Werewolf Shadow

Paul Naschy built his reputation primarily through the sheer force of volume. He appears as the werewolf-cursed Waldamer Daninsky no fewer than a dozen times, aside from paying homage to Dracula and other creatures of the night. But his heart was always with the werewolf, even when his werewolf movies were retitled things like, Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror. My first exposure to Naschy came years and years ago, when as a wee sprout I caught an afternoon airing of Dracula’s Great Love, which apparently was referred to by someone, somewhere as Cemetery Tramps, which is about the greatest name ever. All I really recalled about the movie later in life was that there was a long, drawn-out finale wherein Dracula engaged in a weepy inner monologue and woe and the sadness in his soul before staking himself through the heart. I remember that and the fact that I hated it. Even now, years later and despite recommendations, I still avoid the movie. Perhaps I am doing Naschy and Dracula a great disservice. But then, perhaps Naschy and Dracula were doing me a great disservice by making Dracula into such a crybaby. Next up is a movie where Dracula wears ratty oversized sweaters and writes acoustic guitar ballads about how vampirism makes him sad. Geez, I thought vampire lore could get no worse than the goth-industrial interpretation ruining it these days, but I think I just came up with something even more foul. I beg of you, film makers, no bearded tween Draculas.

A few years ago, I saw finally Naschy in his signature role of Waldemar in the film Werewolf Versus the Vampire Women, which is another great title. The problem with Werewolf Versus the Vampire Women was the usual problem with Euro-horror imported into America. It had been recut, redubbed, and rendered largely incomprehensible in many ways — not that Euro-horror in its original uncut form is ever all that comprehensible to begin with. I decided to reserve judgment on the film until I’d seen the full and original version of the movie, which I have now done. The movie is still meandering and sometimes dull, with the usual  plot holes and a collection of characters that don’t act anything remotely like real people would act in similar situations.

In its original version, Werewolf Versus the Vampire Women is known as La Noche de Walpurgis, or Werewolf Shadow if you prefer. It is the third film in Naschy’s Waldemar saga — for what else can you call a series that is over a dozen films long — but viewing of the previous two films isn’t required, because you can get up to speed quickly. We open with two men arriving at a morgue where lies the corpse of Waldemar Daninsky (Naschy, who looks kind of like John Belushi if Belushi had been into weight lifting), who we assume was dispatched with silver bullets at the end of the last film. One of the men rambles on about how Waldemar is a werewolf, pointing out the man’s pentagram-shaped mark as evidence. The other man, however, is a Man of Science, and as a Man of Science it is his duty to scoff at and mock such superstitions. To disprove his own point, he extracts the silver bullet from Waldemar’s chest, thus allowing the former corpse to once again spring to life and engage in some wooly bloodletting (it being a full moon night, he instantly transforms into a werewolf). Oh, Man of Science! Will you ever learn?

This being a European film, it would be unheard of not to have some gratuitous breast shots before the credits roll, so Waldemar the Werewolf immediately rushes out to feast ‘pon the blood of a buxom young woman — young women being prone to wandering alone in the middle of the night through the woods near a morgue. So far, so good, right? Three werewolf killings and some gratuitous nudity before the credits? These are the elements I’ve come to expect based on the high standards set by other Continental horror pictures, and Paul Naschy doesn’t disappoint. Unfortunately, the film takes a long break after this promising beginning as we are transported to Paris (we know we’re in Paris thanks to stock footage of the Arc de Triumph) where we meet Elvira (Gaby Fuchs) and her gal-pal Genevieve (Barbara Capell). They are about to head off into the countryside to do some work on their graduate thesis (that hoary old chestnut again!), which seems to have something to do with tracking the history of the dreaded Countess Wandessa, rumored to be a vampiric hellspawn who fed on the blood of nubile virgins.

Now normally I try to avoid relying on plot summary, but I bring this up in greater detail than usual so I can make a few pointless asides. First, and I’ve mentioned this before, what the hell college to these people go to where a thesis like this gets approved? I guess it’s no worse than those people who do a doctoral thesis on punk rock or Punky Brewster, but all that does is further compound the problem with higher education: that being, that most of it is utter hogwash. Theses like these are why we liberal arts majors are laughed at by people who write theses like “A New Precision Measurement of the Anomalous Magnetic Moment of the Positive Muon.”

Secondly, have you ever noticed how often female vampires have to be lesbian vampires? I’m not complaining or anything. I’m just sayin’…

Anyway, Genevieve and Elvira head off into the countryside and soon become lost and run out of gas. Luckily, Waldemar happens to be lurking nearby, and he invites them up to his spooky mansion as guests until their car gets fixed (I didn’t realize getting gas required such technical prowess). He is delighted to learn that they are searching for the tomb of the countess, because he, too, is searching for the tomb… for his research, of course. Everyone’s got their research. In reality, Waldemar is pursuing the legend that the countess was killed with a silver crucifix, and it’s his hope that plunging the crucifix into his own burly chest will finally put an end to his miserable cursed existence. I don’t know why he’s going through this much trouble; the silver bullet seemed to have done the trick last time, and there’s less chance of that coming out than a crucifix dagger (meddling Men of Science not withstanding).

While Waldemar is overjoyed to discover their common quest, the ladies are less than thrilled to discover he has a raving mad sister with a tendency to grab other women’s breasts. When Genevieve discovers bloody shackles in a shed, you would think that’d pretty much be the end of that, but Elvira trusts Waldemar for no particular reason, and before too long, they’ve tracked down the body of Countess Wandessa. Waldemar explains that legend has it if you pull the crucifix out, Wandessa will return from the dead to wreak unholy vengeance on the living. Then he pulls the crucifix out of her chest, which seems really irresponsible. I mean, if he was a Man of Science, it would be one thing, because then he wouldn’t believe those peasant superstitions. But he’s a werewolf, for crying out loud! You’d think he’d put more stock in ancient curses.

Before Wandessa can return to haunt the living, Elvira has a run-in with a completely gratuitous zombie monk. No one seems especially phased by the existence of this zombie monk. As far as zombie monks go, he’s pretty creepy looking. Once we’re done with him, we can move on with the rest of the movie, which of course, involves Wandessa coming back from the grave to laugh hauntingly and flit about in slow motion. She vampirizes Genevieve, and then it’s up to Waldemar and Elvira to stop her ghastly reign of terror, which as far as reigns of terror go, is pretty small-time. Eventually, Waldemar goes werewolf and we get the big showdown between him and Wandessa, which is about as satisfying as that big Universal Pictures showdown between Frankenstein and the Wolfman, which involved thirty seconds of the monster going “Arrr! and knocking lad equipment over while the Wolf Man jumped around on top of stuff.

It’s obvious that Naschy is a fan of horror, particularly the old Universal films (and one assumes Hammer films). He tries hard to recreate an old-school feel, albeit one with nudity, and sometimes he succeeds. Direction and cinematography are solid, if not completely spectacular. The slow motion effect on Wandessa’s movements is simple but highly effective in creating that ever-present continental horror “dreamlike quality.” And although his performance as the human Waldemar is listless in any language, Naschy throws himself into his lycanthropic alter-ego with unbridled gusto. Even half-assing it as Waldemar, Naschy still possesses a certain charisma. Maybe not the kind that would make a woman fall instantly in love with him and put up with the fact that he’s a werewolf, but whatever. The rest of the cast is as they always are in Euro horror films, so it’s really pointless to comment except to say that there are at least likable characters, or at least characters you don’t utterly despise. Euro horror usually seems to try and create the most wretchedly irritating characters possible, presumably so you can delight in seeing them killed in various wacky ways. But that delight rarely makes up for suffering through the ponderous scenes that come before the jackasses get killed. At least Naschy seems to think the characters in his movie shouldn’t be instantly reviled by all who behold them.

Lack of logic in European horror films is almost always dismissed by fans as being part of the “otherworldly, dreamlike state” for which these films often strive. But since Werewolf’s Shadow is otherwise grounded in the real world, and in a world where there’s been no attempt to express the notion that reality is strange or inapplicable (aside from, you know, the thing about werewolves and vampire women and gratuitous zombie monks), so when characters do dumb things, it just seems dumb. For instance, not only does Waldemar go through all the trouble to recover the dagger-crucifix; once he has it, he doesn’t use it. If he’s so tortured and miserable, you’d think he’d pluck it out of Wandessa and immediately insert it into himself. But I guess love makes ya do crazy things, like not end your miserable werewolf existence.

Naschy has the pieces, and he has some great ideas and some moments when things work, but the entirety never quite comes together, and sloppy scripting ultimately undermines the film. If you’re a seasoned pro at Euro horror, you’re probably going to walk away think ing, like me, that despite it’s flaws, Werewolf Shadow wasn’t that bad, and it was even kind of fun. However, it’s not going to do much to win converts to the cause, and people to whom Euro style horror films do not appeal are going to find the movie to be one more example of what they don’t like. I thought it was OK. I have a soft spot for any movie, however crude, where a werewolf dukes it out with a lesbian vampire. Yeah, OK, Naschy. You’re no genius, but you’re better than many in your genre, and I’ll sign up for a tour of another Waldemar the Werewolf movie.