Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Tomb of the Werewolf (2004)

After a whopping 11(ish) entries, more than most series, certainly containing the same lead, there came something surely no-one was expecting-A 12th Hombre Lobo film! In the mid-2000s, if you can believe it! With how horror was doing at that point, in America's DTV market no less, can this possibly live up to previous entries, let alone the position of final entry in such a longstanding series?...

A TV crew for a gimmicky psychic network teams up with new landowner Richard Daninsky to search for some hidden treasure at his ancestral home in Transylvania. Waiting for them is housekeeper Elizabeth, who has a dark secret. She is really Elizabeth Bathory, whose pact with the devil condemned past nobleman Waldemar Daninsky to a cursed existence. Now she seeks to bring him to life to complete her evil plans...

Tomb of the Werewolf came in 2004, courtesy of Fred Olen Ray of all people! Modern king of zero budget b-movies. This makes it the odd one out, and the only entry in the series not to be produced in Spain, or with Naschy behind the scenes in some capacity. It's also easily the worst received in the series! This may partly be because it's an easy target, but there's another reason-The marked lack of Paul Naschy, who's probably only in the film for 10 minutes, max.

Having now seen it for myself, I don't think Tomb is the worst film ever made (although it'd certainly hit the bottom of the series if only by default), and it's a passable enough b-grade chiller meets sexploitation. It's never really scary, and softcore porn sounds pretty unwelcome for classic horror, but for what this is it manages to be an alright mix of both worlds.

But this leads into a big issue. I'm not sure why it's even a Hombre Lobo film. If Ray had this classic Spanish horror star for just a few days, enough for a supporting part, it could've just been a standalone flick. No reason why it had to be about this particular werewolf. Instead this builds up a false expectation of what the movie will even be.

The story is basic enough. I liked the idea of a treasure hunt at a werewolf's castle, and was disappointed when this never really happens. The young folk have only just got settled when the villain starts her plan. It's a shame, since that premise has promise!

The film has an alright pace, but it takes a little too long for some things to get started. By the time things finally kick off it's pretty much time for the climax.

We get our first glimpse of the werewolf in a brief flashback to Waldemar, who unwittingly makes a pact with evil to save his love Eleanor's life, only to be cursed. He disappears for almost half the film, before finally making a return, to kill some period inappropriate locals.

The final act begins with a showdown between Bathory and defacto heroine Amanda, and it's a surprisingly quick fight! For all her strength she didn't stand much of a chance. But I'm glad, as it removes her from the board and lets the titular werewolf finally shine for the last stretch. It's a good final scene, with some melancholy and romance as you'd expect from a Hombre Lobo film.

Meanwhile, the climax completely bypasses the young heroes, who are out hunting non-existent wolves the whole time. I wondered if the film would have a cheap shock ending that makes no sense, but it all seemed pretty chipper!...until... I swear I can read these kinds of movies like a book! Still, a jugular bite's nothing you can't put a bandaid over!

The dialogue is lightly amusing, and genre-savvy in lines that are either fun, sometimes cringey or dumb. I got a kick out of one girl's line about reading old texts-"Well the f's and s's all look alike, but you can muck it out if you try". Then there's the cheesy TV bumper line "So viewers, the real question is, can true love survive, despite space, time, greed, and lest we forget, really really gross death things and stuff?"

Bloodsucking witch Elizabeth Bathory is the true main villain, and totally steals the spotlight from the man we wanna see. At least she has a basis to exist as a character, since Bathory herself or expys were a staple of past entries. Her part in the prologue is pretty funny. She's lusting after a young maiden, but decides it'll be worth more if she denies herself this treat and offers it instead to her master...Who turns out to be pissed! He's like 'You bothered me for this?'. Whoops. coulda just had her yourself, Liz!

The TV crew here are tolerable, and not that stupid, but that's all. Remember how I said Lycantropus wasn't just about a bunch of sex-obsessed teens stealing the spotlight from the older people? Well that describes this bunch to a tee! Admittedly they're not teens, but they're young, look like models, and like to get naked! And wouldn't you know it, just about every girl here happens to enjoy more than male company.

Richard Daninsky is a pretty good guy, and I liked him. He's friendly, honest, and I was bummed out when he died. Then there's psychic Amanda, whose presence among the guest list is a mystery. There's a good amount of intrigue to her. Is she good? Maybe a vampire hunter? Or a ghost from the past?

And Waldemar himself is ok. I was afraid he'd only appear in flashbacks, but he eventually resurrects. He spends half the time as a werewolf, but he also shares a connection with Amanda, leading to some good interactions, but too short and infrequent.

As can be expected from some of Fred Olen Ray's films, Tomb of the Werewolf verges on softcore porn at times. To paraphrase things slightly, one girl is brushing her hair, and her topless friend helps her unhook some from her bra, and would you look at that, they're both naked and ready for sex! A later line is the lame "I always fantasised on what you might look like...y'know, naked", which somehow gets a score from that guy! Thankfully these scenes never stretch on too long, although this also means they cut off before the interesting stuff begins.

Tomb runs at a brisk 82 minutes, but there is a longer cut out there, under the name of The Unliving. This version reputedly has longer sex scenes, and extra violence? I'd be slightly curious to check it out, but anything past 82 for a film like this would be pushing it.

The effects here are good in some ways, disappointing in others. But understandably so given the budget. There's some decent blood and grue, and the werewolf make-up is a highlight! It's maybe a little too fluffy, but it's a good design, and looks consistent with past entries too! The transformations are done entirely with cheesy CGI, and it's pretty groanworthy, but it is what it is.

The locales in Tomb are decent. While Eastern Europe may be a cheap shooting location (a boon for low budget vampire pictures!), this is shot in Hollywood, courtesy of some good sets. The establishing shots are ok some places, and look like video game graphics in others, with an odd FMV quality.

If nothing else Fred Olen Ray is a competent director, and he does a good job filming a Gothic horror.  There is one issue that plagues Tomb of the Werewolf though. It's shot on video! This could be overlooked, but for the 12th and final entry in a series that was otherwise shot on film, it does render this one as looking more like a cheap TV production.

The music is likewise mixed. You've got some ok Gothic tunes, but then you've got cheesy Skinemax tracks, and out-of-place heavy metal. It's disappointing for the last entry in this series to end on shitty screamo.

The acting here isn't as bad as I feared, although is still marred by poor delivery here and there. Credit where credit's due the modern setting makes the presence of young Americans not a big deal. Jay Richardson is one of the better actors, while Leland Jay is ok, although comes off a little high at times. Michelle Bauer looks perfect for a role like this, carrying an icy charm. She does well, though a bit stiff delivering her olde timey thee's and thou's with her modern American accent. Same for the guy playing the devil.

And then there's Paul Naschy himself. Despite his small role he gives some humanity. He's made up with a pretty fake wig and goatee, but he actually looks years younger than he did in Lycantropus! There he looked his age (62). I don't know if he just had older age make-up on in that film, or younger in this one, but it's pretty surprising. Despite being around 70, Paul dutifully gets into the wolf make-up (with the help of a stuntman I'm not sure), and shreds some villagers one last time! Of special note is his voice! Usually Naschy was either dubbed into English, or speaking in Spanish. But here he's speaking English himself, and he sounds adorable! He's just like Puss in Boots!

And lastly, there's a more recent DVD release I'd be interested in checking out someday, to give the commentary track a listen. Not only because Fred Olen Ray is apparently a charming storyteller (if he's anything like Jim Wynorski, I look forward to it!) it would also explain some things I was wondering, about the film's origins, how it is what it is, Paul's involvement, etc.

Tomb of the Werewolf is mixed at best. It's not awful, and has a few mild positive qualities in its own right, but as an entry in the Hombre Lobo series, particularly the final one, it's a great disappointment. It won't hurt if you're a Naschy completist, but you're better off with most of his other works...

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Lycantropus: The Moonlight Murders (1996/7)

During the Second World War a defecting nazi has an affair with a Gypsy girl, which leads to her brother killing him and the girl giving birth to a cursed lineage. Many years later, the quiet little town of Visaria is rocked by a series of brutal murders. First is a prostitute torn to shreds, then a young couple. The police are convinced it's the work of a madman, while one deputy thinks it's the work of a wild animal. Meanwhile, local horror author Waldemar Daninsky has been having mysterious pains and unsettling nightmares lately, that seem to get worse with the full moon...

Lycantropus: The Moonlight Murders was the first Hombre Lobo film for a long time, ever since 1983s Beast and the Magic Sword ended the series on something of a high. Naschy's career hit a downturn shortly after, but he never stopped working, and he would eventually return to his most famous series. The most shocking thing about us getting a new entry in a classic Spanish series like this as late as the 90s is that this isn't even the final one!

As the subtitle suggests, Lycantropus is a bit of a murder-mystery, which opens up the possibility that Waldemar may not be the killer! He's still a werewolf, so he's certainly a killer, but still. Before starting I did wonder before watching if this entry would see Waldemar as a willing murderer, and a full-on villain. Given the resetting continuity that seems like a shoe-in for one entry!

Unlike previous entries, this isn't Gothic, instead having a modern setting. Before you panic though, tit isn't about bunch of dumb sex-obsessed teens. It still has an air of maturity to it. The film has a smaller scale, with no sprawling castles or ancient monsters. Instead it's just a random guy in a modern town turning into a werewolf and rampaging through a couple of houses. It manages to work as what it is, even if it might stick out compared to other Hombre Lobo films. Speaking of the period, there's some 90s PC nostalgia, and the same for movie posters, with a prominent cameo from the poster to Dr. Giggles of all things!

Waldemar here is an aging horror author, living comfortably with his family, but plagued with nightmares that may be more real than he thinks. He's likeable enough, but is almost a supporting character, especially after a certain point.

What we hear of his parents make them sound pretty tops. They adopted the baby of a dead Gypsy found on their doorstop, treated him well raising him into a good man, and even named him as their sole heir! Nothing is made of this except in passing, but it's a detail I really liked.

Dr. Mina Westenra is a friend of Waldemar's, and the two share an unspoken affection. While there's still a differences in ages, she's not a ditzy 20 year old, but a mature woman. She's soon visited by the ghosts of the gypsies, who direct her to a hidden weapon to stop werewolves...which ends up being a surprisingly modern gun, compared to the ancient weapon we might expect!

Waldemar's family are ok. His wife and young son don't get a lot to do. Daughter Kinga gets the lion's share of time, and is a nice girl. Local boy Laurent is pretty good too, if a bit creepy in places. He clashes with a nasty bully, who somehow nabbed a good girl, who Laurent is crushing on. Surprisingly they both die very early on!

Laurent's priest father is a grade A asshole! He openly supports the killer as divine judgement for 'sinners', even though I'm pretty sure the Bible frowns more upon disemboweling people than prostitution! But worse still, the bastard disapproves of his son being a horror fan! He's also got it in for the Daninsky's especially Kinga. Really? The most demure girl in the village? He glares daggers at her over dinner, showing that godly virtue known as tolerance.

The supporting cast includes a seasoned detective Lacombe and a young inspector, who has some good theories, even if they clash with the more straightforward ones. There's also Mina's cuddly old mortician dad.

And lastly, there's Gypsy girl Czinka and clan patriarch Bigary, who regret their mistake in letting the baby live. Frankly I don't consider not killing a baby to be a mistake, even if they do grow up to be a werewolf!

Despite being a nazi, Heinrich seems like a good bloke, so in love with Czinka that he kills two colleagues, and is ready to defect...before his sudden death. Her brother Rom is a real bastard! Nevermind how quickly he murders Heinrich, who's done everything to help their community, he doesn't bat an eye at wanting to murder Czinka or her offspring, completely ignoring the wishes of their leader he claims to obey. I was glad hearing how he died.

Lycantropus takes a little while to get going as a horror, and doesn't have enough werewolf action, but it's good once it begins. The film gets a little depressing at one point, but I'm surprised it goes there! Thankfully it's not handled gratuitously. Although it does kinda leave Waldemar's character in the lurch, since after such a traumatic shock there's not really much chance for his human side to re-emerge.

The film builds up to the climax well, with the human killer targeting Kinga, before the werewolf comes too. It's great fun seeing the two 'monsters' dueling, and the man doesn't stand a chance! Unfortunately we're left with a werewolf that doesn't give the slightest shit about killing innocent people. It's up to Mina's timely arrival to save the day, in a really nice conclusion. Previous Hombre Lobo entries tried convincing us these girls who've known Waldemar a day love him enough to end his curse. But here we believe it, not only because of the established history of these characters, but the emotion felt during this scene. It's not even romantic love, but that of friendship, yet it's enough, and I feel this is the best the series ever tackled this concept.

The solution to the killer's identity is satisfying, but it is the obvious one. But then again the movie was building up Laurent as a bigger suspect, so I suppose it not being him is less obvious. I do wonder if there was some kinda last minute rewrite or if the actor just got sick, because Laurent completely disappears. It reminded me of the ending to Sweeney Todd, where the young couple just completely vanish as to not spoil the sombre note of the ending.

I do wonder what will become of Waldermar's reputation after these events. The authorities won't be ready to admit the existence of the supernatural, and since Waldemar was a good guy, and only the werewolf inside him was bad, perhaps they could just pin all the killings on the one culprit? After all, he was already a serial killer roaming around hacking innocents to death. Does it really matter if he 'only' butchered two instead of five?

I also wondered about Waldemar's latest novel, and if he ever finished it before he died! It doesn't seem like it. But perhaps Kinga can take up the mantle. Goodness knows the poor girl will need something to keep her mind occupied after all she's gone through!

The werewolf mythos here is fairly basic. No witches, vampires, or yetis. It's a little vague, really. I'm not exactly sure why this random girl can't have babies or else they'll become monsters. Waldemar's werewolf origin is a bit less involved since it doesn't involve him directly. I also wondered where this curse has been all his life. It doesn't pass on to Waldemar's kids either. Or at least the film never delves into it.

I liked the scientific touch to some scenes. Don't worry, it doesn't try and explain away the magic as just advanced science. That's boring! Instead it's a mix, like seeing how science analyses magic.

Something I liked here is the Gypsy representation, even showing their sometimes overlooked nazi persecution. We also get negative remarks from some characters (like the psycho priest) that made me think "What is it with bloody Europeans and Gypsies?". I know as a group they definitely have serious issues they've gotta work through, but still! Thankfully this movie is clearly on the right side of the divide.

Lycantropus is directed by Francisco Rodríguez Gordillo. I've read that he apparently didn't like horror films and cut more graphic footage. Yeesh, poor Paul just can't catch a break with asshole directors, can he! If this is true (and I'm unconvinced), that's really shitty of him to tinker like that, especially to an older gent with his potential comeback! But in terms of how the film itself looks, it's very good! There are really well framed shots, some gorgeous flashes of orange, and deep blues. The lighting is dark in places, sometimes too much, but we get good highlights to separate the colours.

The effects here are good. There's some decent violence, and a few ok death scenes. They might not show enough carnage for some some peoples' liking, but it's not totally bloodless. The werewolf make-up is a highlight! It's simpler and more human, which I find an interesting and not oft seen portrayal (akin to Werewolf of London). No doubt a simpler design would be easier on the older actor too. The transformations are alright, and I liked the distorted cries and roars. There's some CGI near the end, but it's non-obtrusive.

I really liked the music in Lycantropus! There's a neat score that combines choral melodies with melancholy electric guitar twangs. It creates a nice atmosphere, and provides some neat tracks. They're moody without ever being depressing.

The cast here is a good one. Naschy is a fine lead, delivering a more emotional performance, in a low-key way. After seeing him remain fairly youthful during the 80s, age has finally caught up with him, but he's still up for some action. The glance he gives in the ending is really good, and one of his finest moments as an actor!

Amparo Munoz does well, and it's nice seeing an older lady as the lead(ish) in a horror film. Eva Isanta gives a nice enough performance as the daughter, as does Jorge R. Lucas as the mysterious Laurent. And Luis Maluenda gives a good performance as the diabolical priest. Interestingly Lycantropus contains more pronounced Spanish lisps than other films I've seen. I guess it was shot more regionally.

Lycantropus is a pretty neat example of late Spanish horror, when the genre had slowed to a crawl, before finding new life later on. As a Hombre Lobo film it's different for sure, but I honestly found it to be one of the better entries! I recommend it...

Monday, December 4, 2023

Örümcek: Turkish Spiderman (1972)

A gang of smugglers are searching for a hidden Buddha statue, which contains a cache of priceless jewels. On their trail is hero Örümcek-The Spider, who fights them at every turn. Also in the mix is a rival gang that has interests in turning the Spider to their side. Will they succeed? Or will both sides fall before his unpredictable strength?...

Örümcek is a more obscure entry in the gift that just keeps on giving-Turkish knock-offs of popular superheroes!

There's some confusion over what's what, since there are three adjacent Turkish movies with similar names. There's Örümcek from 1972 (today's film. I know, it's very black-and-white for 1972, it's Turkey), then spy/crime(?) caper Örümcek Adam from 1966. There's also Öldüren Örümcek (also 1972). Then another film altogether, starring Cuneyt Arkın, 3 Tatlı Bela (1979), which pops up a lot in searches due to its apparent alternate title Öldüren Örümcek! Confused yet? So was I! Hopefully I'm able to clear this all up for anyone else.

Let's get into the film itself. Örümcek is your typical Turkish comic book film. A tough hero runs around fighting a band of ruthless villains after treasure. Likewise, its connection to the 'source material' is minimal. The insignia is Spiderman-ish, but there's otherwise nothing. Although at least he's a good guy this time, not a madman who shoves propellers into faces!

This obviously isn't high art or anything, but it's a competently made picture. No poor directing, special effects failures, nor editing or music hiccups. You might think that'd make it less fun, but it's entertaining regardless. It's kooky in a general way, but not quite as zany or ridiculous as others of its kind. However, Örümcek has an ace up its sleeve, in that it seems to have more thought put into it than others! I'm not saying it's a hidden masterpiece or anything, but it all seems very consistent, like it wasn't just a bunch of cheap stuff and random ideas thrown together in 5 minutes.

The plot is fairly basic, with a gang of villains after a Macguffin, routinely beating up others, and get the piss beaten out of them by friendly neighbourhood hero Örümcek. Where things get interesting is in their rivalry and machinations, like trying to lure the hero into their employ through his 'Peter Parker' persona.

The Spider is a good hero. No backstory to speak of, and no real introduction. We just begin the film with this hero already active, and there's not really anything we're missing. His secret identity is mild mannered Erol, and he interacts well with the characters both masked and un. It's nice seeing a Turkish superhero whose mask actually seems to mean something.

His love interest is lounge singer Ayfe, who discovers Erol and nurses him back to health after an attack. And she ends up falling for him, while also admiring her masked savior, not realising yet they're one and the same. There's also a comic relief buddy, who mercifully doesn't get directly involved in the action. He's not terrible, but he does a good enough job on the sidelines.

The villains here are plentiful. First is head smuggler Renzo. He's a bald 'Sicilian' with a villainous moustache, and never without a woman, while his second-in-command is a younger fella with a smarmy look and weird blonde hair. Then there's a rival gang headed by a devious femme fatale, who takes the stage in the middle act with her plan of seducing and enlisting Örümcek. She's more ambiguous. There's also a duplicitous cohort and an evil blonde, who prove to be the perfect match for each-other. I figured they'd kill each-other over the treasure, but our hero gets there first.

The climax is the film at its best! The Spider gets a phone call from the villains saying they've got his girlfriend hostage. He doesn't waste any time, and immediately busts into their hideout all guns blazing, blasting away until one goon after the other falls dead, and the ringleader can do nothing but desperately run with his one remaining trump card in tow, before Örümcek unleashes an eight-legged Turkish beatdown on his ass!

Then we get individual battles for each of the remaining villains, with the first being beaten to death from our hero bashing his head into a sandy beach. Then Renzo gets a surprisingly graphic knifing! The ending is short, but satisfying, and feels like a legit ending! Instead of cutting immediately from the villain's death to SON, we get a final scene with the hero and allies, including a sweet interaction with his ladyfriend.

The action here is fun! We've got some good dust-ups, gunplay, and more. The leading man pulls of some good athletics, jumping and swinging around enough befitting his name. And the motorbike attack is fantastic and unexpected, not only because of how crazy it is, but also just the logistics of seeing something like this in such a zero-budget film!

The effects are pretty good. Namely there's the hero's costume. It's less a spandex outfit and more like Evil Knievel (or a Power Ranger as some say). No real resemblance to Spidey, though he plasters his insignia wherever he can.

Once you get your head around it being different, the costume is a pretty neat one! It's got a good uniformity, neat spider emblem, and he's even got a snazzy cowl under the helmet, which is a nice touch. His distinct face isn't disguised in the slightest, but naturally that's of no concern in a superhero film. Even a domino mask can hide your identity.

The cast here is fine for what this is. Hüseyin Zan is a surprisingly paunchy leading man. Although this is Turkey, where such body shapes were to be expected. Hülya Darcan is a pretty love interest, while Yeşim Yükselen is genuinely good as the femme fatale, giving some icy cold expressions with stylish cigarette smoke. Altan Günbay and Istemi Betil are alright as the other villains, though don't get as much time to shine. Interestingly enough Altan, who usually played second-in-command, is head honcho this time!

The soundtrack here is standard action stuff, with a few surprises. The first is In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida over the opening credits, which...certainly sets a mood! Not sure what kind. Then there's a nice instrumental of...Wild World?? Talk about unexpected!

The direction in Örümcek is decent. It captures the action and stunts well, the motorbike shot particularly. There's some frenetic editing in places. And the locations are pretty good, namely the old cavern that we keep returning to. Complete with an obviously new bricked up spot. Also, day and night are clearly distinguished here, barring one notable exception!

To answer where you can even watch the film, has it, but for me it's always acted funny and not played the picture. Through a little searching I found it on youtube, and it's in better quality!...But is missing about 3 scenes. The rock-themed opening credits, a sex scene between our hero and the gang lady (wonder what his girlfriend thinks!), and the fatal confrontation between blondie and whatsisface. No idea why these are missing, but hopefully the channel restores them. The film can be found in full elsewhere too for those who know how/where to look.

Örümcek may not exactly live up to the sobriquet of Turkish Spiderman exactly, and it's not the best of the Turkish pulp hero cycle, but in some ways it outclasses the others, and is still an entertaining and blissfully short offering, well worth watching to kill an hour!...