Thursday, August 14, 2008

Night of the Werewolf (1981): or, The Werewolf versus EVEN MORE Vampire Women!

By now I could probably just provide you with a list of "Daninsky Components" present in any of Paul Naschy's werewolf movies and you could come up with a pretty good approximation of the plot. Motif-wise, there's almost nothing here that we haven't seen before: Witch's Curse, Vampire Women, Resurrected Daninsky, Graverobbers, Highwaymen, Countryside Rampage, the Loved One who Must Kill the Werewolf, and of course that famous silver crucifix/dagger. With the exception of a few "everything and the kitchen sink too!" efforts (Fury of the Wolfman, Frankenstein's Bloody Terror), Jacinto doesn't really seem that interested in re-inventing the wheel every time he takes up his favorite character's continuing, incongruent adventures. He's got all the pieces he needs--no need to go out and buy or create a new set. Just use the Legos you've got.

But that's the thing about a good set of Legos: put them together right, and you can make almost ANYTHING. And like that Mad Lego Brickmaster, Molina proves again and again that he can take those pre-defined, pre-fabricated building blocks he's created in previous chapters of the Waldemar Daninsky saga and put them together in an infinite variety of exciting, surprising, crowd-pleasing ways. And 1980's Night of the Werewolf (aka El Retorno del Hombre Lobo), the first Daninsky movie that Jacinto directed in addition to scripting, is certainly no exception to that golden rule.

The film begins (no surprise here) with a 1400s version of Waldemar Daninsky in chains, crucified before a panel of religious judges. But Daninsky is not the main attraction here--no, the star of medieval Court TV is Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess, infamous for her reputed pact with the Devil and her factual murder of many peasant virgins to bathe in their blood and remain forever young. Here she is depicted as both a witch and an arrogant aristocrat, as she curses her executioners from her place on the stand--like you do. Even when her faithful, musclebound, bald-headed manservant is beheaded, she shows not an inkling of remorse or fear.

"I'm out of order? YOU'RE out of order!"

After that gruesome scene, we learn that Waldemar is condemned to death for his curse of lycanthropy, because during the full moon the Blood Countess has been using her witchy powers to control him and thus augment tenfold the terror that a werewolf would ordinarily wreak on a community. The bearded, saintly Daninsky accepts his punishment with a humble prayer, hoping that perhaps now, at last, his soul may rest in peace. But even as they rivet the Mask of Dishonor on his face (an obvious and awesome nod to Bava's Black Sunday) and drive a familiar silver cross/dagger into his heart, we know that his prayer will not be granted.

From there we jump to--where else?--a Euro-pool party, circa 1980! Yes, the kids are really swingin' poolside, as a trio of bikini-clad babes discuss their upcoming "research" trip with some 80s-style hunks. After the conversation with the boys takes a startlingly abrupt turn toward the ugly (the "c" bomb is deployed with extreme prejudice), we find the more witchy-looking of the girls in a gothic manor house conversing with what can only be described as the Spanish love-child of Mark Twain and Colonel Sanders. Pay attention, this is important.

"My Special Spices? Well, I suppose I could show you..."

The Twain of Spain possesses an amulet purported to have "black magic" powers, and the girl wants to borrow it for her research trip, on which she hopes to discover the grave of Elizabeth Bathory. When Colonel Angus refuses his extra-crispy assistance, she admits that she's not just a student, she's also a servant of the Devil! She's quite prepared to pry the amulet from the Colonel's cold dead lap, and in fact does so after a vicious chain strangulation! Did somebody say road trip?

Meanwhile, a couple of the slimier graverobbers it's ever been my pleasure to see are treading steadfastly toward the very tomb our Satanic hottie is hoping to discover. One is skinny with a speech impediment, the other fat and generating enough body oils to lubricate the NY Times' entire battery of printing presses. The oily one is very dapper, with an ornate cane (silver topped!) and cape. They quickly uncover the corpse of Waldemar, and like so many thieves before them, simply cannot resist the shiny pretty dagger sticking out of his chest! Quicker than you can say "Oof my larynx!" the graverobbers lie dead in the very grave they tried to rob, the crypt now tragically empty...

"Did I ever mention how well lantern light becomes you?"

Cut to--where else?--a Bavarian inn! Where apparently fashion stopped around the same time they made that famous purity law, as everyone is dressed in period costumes except our trio of beloved Belial-Lovin' babes. Some highwaymen are making carouse at the same bar, and overhear the girls' plans to head to "the castle." Of course the villains follow to pillage and rape, not necessarily in that order. But in the midst of their attack they are thwarted by a few well-placed crossbow bolts from the weapon of a mysterious stranger! Before the girls can thank their deliverer he disappears, never having shown his face.

Their suspense doesn't last long, though, as in the ruins of the castle they find the bodies of the graverobbers and are greeted by a disfigured wench (?) who frightens one of the girls into the waiting arms of crossbow-totin' Paul. (Paul's first appearance here, framed in the window of the ruined castle, wearing a medieval hunting outfit and holding his crossbow at the ready, is truly an image for the ages.) Gentlemanly to a fault, Paul quickly invites the girls back to the manor house for dinner and a warm bed, and the disfigured servant girl's history is explained (Paul saved her from burning at the stake, somehow--the chronology here is murky).


However, the girls are onto him, being fully informed about Bathory's history and the existence of the werewolf who should have been in the tomb but wasn't. We're treated to a gratuitous all-girl basin-washing scene (sponge baths for everyone!) and then in another part of the village we meet a co-ed coterie of black-market cigarette smugglers in the form of a dirty, thieving gypsy and his woman. Because gypsies is always horny, the two snuff their black-market butts in order to GET IT ON--but unfortunately their coitus is interruptussed by the transformed and totally pissed off Daninsky!

Their shotgun--it does nothing! After taking a point-blank blast to the chest and shrugging it off like a luxurious silken bathrobe, the werewolf takes the gun away and shows his disdain for conventional weaponry by BREAKING IT IN HALF! I don't care how tough a gypsy you are, that's gotta be a pants-filling development. A moment later Daninsky proves that cigarettes kill--or if they don't, lycanthropes are fully able to take up the slack.

"Oh Lord--why have I been cursed with such huge pectoral muscles?"

In between rampages Paul begins to woo Karen, the least evil of the three witchy wymmyn, who is of course putty in his muscular paws. Meanwhile, the other two girls have found Bathory's tomb, and raise the Blood Countess from the dead with a gore-soaked and very arousing ritual. Soon they both become Bathory's vampire brides, and the bald-beheaded servant is likewise resurrected--recapitated but still decomposed--setting the stage for the final showdown between the vampire women, their zombie henchman, and the werewolf. Am I the only one turned on by this? I think not.

Some nice set pieces follow--Paul and Karen gettin' it awn, showing off Paul's famous pentagonal scar on those Olympian pecs; Bathory getting a blood shower courtesy a peasant wench (zang); two robbers picking the wrong house to try their "Ooh, I'm a priest!" scam and getting drained for their trouble; and in my favorite scene in the movie, Paul and the Twain-killing devil-vamp going head to head in a seduction showdown, which ends with them making out on a silk-draped bed, with a full length mirror opposite showing that the ass Paul is grabbing is not really there! It's so goddamn beautiful, words fail me.

He sees it; he just doesn't care.

The climactic showdown lets Paul play Waldemar in tournament mode, as he mows down the zombie servant, vamp-bride #1, and even has to take out his disfigured servant girl who Bathory has turned to the side of eeevil. (Karen bloodily dispatches vamp-bride #2 in an earlier confrontation using that famous dagger/cross.)

But Bathory didn't get to be a famously eeevil bitch of Satan for nothing, and before Paul can get to her, the Blood Countess shocks him by turning Karen into a vampire! His one hope for release now tragically gone over to the other team (ooer), Paul stands all alone against the ever-growing army of the hawt undead!

I've got a vampire bulge.

The final battle between Bathory and Daninsky more than lives up to the hype, as the Blood Countess proves she's no slouch in a real slobberknocker! Paul smashes flying coffins and executes a textbook LEAP ATTACK to bring her reign of terror to an drooly, chewy end.

Freed from the curse of the vampire, Karen still has a rampaging, slightly randy werewolf to deal with, as the blood-frenzied Daninsky turns on her with tragic results. Unfortunately--or perhaps blessedly--Karen had been clutching the Silver Cross for protection and slides it between Paul's ribs in their last embrace, putting a tragic and AWESOME end to their star-crossed love story. Killed by and killing the woman he loved, Paul finds depiliated peace.

"I could write a sonnet, about your Vampire Bonnet..."

An almost-remake of the mmmmmasterpiece WWvVW, Night of the Werewolf stands out as one of the best-executed, seriously produced entries in the Daninsky Canon. The production values are extremely high, the direction by Molina shows inventiveness (q.v. the mirror scene, the blood shower) and his usual irrepressible enthusiasm for the material. Although there are the par-for-the-course logical flubs you just have to grin at (why are the townspeople not surprised Paul suddenly shows up and retakes the manor house? Those aristocrats pop up all the time, I guess...also, when could he have POSSIBLY saved the girl from a burning? He JUST WOKE UP AFTER CENTURIES OF SLEEP!), the story is brisk, engaging, and easy to get behind.

As for the Man himself, Paul has really never looked better. ROCKIN' the rugged manly beard and the black silk shirt open to the navel, Paul sends out such waves of man-musk, even over the years and through your DVD player, that mere mortals are powerless to resist. The werewolf makeup is refined to a terrific iconic perfection, and a lengthy transformation scene in which Naschy pretty much wrecks the whole castle in his throes of agony--well, you just have to stand up and cheer! And Naschy-as-director proves that his vision is no less powerful than his pheromones--he uses the absolutely wonderful gothic sets to stage some truly striking compositions, and the imagery in this film is some of the most beautiful I've seen outside of Curse of the Devil, even surpassing that mmmmmasterpiece in some ways. Just gorgeous.


And while Patty Shepard as Countess Wandessa in WWvVW is still a sentimental favorite, it has to be said that Julia Saly has it going ON as Elizabeth Bathory, with amazing diaphanous black gowns, a never-to-be-equaled headdress, and perpetually bloodshot eyes that are more than a little unsettling, not to mention HAWT. She's one eeeevil lady, yo, and a more than worthy adversary to the Mighty Mighty Molina.

Night of the Werewolf is a fantastic Naschy flick, using all the great components from the mythology in inventive ways, and utilizing the bigger budget to the fullest. The only thing missing, sadly, was the werewolf jerky, though we do get more than a quota of drool. 3+ thumbs easily, and a must-see for any Jacintophile.

The Winner, and Still Champion


Tenebrous Kate said...

Your Legos metaphor is sound, accurate and all around good, and as always your review just gets better from there. I just recently watched this movie, so it's fresh in the Tenebrous Memory and I just find myself nodding and agreeing with everything you've said. I really dug the direct linkage to the Bathory legend in this movie, and--really--who doesn't love an excuse for not one but TWO blood-shower sequences? Yeah, you know what I like, Jacinto--more, more, more!

OCKerouac said...

I fear that even through the praise, the biggest Naschy-tastic skill of them all has been lost to a new era... How can someone keep making the exact same film with only minor changes in a day and age when there was no 'cut and paste' feature available for the script writing process?

I also agree heartily with the Empress... The direct link to history's most nefarious real life ghoulie gal lends an almost documenarian quality to the whole flick... If you're really, really drunk...

The Vicar of VHS said...

Empress--glad you got to see this one! Yes, the Bathory historicity is most awesome, and the effectiveness of the blood shower sequences cannot be overstated.

ockerouac--Ah, but it only LOOKS like the exact same movie at a cursory glance...peer deeper into the frame, and there are layers of difference, whole undiscovered strata containing mysteries and wonders barely dreamed in the synopsis! See the full-length mirror shot above. It's a collage-like richness of image and trope, a tapestry of awesome.

I may be a little biased.

The Duke of DVD said...

"waves of man-musk" indeed! Such an awesome movie. That initial shot of Paul with the crossbow never fails to quicken my pulse and marks the beginning of a serious case of priapism that doesn't go away until long after the movie is over.

Bravo on a brilliant review of a stunningly awesome movie, Vicar!

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