Monday, March 3, 2008

Fury of the Wolfman (1972): or, I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Village

We've all had the experience, usually as young children or adolescents, of discovering for the first time something that gives us such intense pleasure that it immediately becomes all we want to do. Cartoons, video games, candy, masturbation--these things when first experienced enslave the imagination and subjugate the will. Ordinarily we have parents or other role models nearby to warn us against overindulgence, to guide us toward healthy enjoyment of our pleasures. However, parents can't be everywhere all the time, and occasionally a kid will find himself at a circus with ten dollars in his pocket and a cotton candy vendor right in front of him, or home alone with a brand new container of Vaseline and the inside scoop on where Dad keeps his Playboys. When this happens, the child in question must learn the hard way--through stomachaches or painfully stretched genital tissue--the previously unfathomed value of restraint.

Watching Fury of the Wolfman, I get the feeling that director José María Zabalza was unwittingly teaching a young Jacinto Molina just this lesson.

Any fan of Paul Naschy's knows what an exuberant, passionate, explosively creative force of nature he is. In fact he's at his best when throwing caution to the winds and letting his fervent imagination bring all his childish enthusiasm for the gothic and epic monster battles to the fore. But never have I seen that force so wildly unrestrained as in 1972's The Fury of the Wolfman.

It's like a Naschy hurricane. It's an eruption of Molina. It's the molten nuclear core of the Naschy reactor opened up and pushed to meltdown. And like an overindulgence of cotton candy or an overzealous bout of self-abuse, it leaves the viewer feeling a little achy and sick.

But not before it makes you feel so, so good.

Molina took writing credit for this movie, and as is typical his script is overflowing with ideas that Zabalza jams onto the screen so fast and furious that the movie's tone is absolutely breathless. In fact, there's so much going on that, for a long flashback sequence near the beginning when Professor Waldemar Daninsky is telling his young wife Erika about the fate of the arctic expedition of which he is the lone survivor, Zabalza apparently decides there's too much going on to fit on one screen--so he stages the flashbacks in double-exposure, with two different scenes going on in the same frame at the same time! While the effect is interesting, it's also nearly impossible to follow. Still, the ghostly low-angle shot of Paul writhing in his yeti-bite-induced illness (?), his pecs cresting like the Tibetan mountains as other figures carry on in the background, is definitely one that will stick with you.

Rough day at the office.™*

*As seen on Cold Fusion Video Reviews! Crack open a cold one today!

Though the purpose of the ill-fated Arctic expedition is never quite clear, what is clear is that Paul has brought back more than frostbite from the Himalayas--he's brought back a transformative curse and a box that the Tibetan monks (!) gave him to control his bestial side. Back at the university Paul gives the box to his colleague, Dr. Ilona, a hawt ice queen who's studying mind control through science--all for the betterment of mankind, naturally. By introducing chemicals called chematrodes ("Chematrodes! Chematrodes!") into a patient's bloodstream and activating them with electrical pulses, Dr. Ilona can control the subject's actions through her own force of will. Perhaps Paul hopes Dr. Ilona can help him control the beast within--or perhaps he doesn't believe any of it and was just sharing notes. It's not exactly clear. But what is clear is that Dr. Ilona is more than a Eurobabe--she's also a mad scientist of the first order!

I’m not sure what subject Prof. Waldemar teaches, but apparently it’s one that requires both arctic expeditions AND lectures delivered to students whilst dissecting a corpse. He’s a scholar of wide-ranging interests, obviously.

Paul's got problems at home, however. After visiting with Dr. Ilona he finds a note in his car from an anonymous source with evidence that his wife has been fraternizing with students--fraternizing like a mad minx, apparently. Distraught, he drops the car in gear and floors it toward the Daninsky abode--not realizing that the note was placed there by Erika's lover, who has also tampered with the brakes! Careening out of control, Paul goes off the edge of a cliff; elsewhere, Erika and her hunky humptoy celebrate their newfound freedom.

But wait! It'll take more than a half ton of twisted metal and the puny force of gravity to stop the Mighty Mighty Molina! Surviving the crash, Paul drags himself home only to surprise his wife and the student in flagrante delicto. He transforms (though not immediately--there's an odd pause there where he just kinda hangs out) and kills them both, then takes off through the catacombs in full animalistic majesty. However, when the werewolf inexplicably picks up a downed power line (!?!?) he is shocked back to human form and apparent death.

The university mourns the passing of Professor Daninsky and the strange deaths of his student and wife (by wild animal attack, it seems!), and Professor Ilona demands a moment of silence in his honor. But her reading of the Tibetan parchments has taught her much, and she knows that Paul can be killed neither by electricity nor conventional weaponry. On a dark and stormy night she hires two grave robbers--in suits!--to dig up Paul's grave and free the beast within for her own nefarious experiments.

I should point out that at this point we're only 26 minutes into the movie. Fasten your seatbelts, we're just warming up!

"More juice! MORE! I can take it!"

They take Paul's body back to Dr. Ilona's castle in the woods (?) where she has employed an all-Eurobabe staff of scientists (!) to watch over her stable of chained lunatics (?!) while she tries to control the resurrected werewolf via chematrodes. Meanwhile, a mysterious masked figure in a cape is prowling around the lab, like the Phantom of the Opera but unconcerned with stealth, and no one seems to care.

In the ensuing madness Paul is befriended by Karen, a Eurobabe assistant with a conscience, and in short order the two find themselves imprisoned in the castle, the doors "hermetically sealed." (!?!?) But the seal is not enough to keep out a group of hippie squatters who break in to stage an orgy in the crypt (?!?!?!?!?!?!). The lunatics down there--among them an articulate Spanish dwarf--are loosed by the compassionate Karen, because...ah, who knows why? Soon the lunatics are raping the Eurobabe science staff, Paul goes on a kill-crazy hippie-axing rampage (not even in wolf form!), the identity of the Phantom is revealed, and we learn that Dr. Ilona has brought the corpse of Erika--Paul's wife from way back at the beginning, you might remember--to the castle as well.

The moon comes up, Erika is resurrected and wolfs out, and we're treated to perhaps the first married-werewolf-couple battle in film history! But does Karen love Paul enough to end his curse? Or is there some other twist here?

And what's crazy is, there's a whole other subplot with some Spanish detectives that I haven't even had time to talk about!

While I was entertained immensely by this movie--bursting into maniacal laughter every ten minutes or so--I couldn't help feeling that it was almost TOO MUCH Naschy. It was all the great things we love about Molina movies, but turned up to fifteen and kicked another football field length further from narrative logic than usual. (The only thing missing was the nekkidity, for the print we have here is obviously a cut one. According to imdb there’s another version with those scenes intact, under the title The Wolfman Never Sleeps. So watch for that!) I loved it, but eventually even I was saying, "No, Paul, pull out! You've GONE TOO FAR!"

Apparently a great deal of the cause for this is Zabalza. According to a few accounts I've found online, the director was a chronic alcoholic, and was sometimes so drunk on set that his 14-year-old nephew stepped in to tell the crew "what his uncle wanted." Yes, a 14 year old actually directed some of this movie! Not only that, but the kid rewrote some of the dialogue as well, which was recorded in post-production as was usual for export-bound European flicks at this time. Rumor has it that Molina was so enraged when he saw the final product--which in addition to having his script changed and dialogue rewritten also sported the mystifying editing, some pick-up shots with another actor in Paul's werewolf gear (blasphemy!), and a whole werewolf attack scene lifted directly from Curse of the Devil (you'll recognize it when you see it--suddenly the victims are in period costumes!)--that he swore never to work with Zabalza again, and indeed never did. And in later movies, even when he put too much into the script to fit on the screen, I don't think Paul ever went quite THIS far again.

"Another actor, in MY makeup? HOW DARE YOU?"

Still, while FotWM goes too far, that's not entirely a bad thing. It's entertaining, never boring, and sometimes quite surprising. It's chock full of weirdness from one end to the other, and if you're a fan of Naschy already, you'll be able to see echoes of many ideas from other films--the Tibetan monks for instance parallel the Eastern mystic of Vengeance of the Zombies, the "yeti" werewolf idea is revisited in Night of the Howling Beast (which I MUST SEE), and the "werewolf must be destroyed by one who loves him" is here given an interesting twist. Non-Naschy fanatics could perhaps be forgiven for writing this one off, but for connoisseurs of Molina's milieu, this is an entertaining oddity. I give it one thumb as a movie, but 2.5 as a Molina-Fan Freak-Fest.

In short, recommended!

Screencaps courtesy Cold Fusion Video! Check'em out!


Karswell said...

I reccomend this one too. I remember seeing werewolf pix of him in old monster mags long before I ever actually saw any of his films and thinking he was a great looking wolfman... and more from the "I Was A Teenage Werewolf" mold than the Chaney imitators.

Nathan said...

Boy, those screencaps looks really familiar. Really, really familiar. Heck, you even used one of my captions to clinch it.

The Vicar of VHS said...

You know what they say about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. But if you want to enforce a copyright, I'll gladly credit you.

Nathan said...

Enforce? No. But a voluntary little "screencaps courtesy" would be ever so neighborly.

The Vicar of VHS said...

Done and done. For what it's worth, I actually grabbed the pic from google images without paying much attention to the caption, though I guess it must have registered subconsciously. Still, conscious or not, it's all yours, and is now credited as such.

Love your site by the way--even if we don't share the same opinion about this little Paul Naschy gem.

Nathan said...

It may have been the lousy VHS tape I watched, lo those many years ago. (Or it may be that my consciousness wasn't as gol-darned expanded as it is these days.)

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