Friday, June 5, 2009

Werewolf Woman (1976): or, The Bitch is Back


It could be argued that Rino Di Silvestro's 1976 offering Werewolf Woman (aka Legend of the Wolf Woman, aka Naked Werewolf Woman) both is and isn't a "real" werewolf movie. Those coming down on the naysaying side would point out that, except for an opening flashback that could be taken as fantasy, star Annik Borel undergoes no full-moon transformations to a fur-covered snarling beast--her "change" is of a psychological nature, triggered by early childhood trauma and susceptibility to suggestion rather than by the bite of some damnable hound of hell. Ergo, not a werewolf.

On the other hand, lycanthropy as a psychological disorder has been known and documented for centuries--human beings who because of illness (rabies, porphyria), madness, or some other trauma turn into bestial, reasonless berserkers, attacking strangers and loved ones and sometimes even engaging in cannibalism. In fact, some folklorists and anthropologists hypothesize that in conditions such as these lie the origins of the werewolf myth. Taken from this angle, Werewolf Woman could be viewed as a more "true" werewolf movie than more folklore-centric examples of the genre such as The Wolf Man, La Marca del Hombre-Lobo, and The Werewolf of Washington.

But whether you consider Werewolf Woman a true werewolf movie or not, you can't deny its basic bone-deep MADness. Like a mash-up of She-Wolf of London and Abel Ferrara's Ms. 45, Werewolf Woman puts the "lunatic" in "lunar cycles," and the "rape" in "rapacious moon-beast." All this and a death-by-junkyard crane too? Sign me up!

"You can dance if you want to, you can leave your friends behind..."

I always appreciate it when a filmmaker puts his cards on the table from the very beginning, and whatever his technical shortcomings, Di Silvestro does NOT fuck around. We open with a naked woman (Borel) standing in a circle of fire, doing some kind of wild interpretive dance under the full moon. The credits roll while the woman gyrates most lasciviously and claws at her own bare flesh. The director leaves no part of the sex un-'sploited here; in fact one lucky production member even gets his credit directly under the furry mistletoe, IYKWIM. I'm not sure of all the nuances of every dance move, but the basic concept behind the piece seems to be, "Come down, Lord Satan, and make my entire body as hairy and bushy as THIS!" Being an indulgent sort, Old Scratch complies.

It's not long before a torch-bearing mob in period costumes are descending on the scene, establishing that we're in an era in which hypertrichosis is treated by direct application of flame. The wolflady scurries into the forest, where her shaggy coat gives her excellent camouflage. Soon Hartley, a lonely hunter, wanders by (note to prospective werewolf posse members: ALWAYS use the buddy system!) , and the beast attacks! She rips his throat out with her teeth, and then for good measure picks up the axe he dropped and cleaves his skull in twain! Which seems like overkill to me, but what do I know? I'm no werewolf woman.


You're going to need a bigger pair of tweezers.

Drawn by the hunter's girlish screams of terror, the mob soon captures the snarling beastette, binds her to a stake, and burns her alive--which I believe marks the first time I've seen a werewolf dispatched in this way. I did find the idea of the werewolf's curse being sought out actively through witchcraft and devil worship an interesting one, as it's in keeping with a lot of the older lycanthropic folklore. (An example of one such story can be read here.) Unfortunately that's about as far as they take the idea in this flick, since once the flames start singing the womanwolf's chest hair Daniella Neseri (Borel again) wakes up screaming from her horrible nightmare!

As it turns out the story we've just witnessed is a chapter of the Neseri family record, of which modern descendant Daniella has recently become aware. Daniella lives with her father the Count (Tino Carraro, who looks like he could crumble to dust at any time) at their opulent ancestral manor. The Count is protective of his impressionable young daughter, who at age 13 was viciously raped by a village tough. This trauma has turned her into a fragile recluse terrified of men and sex. She's not a little girl anymore, though, and her burgeoning natural sexual urges are now at war with her traumatic history and fear.

When Daniella's worldly sister Elena (the passably hawt Dagmar Lassander) returns for a visit with her handsome fiance, Daniella is both attracted and repulsed by her sister's sexual freedom. This ambivalence manifests itself in Daniella having visions of gore covered ghosts and nightmares of sharing her bed with a monitor lizard that crawls up her legs to come to rest on her crotch! What do you say about that, Dr. Freud?

Hung like a snake.

Later that night Daniella spies on the happy couple making love, which makes her horny and confused. She flees into the woods outside the manor; hearing the noise of her departure, the fiance follows to see what (the fuck) is up with his future sister-in-law.

Out in the forest, under a full moon, alone with a handsome slab of Eurohunk, Daniella is overcome by strange desires. She throws herself at him, and being a healthy Italian male who just left one Eurobabe in bed, the fiance responds by making out with his betrothed's sister. Like you do. It's a fatal mistake in more ways than one, as in the throes of passion Daniella makes her dreams come true by ripping out his jugular with her teeth and tossing his body down a ravine! Back in her room, the new trauma puts her into a catalyptic state, which prompts her father to have her institutionalized at last.

The police puzzle over the fiance's body (looks like it was attacked by an animal!), Elena vents her venomous grief on her sister, the Count grows increasingly frail, and Daniella stays mostly comatose in her new environs. But when a nymphomaniac inmate, recently rebuffed by her handsome doctor, decides to molest Daniella instead (!), she too gets murdered for her sexual trouble. Shocked out of her coma, Daniella escapes the institution and takes it on the lam, killing a female doctor in her car and later another hapless woman whom she happens to see fucking her boyfriend in a barn. It's a killing spree!

"Let me teach you about your body!"

The sexual aspect of Daniella's psychological lycanthropy is interesting here. Terrified of men and feeling powerless against them, Daniella takes the persona of her legendary ancestor, whose shapeshifting ability and supernatural strength put her on the dominant side of the dichotomy. It's an interesting twist that after killing the first man she's attracted to Daniella proceeds to kill three women in a row, but tied up as they are with her sexual neuroses (all except the doctor, anyway), it makes a kind of crazy sense. It was certainly something I hadn't seen before in a werewolf movie, and I give it props for that.

Still rather slow to put two and two together, the police call in the big guns, namely Inspector Modica (Frederick Stafford, who looks like a poor man's Christopher George). As the Inspector grills Count Neseri and questions whether animals really did do for the fiance, Daniella hitches a ride from an aged Lothario who offers her a place to stay in exchange for certain services, iykwim. When Daniella defaults on her end of the deal, the misogynistic old man (who drops the cunt, whore, and bitch bombs with alarming regularity in his pillow talk) figures she must be one of those crazy chicks who likes to be taken by force. "You'd like me to rape you, eh? All right, I'll play that game--I like it, it'll be more exciting for us!" What a charmer. Of course in this movie an old perv and his trachea are soon parted, and Daniella's on the road again.

Things start to look up for our werelady when she stumbles into an abandoned village where a hunky and sensitive stunt man is staying to practice jumping through windows and off buildings in his down time. The exact opposite of her previous suitor, this guy treats her with respect, keeps his hands to himself, and happily sleeps on the sofa to let her rest in the master bedroom behind locked doors. In a couple of weeks love blooms between the two (including a great falling-in-love montage where the stunt man falls off towers only to spring up and make out with her, or crashes through glass directly into her arms), and Daniella can finally give herself to a man without thereafter bathing in his hot arterial spray. Ain't love grand?

Bruno was thrilled to find a woman who loved it doggie-style.

Of course there's still nearly a half-hour to go in the movie, so tragedy is lurking around the corner. After Daniella goes to town to call her father and let him know she's all right, she's followed home by some leather-clad biker types who break into the house and rape her, undoing all the good the falling-in-love montage just did. It's actually a pretty vicious scene that goes on a lot longer than necessary, adding another layer of dirt to what's already been a fairly sleazy exercise. The stunt man returns home, attempts a gallant rescue in a long and similarly brutal fist fight, only to be stabbed to death by one of the rapists. The one good man in her life destroyed by a ravenous pack of despoilers, Daniella goes round the bend for good.

The last part of the movie concerns Daniella getting her revenge on the rapists Ms. 45-style, only instead of dressing up as a nun and blasting away with a heater she uses a wrench, an auto-crane, and fire. Shortly thereafter she's captured by the police in a reprise of the opening dance, and a voice-over informs us she died in an institution years later, this is a true story, names have been changed, etc. etc. The end.

The movie has a lot of action in it, and when it's hitting on all cylinders it keeps you interested and moving along. There are a few too many scenes with Inspector Modica hashing out his theories about what's happening (tiresome, since we've already seen it happen and he's always 100% correct), but Daniella's murders, redemption, and second fall are handled fairly well. The love-nest sequence when she's happy with the stunt man is cheesy in what I found to be an endearing way, and the total gear-change of her modus operandi at the end was odd but not boring.

"Smell like I sound, I'm lost in a crowd,
I'm on the hunt, I'm after you..."


As to the acting, Borel has to look zombified a lot and does it well, her lunacy is suitably maniacal, and her animalistic cries upon attack are strange and a little unsettling. She's also naked about as often as she's clothed, with a decent body and a frequently displayed Eurobush. Dagmar Lassander is good as Elena, and her antagonistic relationship with her sister and her bitchy accusations after her fiance's death are highlights. The rest of the cast is pretty much standard 70s Italian cheapie level, but no one stood out as unusually bad. There's more flesh than Borel's on display, of course, and most of it is pretty attractive. So there's that.

As a werewolf movie, Werewolf Woman may fail for some viewers, but I found it an intriguing twist on the folklore and was entertained by it. It had enough cheesiness and sleaziness to keep a Eurotrash afficianado satisfied too, even if de Silvestro's direction was nothing spectacular. Therefore, I give Werewolf Woman a 2.25 thumb rating. It's available on the Mill Creek Nightmare Worlds 50-movie set and elsewhere. Give it a spin.

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7 comments:

Richard of DM said...

OMG! The greatest Italian werewolf/non-werewolf movie ever made! Werewolf Woman is like Love Story, only more romantic.

The Duke of DVD said...

Sweet Jesus, that last screen cap fills me with conflicting emotions. On one hand, I want to vomit in terror at those nipples, which you could dial a phone with or perhaps put an eye out. On the other hand, I like European women, so the hair doesn't bother me.

Superb review, Vicar! I have yet to watch this one, and now I know that I must.

Al Bruno III said...

Once again you have made me reconsider a film I didn't think worth my time.

Thank you for that.

And one of these days one of you guys has to take on POINT OF TERROR.

I'll even loan you my copy.

Jenn said...

Like Daniella, I think I'm horny and confused. Well, not so much confused really. Except by the monitor lizard come to rest in the crotchal area.

Excellent write up, I love a good female werewolf flick! Subtext abounds!

Samuel Wilson said...

That Mill Creek disc is letterboxed, too, if I recall right -- and I still haven't watched it yet. That must change.

Oddly enough, your review left me wondering if your old pal Waldemar Daninsky ever dealt with a werewolf woman. I imagine he'd know how to treat them right.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Richard--I agree! In fact many classic movies would have been better with werewolves. Imagine THE MALTESE FALCON if Bogart had gone lupine while stalking gunsels, or GONE WITH THE WIND giving "I'll never go hungry again!" all new meaning! SOMEBODY GET ME AN AGENT!

@Duke--Luckily for you, Borel is sans most of that hair for the rest of the movie. Most, I say--there is definitely FRB in evidence, and she's not shy. ;)

@Al Bruno III--Caveat Lector: as you know, the Duke and I have rather unusual tastes, and our stamp of approval is not necessarily a guarantee that it'll be a fun time for everyone. However, if your proclivities are as rarefied as ours, you might just have a good time w/it.

Haven't seen Point of Terror, but now I'm interested!

@Jenn--Ooer, missus!

@Samuel Wilson--the screengrabs here are all from the Mill Creek print, so yes, it's letterboxed. Which is unusual for MC, really. And as a matter of fact Daninsky DID fight a female werewolf in FURY OF THE WOLFMAN (previously reviewd)--and she was his wife whom he "killed" early in the flick in his first wolf-out! Love weaves a tangled web...

Michael J. said...

A standout example in the "based on a true story" werewolf genre. Still thought it would work better as a straight-on horror subject, though. I was stuck (not literally) by Borel's commitment to the role -- not a shy girl in front of the camera. Too bad she dropped out of sight shortly after this; she could'a been a Scream Diva of the highest order.

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