Tuesday 24 February 2015

The Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman [1970]

THE WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN is a Spanish / German horror film that was directed by Leon Klimovsky and originally released in May 1971 under its original title La noche de Walpurgis.  It stars Paul Naschy, Gaby Fuchs, Barbara Capell and Patty Shepard.  Two female students in rural France researching their thesis on Satanism find themselves stranded in the back of beyond.  They are offered shelter by the mysterious Waldemar Daninsky who lives an isolated existence with his mentally-disturbed sister and seems to know an awful lot about local tales of witchcraft and black magic.

Either the third or fourth film in Naschy's Waldemar Daninsky series, depending on whether you count the unreleased and apparently lost Las noches del Hombre Lobo, this is a far superior effort than the catchpenny English title might have you believe.  For the uninitiated, and that, until recently, included me, Daninsky is a Polish nobleman who contracted lycanthropy while hunting a werewolf (in the first film La marca del Hombre Lobo / Frankenstein's Bloody Terror [1968]).  Since then he has been doomed to turn into a wolf-man every full moon and, unable to control his violent urges, tearing people's throats out.

El Hombre Lobo

So he's a reluctant werewolf, a would-be hero who usually ends up righting whatever wrong he is confronted with but not without eviscerating sundry extras who happen to get in his way. The mythology of the series dictates that werewolves can only be killed by silver - bullet, knife or crucifix - delivered by one who loves him.  Thus after saving the day Daninsky is always put out of his misery by whichever woman he has fallen in love with during the course of the movie. And, just as Dracula is in Hammer productions, in subsequent films Daninsky is repeatedly revived to continue his lonely existence on the fringes of mankind.

In the second picture, Los monstruos del terror / Assignment Terror / Dracula vs Frankenstein [1970], Daninsky is revived by aliens who are attempting to colonise the Earth by wiping out mankind via regenerated icon monsters who, presumably, are intended to frighten everyone to death. Typically, Daninsky initially wreaks havoc but is then redeemed by the love of a good woman before foiling the aliens' plans after not one but two good punch ups with the Mummy and then Frankenstein's monster. The film then ends in the time honoured fashion, with a silver injection.

Count Waldemar Daninsky ready to be revived

Which brings me to La noche de Walpurgis in which our hero is revived when a pathologist removes the silver bullets from his body unaware that it is a full moon.  Unlike a lot of Spanish horror films I have seen it reminded me most of a Hammer horror movie.  The lonely travellers, succour offered by mysterious nobleman at isolated mansion / castle, vampires, a dream-like atmosphere, romance and resolution. It's really good actually and I would recommend it to anyone unfamiliar with Spanish horror or anyone who thinks Spanish horror exclusively involves portly men with moustaches and polyester leisurewear.  Not only is it atmospheric and beautifully shot, it has a melancholy strain running through it as Daninsky broods over his curse.

Countess Wandesa seduces Genevieve

Another movie it reminded me of is the British sex-n-fangs film VAMPYRES [1974] which has a similarly oneiric, fatalistic atmosphere and, coincidentally, was directed by an ex-pat Spaniard called Jose Ramon Larraz.   most of his work there and for sake of argument I think can be regarded as a Spanish director.  That Spanish link is interesting: I remember reading a quote from someone whose name escapes who said that horror movies went down a storm in Spain because, as a devoutly religious country, they really responded to good triumphing over evil, usually at the hands of a man of cloth.  The quote went on to say that when the priest turn the vampire to dust by whipping out his crucifix the audiences used to stand up and cheer.

Paul Naschy as Count Waldemar Daninsky - el Hombre Lobo

Paul Naschy, the doyen of Spanish horror, was an interesting chap, the kind you rarely seem to come across in the film business these days, stuffed to the gills as it is with beautiful but vapid leading men and ladies.  At various times, before becoming a film star, Naschy was a novelist, an artist, a designer, an architect and a weight-lifter.  Beat that, Zac Efron.  Indeed, so obsessed with youth and beauty is the modern film industry that someone like Naschy wouldn't even get his foot in the door.  A short, barrel-chested man his athlete's physique is obvious but his face is a bizarre amalgam of Douglas Booth and John Prescott with a bit of Bruce Campbell chucked into the mix. That face isn't particularly expressive and any power he might have had in his delivery is dissipated by the post-production dubbing.  Somehow though it works: it's Naschy's acting rather than Daninsky's cursed existence which conveys the sadness in the character.  Perhaps it's his bearing, perhaps it's his permanently downbeat countenance; whichever, in it's own way it's rather moving.

Genevieve in the land of dreams and nightmares

Taken as a stand alone film, La noche de Walpurgis has much to commend it.  The vampire sequences are done particularly well, slowed down in the manner of Amando De Ossorio's BLIND DEAD series of films, and using a blue filter, later favoured by mediocre Hollywood directors. Vampires have of course long been associated with lust and eroticism - Jean Rollin made an entire career out of such films - but it doesn't always come off.  Hammer's vampire films were at their best when this element was not made explicit: to my mind, the weakest of them are the lesbian vampire films of the 1970s.  Indeed, this became such a cliche that it has proved to be a rich vein for spoofing. In this film however the emphasis is not on a prurient or smutty interest in sex but on seduction.  The 'Vampire Woman' of the American title - referred to in the film as Countess Wandesa - is a beautiful, silent seductress, fatally alluring.

Patty Shepard as Countess Wandesa

I've written before about what a pleasure it is these days to be able to see good quality prints of these films in their correct aspect ratio and subtitled rather than dubbed into American English.  This film is no exception: the photography by Leopoldo Villasenor is terrific.  He may have spent the majority of his career working at the cheaper end of the film industry but he knew his business alright.

Some great framing by Klimovksy and Villasenor

Leon Klimovsky (and indeed Naschy) I have written about before here so I shan't repeat myself.  The trio of women central to this film are Gaby Fuchs, Barbara Capell and Patty Shepard.  Fuchs is probably the weakest of the three but in her defence has the most passive, albeit biggest, role.  Fuchs only made a dozen or so films but two (thus far) have been reviewed on these pages (the other being Michael Armstrong's MARK OF THE DEVIL [1970]) so she must have been doing something right. Barbara Capell essentially plays the 'Lucy Westenra' part and pretty good she is too; together with Patty Shepard as Countess Wandesa they terrorise and beguile in equal measure.

Gaby Fuchs (L) and Barbara Capell (R)

Like Fuchs, Capell didn't have much of a film career but Patty Shepard, an American ex-pat in Spain, most certainly did. She worked with most of the Spanish genre directors - Eloy de la Iglesia, Juan Piquer Simon, the aforementioned Jose Ramon Larraz, George Martin, Leon Klimovsky and fellow adopted Spaniard Tulio Demicheli. It was for Demicheli that she appeared in Los monstruos del terror, the second (or third) Daninsky movie.  Shepard died a couple of years ago aged 67.

A couple of the technical credits are worth mentioning.  The script was co-written by Naschy and someone called Hans Munkel, a man with only two writing credits and as slight an internet footprint as it's possible to have.  The score, which is unusually good for the genre, is by Anton Garcia Abril. Finally, the second unit director was Carlos Aured who went on to become a director in his own right, helming the sixth (or seventh) film in the Daninsky series El retorno de Walpurgis [1973] and numerous other Naschy pictures.

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