Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971)

Spanish filmmaker Paul Naschy, born Jacinto Molina, played the cursed Polish nobleman Waldemar Daninsky in twelve different movies. Thirteen, if you count the brief appearance in The Howl of the Devil (1987). A sort of missing addition, Nights of the Werewolf (1968), is alleged to be an uncompleted and lost film, unseen by anyone.

A lycanthrope, cursed to live forever with a regretful instinct to kill, the character of Waldemar Daninsky afforded Naschy plenty of opportunities to emulate, to an extent, and pay tribute to his childhood hero, Larry Talbot from Universal’s The Wolf Man (1941), while at the same time mark his werewolf with his own brand of personal characteristics. Naschy’s first encounter with the Wolf Man onscreen occurred while he, underage at the time, was allowed in to a theater, by an usher he personally knew, to see Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi in Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man (1943), an experience that left the child Naschy awestruck, planting the seed for what would materialize in Naschy’s movies.

A record setting champion weightlifter from the late ‘50s to the early ‘70s, an artist, a Western novelist, and a lover of movies, Naschy became interested in working as an art director in film. Thanks to his father, Enrique Molina, Naschy got involved in filmmaking and eventually appeared in small bit parts, which include small uncredited roles in the peplum King of Kings and in the television show I Spy, where he met his longtime idol, Boris Karloff.

In 1967 Naschy wrote the script for Mark of the Wolfman (1968), introducing his cursed Wolf Man character while also throwing a pair of vampires into the story. After enduring numerous rejections from producers, Paul’s script was eventually picked up by two filming companies, one in Germany and the other in Spain, interested in making his film. The werewolf character in Mark of the Wolfman was originally a Spaniard, but the Spanish censors were not so keen on this, and so Paul, tweaking the script a bit, changed him into the Polish nobleman, Waldemar Daninsky.




The production had a troubled start when it came to finding an actor to play the movie’s title wolf man. Lon Chaney Jr. was the first choice, but unfortunately he was of ill health at the time and couldn’t play the role. Just as the movie was at risk of getting canned, someone from the German production company suggested that Naschy play the part of the werewolf. Naschy ultimately accepted, and the film was made. It turned out to be a successful hit that kick started Spain’s horror fantasy golden age after a period of time when horror out of Spain generally wasn’t the norm.

Paul Naschy eventually became very genre versatile, working on numerous different types of movies throughout the rest of his life, able to pull off a plethora of costumed roles with a somewhat chameleon-like nature, a vast spectrum of characters, the likes of which has been referred to on Naschy.com as “The Many Faces of Paul Naschy.”




The Waldemar Daninsky werewolf movies continually cropped up throughout his career. Shortly proceeding Mark of the Wolfman is the aforementioned lost and unseen Nights of the Werewolf (1968). The next two Waldemar films took on an entertaining Sci-Fi influence: Assignment Terror (1970), which in addition to his werewolf character, Paul included Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy, and an alien intent on taking over the world; and The Fury of the Wolf Man (1970), featuring a climactic werewolf fight between husband and wife at the end.

Perhaps, by this point, it would seem that Naschy’s sympathetic lycanthrope was starting to wear a bit thin. Naschy did not intend to continually make movies about Valdemar el hombre lobo, and it is reasonable to assume that these Hombre Lobo films might have come to an end soon if it weren’t for the explosive success of the next movie, The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman / La noche de Walpurgis.




Reverting a little more back to the format of Mark of the Wolfman, WWvsVW achieved worldwide success, as should be indicated by the number of titles it goes by, and is supposed to have really shot off the Spanish fantasy-horror boom. There were Spanish horror films from other filmmakers before this, such as one of my favorites La residencia and a number from Jess Franco, but the output increased significantly out of Spain; it became the thing to do. My Shriek Show DVD of Mark of the Wolfman, under its misleading American drive-in title Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror, contains a DVD booklet with a quote by Amando de Ossorio: “The boom of the European horror film was because of Naschy and we have to recognize that.” If this is really true, then, if not for Naschy, we might not have had a world with de Ossorio’s Blind Dead films, which would be no world for me.
  
Naschy wrote the script for WWvsVW, and he suggested León Klimovsky (Vengeance of the Zombies, A Dragonfly for Each Corpse, The Vampires Night Orgy, The Dracula Saga, and The People Who Own the Dark, to name a few) as director, a man who never ceases to amaze me with each film I come across (hunt down Night of the Walking Dead, you won’t regret it).



  
Klimovsky’s direction in WWvsVW is astonishing and pivotal. The ambiance looms heavy and does have a long lasting effect that stays with viewers long after the film has ended. The main music theme has been lamented by a lot of viewers, but I honestly can’t see why, as it possesses a cool chicness that fits with the more unusual and classy Eurocult film of the age.

The slow motion filming of the lady vampires is one of the most striking elements and, according to Naschy, has been mimicked numerous times. I know I’ve seen it used by di Ossorio in his groundbreaking Blind Dead films and The Night of the Sorcerers, and Klimovsky even reused the technique to equally haunting effect in Vengeance of the Zombies.



  
Klimovsky and Naschy together create some of the best nightmare landscapes. It’s such a delight to watch the vampirized Genevieve (Barbara Capell, Should a School Girl Tell) run down that dark foggy mansion hall in slow motion or watch the Countess (the late great Patty Shepard, Assignment Terror) traipse through ruins, running from the sun, and slowly landing after a catlike plunge from a high ledge, and don’t get me started on that nightmare scene where the countess and Genevieve playfully spin off into oblivion together; it’s the best. It intensifies the vampires' otherworldly evil presence in this film and further beautifies their macabre screen presence, whetting the appetites of those with a taste for the gothic and surreal.

All this praise for the vampires, but is the werewolf any good? You bet. Though it might have helped a little for the werewolf to have a little more of a snout; the monster still looks awesome, with bubbly, acid-like salivation. Paul approaches it with a viciousness and energy that’s perfect for an out of control killing machine. As is usual, Paul is great expressing the agony that accompanies the cursed lycanthrope’s transitions on a full moon, a pain that seems sourced from the pentagram over his heart; the mark of the wolf man. The kills can be rather quick, but it is thrilling enough, and there’s enough gore to satisfy. Watch for a slab of raw steak hanging from the werewolf’s fangs.




What lends the movie a sincere demeanor is the sympathy Naschy manages to invoke with the human side of his character. In addition to emulating his childhood hero, particularly the cursed man who wishes only to die in order to stop killing, seen from Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Naschy modeled Waldemar as a portrayal of himself, a type of misunderstood outsider who goes against the tide. Some of it is also vented sexual frustration, which I’ve interpreted from the attractive women of the stories, usually much younger than he, who are always swooning over him and sometimes falling in love. There is a known legend that it takes the deed of plunging a silver cross into his heart from a woman who truly loves him in order to finally find peace. It always seems fortunate that despite the reclusive nature of Naschy’s characters, there’s usually a group of lovely divas to intrude on him, somehow, to give him hope.




In WWvsVW, it is the arrival of Elvira (Gaby Fuchs, Mark of the Devil) and Genevieve (Capell), preparing a thesis and visiting the tomb of the evil blood countess Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy (Shepard) near Waldemar’s isolated mansion somewhere in rural France. With Elvira and Genevieve’s car low on gas and the next village a great distance away, Waldemar welcomes them into his home, a grand gothic mansion that any fan of classic Spanish horror is no doubt familiar with. He seems to know full well of his lycanthrope curse; you’d think if he was truly concerned for their safety, he’d send them away, but it is the potential of finally being released from his malediction that makes him willing to take the risk. I imagine that stabbing himself in the heart with a silver cross isn’t supposed to work.
  
The US title promises a final battle between two well recognized monsters, and the movie does make good on this promise, which I like – a sort of main event that the movie builds up to.  




Patty Shepard manages to be so eerie and spot-on as the blood countess. Her lady in black persona and the way her face is usually obscured with a dark veil lends a fearful mystery about her. Her dominance over Genevieve, turning her over to her maleficent side and also making Genevieve her lover is a haunting portrayal of her power. Though apparently she regretted taking on the role, Shepard’s performance as the Countess Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy was great, and it really gives the movie its disconcerting air, helping it to get under your skin. I really love that vampire woman. Genevieve is wonderful, too, and is pretty much the ‘other’ vampire babe of the movie. There’s also a cool skeleton monk who turns out to be a major pushover.

The story may drag a little when Elvira’s police inspector fiancé investigates and inquires at the village in the latter half, but The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman is a great addition to Paul Naschy’s long-running Hombre Lobo films and perhaps one of the more significant. It’s a beauty of a Spanish horror and particularly recommended to fans of the types of movies covered on this site.




Naschy would follow WWvsVW with Dr. Jekyll and the Wolf Man (1971), again with León Klimovsky as director. In the coming years, interspersed throughout his movies, Naschy continued his non-serialized Hombre Lobo films with Curse of the Devil (1972) with Carlos Aured directing; Night of the Howling Beast (1975), which moves the action to Tibet and features the werewolf in a battle with a yeti; Night of the Werewolf (1980), a Naschy directed near retelling of WWvsVW that improves on the final battle between the lady vampire and werewolf; and, also Naschy directed, The Beast and the Magic Sword (1983), a period piece set between Europe and ancient Japan that really can be considered Naschy’s werewolf fantasy epic. Naschy would much later reprise the role in Licántropo (1996) and Tomb of the Werewolf (2004).


"My personality was forged by the war, by my exposure to religion, by a partially frustrated sexuality, by my family and social background, by the people I know, by love and by the ever present shadow of death. All this is reflected in my films as well". Paul Naschy / Jacinto Molina  (Image source: Fuck Yeah, Paul Naschy!)

9 comments:

  1. What a great review/write-up/bio. I enjoyed it a lot. This was actually my first Naschy movie I ever saw. And that was just last year. Im a little late to the party!

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    1. Thanks, Hellbilly! Your compliment made my day. I wanted to put this movie in perspective with the other el Hombre Lobo movies, and it ended up being more of a biography. I put the biographical and historical bits together based on what I read in Paul’s personal biography, Memoirs of a Wolfman, and an article on this film that came with the Deimos DVD, Werewolf Shadow, by Naschy scholar Mirek Lipinski.

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  2. I genuinely look forward to each new post here. You're always well-spoken and informative.

    Rue Morgue Magazine did a nice overview / cover story about Naschy a while back that piqued my interest in his filmography, but I never followed through on investigating further. I seem to recall being a little discouraged by the number of alternate titles and differing run times. I've always had a hang up about wanting to see the "right" version of a movie the first time I see it. Maybe I'll do a little research before October and try to get a few Naschy titles in the queue. Great post!

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    1. Ah, yes. Hard to believe that issue came out way back in early 2010. Gosh, how time flies. I own that issue, but I forgot about it. You’ve inspired me to dig it out of the magazine stack under my bed. The so-called ten essential Paul Naschy movies they cover on pages 20-21 is a great place to start with exploring Naschy’s filmography. I know about title confusion, but it sort of comes with the territory when it comes to international cinema. Too bad about the cessation of the Paul Naschy DVD releases by Deimos, as they were releasing the best restored, definitive versions of some of Paul’s greatest films. They put this film out as Werewolf Shadow, but I couldn’t resist using the pay-per-view style The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman title. Imagine that on a drive-in marquee back in the ‘70s.

      Thanks for your words, Brandon. It’s compliments like that that keep me going with this blog.

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  3. You have such an eye for these films, and all the context you pull in is fascinating. A truly spectacular review Giovanni.

    This is one of my favorite horror films, but unfortunately only one of few Naschy movies I've seen. I wish they weren't so hard to find, but I guess it makes finding them all the more satisfying. Now in just this article you've given me at least ten movies to follow up on.

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    1. Ha ha! Thanks! You guys are inflating my ego, but in a good way. If I had to recommend another Naschy Werewolf film, I’d say go with The Mark of the Wolfman, but it’s definitely worth seeing them all, except maybe The Tomb of the Werewolf. It was nice to have Naschy play Waldemar one more time, but, notwithstanding certain merits, it was a bit disappointing. I hope you’ve seen Vengeance of the Zombies. Human Beasts rocks, too.

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