to watch if you're a classic horror fan and you want to see where Spanish horror really began. Naschy's Wolf Man is a hoot, and there's an abundance of low-budget 70s-style gore and brief, gratuitous nudity--while watching it, I felt transported back to the old drive-in theater where I wasted many hours in my youth. Presented in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the image quality is outstanding considering this is a low-budget exploitation flick from 1971--the print used looks almost flawless to me. Both the original Castilian and dubbed English soundtracks are available, with subtitles.

In addition to a large stills gallery, the disc includes the U.S. release version of the film, known as THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN. The print used here is somewhat battered in spots, which gives it more of that "grindhouse" feel. There aren't many differences between the two versions, although some of the nudity is gone, the opening and closing titles are altered, and that deadly scene with Marcel and the mayor has gone to cutting-floor hell where it belongs.

Moving on to better things, the 1973 follow-up CURSE OF THE DEVIL is a vast improvement. A prologue takes us back to the Middle Ages in which an earlier Daninsky slays the head of the Satan-worshipping Bathory clan and then executes the rest of them by hanging and burning. While being roasted alive at the stake, the widow Bathory puts a curse on Daninsky and his descendants, which will eventually include our hero, Waldemar. We join him in 19th-century Transylvania, where he lives in a castle with his loyal servants Bela and Malitza, who raised him.

After inadvertently shooting a werewolf while hunting, Waldemar finds himself the object of a gypsy curse. He's seduced into bed by a beautiful gypsy woman for his first-ever sexual experience, but she then chomps him in the chest with a wolf skull dripping with her own blood, which turns him into a werewolf. Fortunately, not everything that happens to poor Waldemar is such a total bummer--he meets a beautiful blonde babe named Kinga (Fabiola Falcón) who lives nearly with her parents and younger sister Maria, and they fall in love. But when the full moon comes, Waldemar goes bestial and starts terrorizing the countryside. And before it's all over, Kinga and her family may be his final victims.

Directed with a rough-hewn but imaginative style by Carlos Aured, CURSE OF THE DEVIL is briskly-paced and filled with exciting werewolf set-pieces, including some extremely cool transformation scenes that harken back to the old Universals. That studio's style is also represented by torch-wielding villagers and some character names (Bela, Malitza), plus some similarities to the script of the original THE WOLF MAN. Director Aured seems influenced by the 50s Hammer horrors as well, particularly CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.

The rustic locations are excellent, and the performances this time are entirely adequate. There's some nudity here and there, as well as copious amounts of gore as the Wolf Man chalks up quite a body count during his many nocturnal outings (which are now actually filmed at night with much more creepy, shadowy atmosphere). Naschy's makeup is very different this time--it looks as though he's wearing an over-the-head mask--but he's still just as fearsome and feral as ever. Also in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the print quality here is almost as good as in WEREWOLF SHADOW, albeit a little rougher early on, and I seemed to notice a distracting jerkiness in the actors' movements on several occasions. The English dubbed soundtrack is good, while the Castilian version seems to have a slight droning noise in the background throughout. There's no U.S. release version this time, but we do get the English and Castilian trailers (skip the U.S. one if you haven't seen the film yet--it gives away the ending).

Both DVDs also contain liner notes by "The Mark of Naschy" author Mirek Lipinski, with some cool photos and a wealth of information. The menus are well-designed, and the DVD box art has a delightfully retro look to it.

Now that I've finally seen Paul Naschy's Wolf Man in all his glory after all these years, I'm glad I did. WEREWOLF SHADOW and especially CURSE OF THE DEVIL are good old-fashioned monster movies that I'll be revisiting now and then for a long time to come. Like Chaney's Larry Talbot, Naschy's Waldemar Daninsky is the kind of werewolf that I love--no cartoony CGI, just an actual actor in cool monster makeup, giving an actual performance.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Paul Naschy (Jacinto Molina), el "Hombre Lobo Español"