Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman (1971): or, My Love Affair with Naschy Begins

On the night of the full moon, a police inspector and coroner are conversing in the morgue over the recently slain body of Waldemar Daninsky, alleged werewolf. With two silver bullets in his heart, courtesy events in very wild and wooly previous movie (The Fury of the Wolfman--review soon), Daninsky is about as dead as a muscled-up Polish nobleman can get. There is some dispute amongst the conversants, however. The inspector, a village man, believes that Daninsky might in fact be a werewolf--after all, it took silver bullets to bring him down, and he does have El Marco del Hombre-Lobo, a pentagonal scar on his beefy chest. The coroner, a man of science, is having none of that poppycock. To prove it's all just superstition, stuff and nonsense, he removes the silver bullets from Daninsky's heart, reasoning that if he is a werewolf, he should come back to life, which is obviously impossible. Right?

No--he's predictably, tragically wrong. A couple of neck-rips and a snarling exit later, Daninsky is on the loose again, ripping the bodice and throat out of a passing buxom beauty as the credits roll. WHY do they always take the silver out? WHY WHY WHY?

Suddenly we're whisked away to a club in Paris, where Elvira is explaining to her boyfriend and the audience why she's taking an extended trip into the European countryside: she's doing research on the infamous vampire, Countess Wandessa, whose grave is rumored to be around here, somewhere. There's some spectacular flashback footage of the satanic countess holding black masses, sacrificing virgins, and being beheaded, intercut with some even more spectacular French hipster-dancing. Soon enough Elvira is on her way, her incredibly hot friend Genevieve in tow.

They arrive at the rumored gravesite, which just happens to be near Castle Daninsky, where the newly resurrected Waldemar is brooding over his curse. Like Lawrence Talbot before him, all Waldemar wants is release from his curse, even if it's the sweet release of eternal slumber. However, his lycantrhopy makes him effectively immortal, as we've learned. Unable to face another night of slaughtering the innocent, the good-hearted Daninsky is seeking the legendary Silver Cross, a holy relic rumored to have the power to dispel the powers of darkness and break curses. And where is this holy dagger? Why, in the grave of the satanic Countess Wandessa, of course, nestled snugly between her rotting ribs. When Elvira and Genevieve arrive at the castle and learn that Waldemar is seeking the same thing they are (though he keeps his reasons from them), they decide to search together. What are the chances, huh?

The Werewolf

Of course they find the grave and remove the dagger from the corpse's chest. In the process Genevieve is wounded, and some of her blood drips onto the dessicated lips of the Countess. Cursed Fate! Before long the Countess stalks again, and has added Genevieve to her ever-growing army of Undead Hotness. Waldemar goes on some more wolfed-out rampages, much to the detriment of the local villagers, and the Countess also takes a bite out of the population. Meanwhile Elvira is falling hard for Daninsky, which is lucky in a way, since he can only be truly killed by a woman who loves him. But first he must defeat the evil he has unwittingly unleashed, leading to a battle of monsters alluded to so subtly in the film's title.

If you aren't grinning with giddy excitement at the prospect of this battle, you may as well get off the train NOW.

This was my first real exposure to the famous Daninsky Saga written by and starring Spanish horror legend Paul Naschy (nee Jacinto Molina, his nom de plume for writing credits), and for me it was nothing less than a revelation. It's such a throwback to the Universal horrors that I absolutely worship, monster mashes like House of Dracula and Frankentstein Meets the Wolf Man (the latter of which Naschy freely admits was an inspiration and model for his film career) that might have been light on the scares but were always heavy on the fun. In an age when others were making films about mad killers and cannibal clans and rape-revenge stories, Naschy was turning his immense energy, creativity, and childlike joy to the classic monsters of yesteryear and giving them new life. And doing it on a shoestring, often making movies with less money than a concurrent Hollywood production would spend on catering.

The Vampire Woman

There's something about the kitchen-sink nature of Naschy's scripts (A werewolf! AND a vampire! AND a mad scientist! AND zombies!) that always makes me grin like an idiot as well--he's like a kid in a candy store, trying to pick a treat and in the end taking all of them. It's campy stuff, but it's just so damn much fun. So the effects are not always the greatest, the acting not always top drawer, the dubbing not always spot-on--Naschy's movies always had more vitality, heart and joy in every frame than can fit on your screen. And that, to me, is magic.

Which is not to say that it's all so-bad-it's-good stuff. Director Leon Klimovsky manages some great stuff here, particularly the dreamlike slow-motion effects on the vampire women, which really makes them seem otherworldly and weird in the old sense. And Naschy has charisma to burn, striking just the right balance between the tragic human side and the bestial, vicious werewolf. (If you can watch him bounding through the crypts and breaking chains and tearing down doors and ripping strips of human jerky off his prey without giggling, again, just get off the train NOW.) And the story, while admittedly silly, is never boring.

(There's some great, trademark Naschy stuff in his performance in WWvVW that you'll see flashes of in his later movies if you catch the fever: his obvious excitement and enthusiasm when loping through the woods or crypts in wolf form; the werewolf's copious drool; the aforementioned human jerky; and his patented LEAP ATTACK! fighting method. But my favorite moment in this film is right before the showdown with Wandessa, when Waldermar comes in carrying the deadly Silver Cross, having dispatched the Countess's servants. With a hairy swagger he goes to the door and buries the blade in the entrance, effectively preventing Wandessa's escape, as much as to say, "Only one of us is walkin' out of here, bitch, and that person will be covered with hair." AWESOME.)

It's hard for me to write about this movie, because I love it so much and I want everyone else in the world to love it too. But I know this is not the case. In my experience, you either "get" Naschy or you don't--and I don't mean by that to imply that there's some big intellectual secret that smart people watching the movies "get" and dumb people don't, but rather that there's just a certain attitude toward the enjoyment of films like this that you either have or don't. If you don't have it, you will never enjoy a Naschy film. You will get caught up on the admittedly bad acting, the ridiculous plot lines, the low-budget effects and the crazy music, and just shake your head disgusted by the whole thing. This is just not the type of movie for you.

C'mon, what else do you NEED?

However, if you can enjoy the passion that is brought to bear on every Naschy flick, his obsession with the old school Universal monsters , the kitchen-sink nature of the scripts, the sometimes surprising prrversity (naked Eurobabes are a staple), and yes, the camp factor, then you simply cannot have a better time watching movies than with a Naschy production. You'll laugh at him, you'll cheer with him, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the periodic successful shots or interesting, unique plot developments. Even his re-use of the Waldemar Daninsky character and plot elements in different films* adds up over time to a sort of tapestry mythology that is unlike anything else in film. No, I'm serious. It is.

*In the more than a dozen movies Naschy made in the Daninsky saga, only a few have any continuity with each other. Certain elements--the Silver Cross, attacks by highwaymen, the doomed love affair--are used again and again, but with different settings and situations. As Naschy writes in his wonderful autobiography, Memoirs of a Wolfman, Daninsky is "free to move throughout time and space"; sometimes modern, sometimes medieval, and once even turning up in feudal Japan!

Anyway, like I say, if you're not on Naschy's wavelength, nothing I can say will make you enjoy The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Women. And I feel bad for you, I really do. Because if you are on that wavelength, there aren't enough thumbs to rate it. So let's just set this at a suitably excessive 3 dozen thumbs and call it a day. To find out whether you agree, just watch it. Now.

Note: a few years back Anchor Bay put out a spiffy release of this under its original English title, Werewolf Shadow. This is a good disc, but I prefer the WWvVW edit--better music, and the film benefits in some scenes, I think, by not having the greatest print. But hey, that's just me. See for yourself.


The Duke of DVD said...

Once again, bravo on the stellar review, Vicar! I honestly believe that this may indeed be the pinnacle of Daninsky films, and it contains no shortage of badassery. Awesome camera techniques, freaky vampire women, and leap attacks that are off the charts awesome are only a small sampling of what this film has to offer. No serious horror geek should be without this one in their collection.

The Vicar of VHS said...

Thank you, Duke. If only one person watches and appreciates WWvVW because of my humble efforts here, my life's work will not have been in vain.

Of course my reviews of the rest of the Daninsky Saga, many of which you have already read, will follow in due course. But this one had to be done first, for obvious reasons.

Tenebrous Kate said...

Confession: I have a Naschy-shaped void in my movie knowledge. It's sad but true, Vicar. I'd like to think I could un-see things like "Exterminator City" and "Star Wars Episodes I - III" and replace them with Paul Naschy movies, judging by your description of this film. School me--is this a good place to begin my Werewolf Saga journey? I NEED TO KNOW!

Samuel Wilson said...

This was my first Naschy film under its Anchor Bay alias of Werewolf Shadow, and I believe it has more titles besides. I watched it with a friend who is a werewolf buff, but the peppy Euro-pop opening music made it hard for him to take the film seriously. But Naschy just has a way of spitting gobs of gore on the floor that made him admit that it was an entertaining film if not necessarily a good one.

The Vicar of VHS said...

As you're probably aware, Sam, I totally and completely REJECT the distinction between "entertaining" and "good." In my world, the delineation is meaningless. :)

There was a time, however, when I was much more serious minded (and not coincidentally had a lot less fun), and like your friend found the less-polished and more exuberant flicks like Naschy's not to taste. Thank goodness I outgrew that stage--the joy waiting for everyone under the Naschy banner is something not to be missed. :)

help@ilovewerewolves.com said...

I really dont like werewolf movies when they get this old. I think they do a much better job with the modern day Hollywood style, not the 70's...

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