Thursday, July 7, 2011

Double Feature: Paul Naschy as the Wolf Man

Other than Lon Chaney Jr., no actor is more closely associated with playing a werewolf/wolf man than Spanish actor/writer/director Paul Naschy. He portrayed a werewolf in at least 12 different movies, a record I doubt anyone will ever surpass. More often then not, his werewolf was named "Waldemar Daninsky," even if many of the films had nothing to do with any of the other ones featuring the Daninsky character. Despite always exerting a great deal of creative control of the films he appeared in--often being the star, writer and director--he apparently didn't have much regard for the notion of continuity.

At least two of Naschy's Daninsky movies do feature some continuity between them, however. While Naschy is not at his best as the werewolf in either one, they are fun monster-mashes in the way the majority of the Lon Chaney Jr.-starring werewolf movies from Universal Pictures were.

Together, they can make for a semi-epic Bad Movie Night.

(By the way, I'm aware that it might just me my desire for continuity that's imposing a connection on these two films. Some of the release dates I've seen for "Werewolf Shadow" has it predating "The Fury of the Wolfman," but then I've seen release dates assigned to "The Fury of the Wolfman" that range from 1970 to 1972.)

The Fury of the Wolfman (aka "The Wolfman Never Sleeps") (1970)
Starring: Paul Naschy, Perla Cristal, Veronica Lujan, and Mark Stevens
Director: Jose Maria Zabalza
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

When a globe-trotting scientist (Naschy) contracts lycanthropy, he becomes the latest subject of the twisted experiments of a mad scientist (Cristal) and her all-woman team of graduate student assistants.

"The Fury of the Wolfman" is a mess of a movie. It's over-long, partially due to the fact that the creators seemed to want to cram every legend and scientific-sounding theory they'd heard about werewolves into the picture and tie them into the efforts of their multi-discipline mad scientist... who is working on several mind control projects and creating human/plant hybrids in the basement of her creepy castle. And then there's the completely superflous plotline involving a reporter and a police inspector who are both trying to track down the wolfman.

Another issue with the film is the title. It would have been more aptly named "Moonlight Strolls of the Wolfman" or "The Wolfman, Starring WB's Tazmanian Devil"... because the wolfman spends much of his time just wandering about, and when he's snarling, he sounds exactly like the Tazmanian Devil from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. While this does give rise to much unintended hilarity, it doesn't make for much of a horror film.

The movie is at its best as the poor victim of lycanthropy and a newfound ally try to escape the mad scientist's castle. But this is about ten minutes of the running time, and even here the film lapses into unintended comedy.

"The Fury of the Wolfman" is fast enough paced, has enough characters behaving stupidlyl, and enough instances of fullblown, unintended comedic disaster that it would make for a fine addition to a "Bad Movie Nite" party... but that's all it's good for.

Werewolf Shadow (aka "The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman", "Blood Moon" and "Shadow of the Werewolf") (1971)
Starring: Paul Naschy, Gaby Fuchs, Barbara Capell, Patty Shepard, and Yelina Samarina
Director: Leon Klimovsky
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Two college students (Fuchs and Capell) conducting research into a supposed vampire and witch from the Middle Ages (Shepard) trace the existence of her tomb the isolated castle of Count Waldemar Daninisky (Naschy). While the hospitible, yet secretive, count is showing them the tomb, the ancient (and very hungry and lusty) vampire is awakened. Will the count be able to save the girls and the nearby villagers? Will he decide that there are days where it's actually good to be cursed with lycanthropy?

"Werewolf Shadow" is a direct sequel to "Fury of the Wolfman", and, although a bit slow at times and showing signs of a director struggling to pad the film to meet a certain running time, it's a pretty good little flick--and it's far, far better than the film it follows. It stands up nicely when compared to some of the movies released by Hammer around the same time. Of course, if you're familiar with the output of Hammer in the early 1970s, you might think I'm damning this film with faint praise... and you might not be entirely wrong.

(And if you've seen "Fury of the Wolfman", you're probably wondering why the Good Count is even around. That's explained quite nicely in the first minutes of the film, where a coroner makes the worst blunder of his career. It's a sequence that is one of the more effective in the film.)

This is an okay horror flick, but it's not great. Its a solidly average 1970s monster film, teetering on the brink of low-average (between the ratings of 5 and 6 on my scale). It's got decent acting, some nice, moody camerawork, and there's some great use of lighting and fog machines to enhance the creepiness of many scenes. The slow-motion, gliding movements of the vampires is an excellently executed way of adding creepiness to them, and there are moments when the film is almost lifting itself up to a higher level of quality... but those moments pass quickly and then the movie sinks back to its low-average comfort zone.

A big problem is the above-mentioned padding of scenes. Another problem is the film's star, Paul Naschy. Just like in "The Fury of the Werewolf", he seems to more stroll through the night than run. He does a slightly better job when he's not a werewolf, but he still seems to dragging himself through the film... and as a result he drags it down.

On the upside, though, the film is helped by three gorgeous leading ladies (Shepard is particularly good and sexy as the resurrected vampiress), plenty of bare breasts, a good heaping of blood, and a well-done climactic fight.

It's worth seeking out if you enjoy early 1970s horror flicks, but just be aware that Naschy portrays one of the most lethargic wolfman in cinematic history.

1 comment:

  1. When it comes to Naschy, I have to admit, I watch purely for the 70s atmosphere and mood and not the content. Sometimes, I just want something campy and dorky to remind me of childhood.