Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Fury of the Wolf Man (1970)

College professor Waldemar Daninsky has just returned from a disastrous expedition to Tibet, where his whole crew died and he was left cursed after a yeti attack. Now doomed to become a wolf by the full moon, he kills his wife and her lover, before being captured by a sinister female scientist. She has been conducting a series of terrible experiments, and Waldemar may be her crowning achievement...

Fury of the Wolf Man begins like we've just missed the first act to another movie altogether. Waldermar Daninsky has just come back from Tibet, where he was bitten by a...yeti? Are you sure? It's not the most cohesive beginning, but things gradually find their footing, until we take a sudden turn. Waldermar is killed, and his corpse is stolen by mad scientist Ilona, and the film becomes more devoted to her and her sinister castle.

Where the film starts to go off the rails is at the halfway point. Daninsky, the supposed lead, is unconscious for large stretches of time, and we focus on his girlfriend, a group of drunken revolutionaries, and some ill-fated scientists. There are also 'authentical mutants' at this castle, which seem to consist of random people, and one man dressed as a plant.

The wolf man meanwhile does a fair amount. He kills a few people, and smashes up the expected amount of furniture and windows (despite talk that the castle is 'hermetically sealed', which doesn't even begin to make sense!). There's one odd moment when all he does is lay next to a girl briefly, then leave. He also ends up quite whipped by Ilona, figuratively and literally!

Come the end I feel the plot has a few nice details, and Ilona's backstory is great. I just wish it had've been introduced earlier. I'm not asking for a big infodump in the first 5 minutes, but the film was so random for about 70 minutes, before we finally get some much needed backstory. We also could've done without the nonsensical suggestion that the werewolf curse isn't real, and Ilona achieved it all with hypnotism. So the fact that he actually turns into a werewolf, and manages to cheat death is all hypnotism?

The climax is the movie at its most fun. The story is by this point forgotten and you can just switch off and enjoy the fireworks. We get some great monster vs. monster action, with an unexpected reveal. This all results in a cheesy ending, that somehow manages to warp time

The film suffers from a lack of a consistent lead, with Daninsky hurting the most. It's a shame, because I liked how his character was built up early on. He has some great dialogue, in a darkly romantic vein-"For you I'd die a million times just so that you'd love me.".

Love interest Karen is ok, but a bit passive. Her biggest role is to be the one to put Waldemar out of his misery at the end, but surprisingly she doesn't even get to do that, instead staying chained up like a useless lump.

Her sort-of boyfriend, the reporter, is probably the most proactive, but if he got directly got involved the movie would end an hour earlier, so he's off the table. He actually has to be told by another character to "Do nothing" so he doesn't get involved in the climax. His biggest function is to serve as a consolation love interest for Karen when Waldermar inevitably dies.

The acting is ok. Naschy is a serviceable lead, while Perla Cristal has fun as the villain. The dub actors however are significantly less talented, to a hilarious degree. Their poor delivery together with the bad dialogue ("It can't be scientific it can't be scientific!") makes the film more entertaining than it otherwise would have been.

The movie has been slightly localised in the dubbing process. Waldermar has become Walderman, which is still foreign (though more common) and longer, meaning you still have to say the full name like changing Franz to Francisco. At least Walderman is a more dignified name change for the Baron than if he became Wally! Villainess Ilona has also gets the kickass surname Wolfstein! Not sure why when she's not the werewolf, but oh well.

Fury of the Wolf Man was originally to be directed by a Naschy regular, but he had to duck out at the last minute. Taking his place was Jose Maria Zabalza, who was by all accounts a lazy alcoholic who made it a pretty negative experience. How much of the film's state is his fault is up for debate, but I imagine at least a little. A lot is up to the director. As for how the film looks in general, it's perfectly fine.

There is also some added archive footage from Mark of the Wolfman. It's pretty poorly placed, redundant, and the difference in clothes, look, and time period makes it obvious it's from another movie.

The effects here are pretty good, though a bit weird in places, some of it resembling pea soup. The werewolf transformations are done well, as is the violence. The worst effect is definitely the fully dressed man standing with some foliage, who we're expected to believe is a mutant!

When it comes to much of Italian horror, watching them in dubbed is ok. I'm not a fan of dubbing in general, but for these kinds of films it's fine, especially considering many were filmed with this in mind. As for Spanish, it can be fairly similar. I do prefer watching the originals when Spanish cinema is concerned, but usually the English dubs are just fine. That's the case for Fury of the Wolf Man, and there's nothing more you'll get out of the original track than you will from the English, besides hearing Paul Naschy's real voice.

Overall, Fury of the Wolf Man is a decent horror flick, and has enough unintentionally funny moments to entertain. As an introduction to the world of Paul Naschy it's not necessarily the best, but as random and crazy as it may be, there is a certain simplicity to it that makes it an alright first watch. Its biggest problems can be traced to the tumultuous shooting process. Ultimately this film is a cautionary tale about quality control and the dangers of 'subletting' work...

The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman (1971)

Two young college women, Elvira and Genevieve, have come to a small country village in search for the resting place of vampiric countess Wandessa de Nadasdy. There they meet the charming Waldemar Danisnky, who gladly helps them. He has a dark secret though, but once the Countess is inadvertently resurrected, his lycanthropy may be the only thing keeping the world safe from her dark power...

The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman (La Noche de Walpurgis, in its entirely different Spanish title) is the 5th film in Paul Naschy's Hombre Lobo series. It's not only the quintessential entry in the series, and considered to be the best, it's also responsible for igniting the next big horror boom in Spain.

It opens in a morgue with two doctors looking over the dead body of werewolf Waldemar Daninsky, and deciding to tempt fate by removing the silver bullets. Right on cue, he immediately comes back to life and slaughters them.

Following this basic and effective prologue, Waldemar has found himself back in the country, at his old family estate, soon to receive new visitors. The two women are introduced well, and quickly embark on their academic journey, which itself involves a lot of tempting fate. After some car trouble they are invited to Waldemar's castle, where they are visited by madwomen who strangle them or pull off their dresses, and find bloody chains.

At first Elvira is mistrustful of their host while Genevieve is unsuspicious, yet after these attacks and discoveries, the characters seem to switch. Suddenly it's Elvira who can't see anything wrong, while Genevieve is now the paranoid one. It seems the more evidence Elvira gets that something is wrong, the more she implicitly trusts Waldemar. Which she should, but she doesn't know that! Most amusing is Waldemar's explanation of the freshly bloody chains, that they were simply left by the house's last owner when hunting animals.

When they find the tomb of the vampire, they naturally take a peek inside (just to make sure she's there, of course). Then, not only does Genevieve pull the cross from the chest, but also manages to cut her hand, and bleed all over the vampire's mouth in the process! While the story here is otherwise good, it is a little annoying when the problems are entirely of the heroes' own making.

Wandessa quickly comes back from the grave to claim fresh victims, and Elvira learns the truth about Waldermar. He is cursed to be a werewolf, and can only be killed if a woman who loves him stabs him with the Moyenza cross. Which just so happens to be the only thing that can kill the vampire too! How convenient. Or frankly inconvenient if they only made one!

While basic, Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman moves along at a quick pace, and is always entertaining. The film has a dreamlike atmosphere, feeling hazy and hallucinatory. The direction by León Klimovsky is effective not only at conveying this, but also in general as a Gothic horror. Despite the small budget there's a care and attention to detail that makes things look good, with one example being the different dresses during a fake-out dream sequence.

The cast in Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman is surprisingly small. Waldemar Daninsky is a tortured lover once again, always depressed but still able to effortlessly charm. He was still cursed in Tibet, though not by a yeti this time. He has a sister too, who's a little bit crazy, and suffers an abrupt but expected demise.

Wandessa isn't much of a villain, and I'm not sure if this is a positive or negative. Beyond her backstory, she has no actual character, or even dialogue. All she does is laugh, and glide in slow motion a lot. While this does leave something to be desired in terms of personality, it does make for an interestingly abstract villain, with a siren quality.

The lesbian subtext is portrayed interestingly here. There's no actual sex, or even nudity in that context, but the lack of direct action actually helps make it sexier.

The girls are fairly likeable, even if they can be dopes at times. Genevieve is soon turned into a vampire (yes, she does say the words "No vampire is going to suck your blood" at one point), while Elvira becomes enamoured with Waldemar, professing her love for him with hilarious suddenness.

There is one area the romance genuinely excels though. Unlike previous entries, where the girl would just forget her old boyfriend existed, then she'd be in his arms again the moment Waldemar's dead, here there is actual relationship drama. Her old beau Marcel has a bigger role, and actually plays a part while Waldemar's alive, instead of only reuniting when he's got an 'In'. He starts off as a bit of a prat but does endear himself.

The supporting cast is decent. The local villagers are naturally distrustful of Waldemar, and one in particular tries killing him, to no avail. This scene shows off a werewolf's immortality (even in human form) in an interesting way. The funniest minor player however has got to be the creepy taxi driver, who begins an increasingly unstable monologue to Elvira, and just doesn't know when to stop. What really confused me is his identity. Later on we see a hot young lady, who speaks lovingly of her handsome and loyal boyfriend Pierre...who I'm pretty sure is this pervy old driver!

The acting here is fairly decent. Paul Naschy is a good leading man, with a piecing glance. He has a nice stoicism, and is a natural as the monster. Patty Shepard is a highlight as Wandessa, and makes for a distinctive villain, even though she's mostly silent. The girls do fine jobs, with Barbara Capell making for a great vampire. Both pull of great 'screaming faces' too, which is an invaluable asset for a classic horror film. The dubbing is fine, if amusingly cheesy, like a British accent that goes in and out.

The music here is great. There are many suitably atmospheric tracks. There's also an opening and closing track that totally spoils the mood, but is such a groovy and lighthearted 70s tune that it's easily forgiven!

The effects are a highlight, for the most part. The make-up for Wandessa and the other vampires is good, even if the fangs can look slightly fake in places. We also get an undead monk in one scene (which surprisingly predates the famous Blind Dead series!). Naturally the main attraction is the werewolf, and he looks great! The first transformation doesn't show much, and the second seemed like another cop-out, but it proved to be great with one really effective cut! The remainder of the effects include a neat staking and dismemberment, and the ultimate death of Wandessa, accomplished with a neat wax melting effect!

The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman is a highlight of both this series, and Spanish horror. It's perfect if you want a nice simple Gothic horror to enjoy, with some classic European flavour...