Friday, June 13, 2008

Assignment Terror (1970): or, Farancksollen Meets the Wolfman

About halfway through 1970's Los Monstruos del Terror, aka Assignment Terror, I sat bolt upright in my chair, mouth agape as the full import of what I had just heard onscreen slowly sunk in. When my brain finally clicked all its tumblers and the combination was true, I pointed at the character still speaking and uttered a phrase you seldom hear when applied to the werewolf films of Paul Naschy:

"Holy crap! CONTINUITY!"

That's right--this, the second installment in Jacinto Molina's legendary Daninsky Saga, actually proceeds in DIRECT CONTINUITY from the previous entry, the excellent Frankenstein's Bloody Terror. About halfway through the movie the main female protagonist's father is introduced, a Judge Steinberg--and the astute Molinaphile will quickly realize that he is meant to be the aged version of the wimpy young suitor from FBT who Waldemar Daninsky rescues from the rampaging resurrected Count Wolfstein and thus brings the curse of El Hombre-Lobo upon himself! A generation later, he is the only one who remembers the horrors of Waldemar's previous rampage, and with his help the police also finally accept the dark forces at work here...

But I get ahead of myself.

Our movie opens with a wizened alien, portrayed by the aged and frankly ill-looking Michael Rennie, monitoring his interocitor and getting instructions from his home planet Ummo. (Rennie is an old hand at playing men from another world, as his most famous role was as the extraterrestrial Christ-figure Mr. Carpenter in the classic The Day the Earth Stood Still.) The Ummoians...Ummites? Ummoarians? on a desolate wasteland of a planet whose water supply is almost gone--therefore they've established several sleeper cells on Earth to prepare for its conquest and the destruction or enslavement of all humankind.

"Let me tell you where you stand."

Rennie, using the alias Dr. Varnoff, is leading the most important aspect of the mission: he must find a way to use the human's superstitions and folklore against them by dredging up several of the most horrifying monsters from human history and then using them to create an army of mythical monsters that will terrify the populace to the very brink of madness, making the subsequent conquest easy! The plan is breathtaking in its simplicity, you'll agree. What could possibly go wrong?

Dr. Varnoff needs assistants, so the Ummo High Command helpfully reanimates the bodies of two recently dead humans, a man and a woman, and puts Ummite brains in them. (If not an homage to Plan 9 from Outer Space, at least a wonderful synchronicity; the alien technology in Varnoff's lab, composed mainly of colored light bulbs and panels of tissue paper, also underscore the resemblance.) With the two new henchpeople in tow, Varnoff instigates the first phase of the plan of conquest by going to--a FAIRGROUND!

Yes, the alien plot for world domination depends on getting ideas from carnival sideshows. Luckily one of the dirty, thieving gypsies has a vampire's skeleton on display, the stake still wedged between its ribs, and claims nonsensically that the corpse gives him fortune-telling powers. His lovely blonde daughter smiles and strokes her furry pussy...CAT.

You know you want it.

Dr. Varnoff instructs the female Ummolian to seduce the skeleton out of the gypsy, which proves easy enough, as gypsies are genetically unable to resist random, emotionless poon. The male alien henchman removes the stake from the vampire's ribs and uses it to kill the gypsy in flagrante deUmmo, and then we get a wonderful fx scene of the vampire's guts reconstituting themselves as he returns to life! The gypsy's daughter is taken back to Varnoff's lab for torture and reprogramming. Phase one is obviously a rousing success!

(Note: the vampire in this story is not, in fact, Dracula, although the butchered American video release of this was titled Frankenstein vs. Dracula (perennially confused with the Jess Franco film of that title). Still, his real name is only mentioned once by the gypsy in his carnival barking, so I choose to call him Dracula for simplicity's sake--even though he looks less like Lugosi or Lee than a seasick Andy Kauffman.)

Even though the victim was a gypsy, the cops are on the case of his murder very quickly. We get a brief introduction to the gruff old chief and our "hero", who quickly jumps to a supernatural explanation for the crime and goes to the library to research monsters. He arrives too late, though, as the Ummozers have found Dr. Farancksollen's rare Anthology of Monsters and ripped out the pages they need. (Why the doctor is "Farancksollen" instead of "Frankenstein" is never explained, but they pronounce it this way very meticulously throughout, and you see it written on the book with this spelling.) Apparently by looking at the table of contents the cop is able to deduce the menu of monsters: vampire, Farancksollen's Monster (his chapter is halfway through the book, though it ends with Dr. F killing himself...must have been ghost written), the Mummy, and of course the Werewolf.

Meanwhile the Ummotodes are having fun torturing more Eurobabes (Dr. Varnoff REALLY likes this part of his job) but soon they raid Waldemar Daninsky's tomb and pull his silver-bullet ridden corpse out. We get some grisly real-life open-heart surgery footage that's meant to be Dr. Varnoff removing the bullets, and sure enough the heart starts pumping and Paul is cursed again! It should be said that Paul is in GREAT shape in this movie, as buff and muscular as I've ever seen him--in fact with his rockin' sideburns and the gothic surroundings he looks a lot like Glenn Danzig, only taller and more awesome.

Tell your children not to walk his way.

Anyway, with Waldemar's considerable brawn at their disposal, the aliens head to Egypt via Stock Footage Airlines to liberate an ancient evil from its tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The Mummy makeup is probably the weakest of all the monsters here, but he makes up for it later, as we shall see. Back at Dr. Varnoff's lab they've pulled Farancksollen's Monster out of their ASS, apparently, and the proto-army of monsters is complete.

Meanwhile the cop has continued his investigation, interviewing a girl who Waldy attacked the first night of his resurrection, before the aliens learned that CHAINS DO NOTHING against El Hombre-Lobo. She turns out to be the daughter of Judge Steinberg, previously mentioned, who tells Waldemar's story and really gets the investigation going. In between shag-sessions with the judge's go-go-boot-wearing daughter, Ilsa, our hero cop is getting closer to a truth he can scarcely believe. There's a great scene where the stress of the job gets to him, and he starts seeing monsters everywhere he turns, in the go-go club, the bar, and even the mirror! Fun stuff all around.

Back at the castle things are starting to go badly, as not only are the monsters not cooperating with the aliens' attempted domination, but the human hosts of the Ummodal minds are starting to have an unsettling effect--passion, jealousy, love and lust are starting to manifest, emotions unknown on their home planet. Turning his torture devices on his own kind, Varnoff struggles to maintain order. Meanwhile, the cop shows up for a visit.


I really can't summarize all the fun scenes that happen here, so I'm going to skip ahead to what everybody's waiting for: the old school monster mash! On the under card, Dracula confronts the hero cop, which is disappointing as the cop stakes him with barely any trouble at all; really, for the king of the undead, he's a wuss. It's no wonder a gypsy owned his bones.

Then it's on to the main event as Waldemar, aided by the gypsy's daughter (who's fallen for him, natch), has returned to the castle, wolfed out, and is ready to kick some Ummo ASS! He first confronts the Mummy, who despite being 3000 years old is a real scrapper and puts up a hell of a fight! There's some real crowd-pleasing monster mayhem here, and when it ends in a WHIRLING WHEEL OF FIRE (Mummies is Flammable), you can't help but stand up and cheer.

But then it's time for the title match, Farancksollen's Monster Meets El Hombre-Lobo! It really made me smile to see this, as Paul makes no secret that the original Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is the movie that made him want to be a filmmaker--so to watch him leaping around the lab Lon Chaney-style while the hulking monster flings him around like a rag doll just really has to make you happy. Once again the fight is a real slobberknocker, and for a while the plucky hairy one seems overmatched...until, using his quickness and agility to counter the monster's brute strength, he's able to knock him into a transformer and electrocute him! (Never mind that the monster's power COMES from electricity--consider it a short-circuit or overload and go with it.)

What it's all about!

Shortly after accepting the well-deserved title All-Round Monster Champeen, Paul lets his gypsy chick pump him full of hot silver (as they planned) before then she dies herself with a swipe of the werewolf's paw. The lab in flames, the plan in ruins, Dr. Varnoff is admonished by his superiors and dies in a fiery cataclysm with some really spectacular pyrotechnic effects. The hero cop (who apart from staking the world's wimpiest vamp has done NOTHING) makes a moralistic statement and the credits roll.

Can you tell I had fun with this? :)

This movie is a blast for a Naschy fan--you get to see him acting out his favorite movies, and the exuberance and energy is something to behold. The wonderfully goofy plot one-ups even Plan 9 with its outlandishness, and the bargain-basement effects can't suppress the enjoyment. Not a good place to START with Naschy, perhaps, but if you're a fan already, this is cinematic gold.

The only downside is that the print of this movie is TORN UP. The dubbing is off by a second or two for most of the movie, and periodically drops out altogether; also the colors are washed out and bad, and there’s lots of grain. My copy is a bootleg (readily available on your favorite auction site), but chances are good that what we see is the best available print; still, it's none too good.

"EAT IT, Frankie!"

However, I'm just glad that a print exists at all (many foreign films especially have been completely lost), and that I got to see it. Though a non-Naschy fan would have difficulty sitting through it, I loved it all the way , and recommend it highly, both as an enjoyable monster mash and as an important early piece of Paul's movie monster career. 3+ thumbs. Add salt to taste.


Tenebrous Kate said...

>>Can you tell I had fun with this? :)

Holy cow--your joy is infectious in this review!

You will be delighted to learn that my first Naschy-sperience awaits me back at the Apartment of Erotic Horror. I'm hoping that my cup will runneth over with pure genre-movie glee. I do so love hott monster-on-monster action.

The Vicar of VHS said...

What can I say? Naschy makes me happy. :)

I really hope you'll enjoy your initial Naschysperience (I'm totally stealing that term). As I said in my WWvVW review, I love his flicks so much that I want everyone else to love them as much as I do. In fact it makes me sad when people don't. Thankfully he's finally getting his due, well-deserved.

Mr. Karswell said...

And imagine how much more you could love this film in a pristine condish version someday too! Now that's a Naschysperience worth living, killing, and dying for!

The Vicar of VHS said...

"Are you...NASCH-sperienced?
Have you ever been Naschsperienced?
I ha-a-a-ave..." :)

venoms5 said...

I see you reviewed this, too, Vicar! Nasch-urally, I should have expected as much, lol.

I can highly recommend the German DVD. Well, you've seen the pic quality. I would be willing to bet a fansubbed version will be making the rounds at some point with the missing bits subbed in English.

My fave Naschy films are still INQUISITION, BEAST AND THE MAGIC SWORD and EL CAMINANTE. Those three are close to perfection to me, mainly because the man was pretty much in total control of them.

Absolutely energetic write up, too, Vicar, but then I wouldn't expect anything less, especially given the subject!

The Vicar of VHS said...

@venom5--that list of faves is hard to argue with! I love Inquisition, but I would also put NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF, WEREWOLF SHADOW, and THE MARSHALL OF HELL up there...heck, who am I kidding? I can't pick a favorite. :)

Anonymous said...

The vamp's name is Count Janos de Mialhoff. The previous film featured vampire "Dr" Janos Mikhelov...coincidence or continuity?

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