The Werewolf and the Yeti

I’ve always felt that movies with certain titles have an obligation to live up to those titles. For instance, any movie with a title like The Werewolf and the Yeti needs to be a movie full of scenes where a werewolf fights a yeti or goes drinking with a yeti and raises some hell. So when I first heard that a movie called The Werewolf and the Yeti existed, I was both excited and reticent. Excited because — well, come on. Werewolf versus yeti. Reticent because I couldn’t help but think, “if this movie isn’t any good, then it ruins my chances of seeing the movie a title like The Werewolf and the Yeti deserves.” When, upon further investigation, I discovered that the movie was one of Spanish actor Jacinto Molina’s — aka Paul Naschy — many werewolf movies, I didn’t know whether to let my hopes rise or plummet. Somehow, I ended up letting them do both, and somehow, the movie fulfilled both those suspicions.

Molina was Spain’s first major horror star. Although Spain produced its fair share of horror directors, horror actors of any repute were fewer and farther between, and none of them had the sheer tenacity and prolific obsession with film making as did Molina. Molina muscled his way through dozens of movies, playing pretty much all the famous movie monsters, though his affections obviously lay with one above all others: the wolfman. Molina, who acted under the more Anglican sounding (to him) moniker of Paul Naschy, starred in at least a dozen werewolf movies, each one featuring the character Waldemar Daninsky — though few of them bothered to create any sort of cohesive continuity between themselves and the previous film.

Naschy grew up in an era of oppression and paranoia in Spain. The Spanish Civil War was recently ended, World War II was firing up, and the dictatorship of Franco (Francisco, not James) kept a heavy thumb on its people. Screenings of horror films were few and far between, but young Jacinto Alvarez Molina’s mother must have had an affinity for them. She took her child to see everything from old adventure and sci-fi serials to, most importantly, the Universal monster movies. It was when he saw Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man that Molina fell in love with the monsters. Or at least that’s how the story goes. As he got older, Molina found himself on a trajectory to take him into a career as an architect. But it was while pursuing this that his knack for drawing and graphic design saw him try his hand at everything from record cover design to drawing comics to writing paperback novels. He also got into track and field and weightlifting.

In 1961, thanks in part to his physique, Molina wound up working as an extra on the big budget Biblical epic King of Kings, the movie that gave us the blondest haired, bluest eyed Middle Eastern Jew the world has ever seen. It’s too bad no one ever tapped Molina to star in a peplum film. He didn’t exactly catch the acting bug, but he did keep working in film, taking on a few more bit parts and background characters before finally turning his attention to the action behind the camera. After working in various capacities on the other side of things, he presented a German production company with a script for a horror film. The back and forth in film production between European countries was commonplace, and most of the genre films coming out during the 60s — peplum, spaghetti westerns, Eurospies — weren’t the product of a single country. In fact, Italy/Germany/Spain was such a common event that I have it programmed as a macro so I don’t have to type it out all the time. For one reason or another, though, almost all of these films are lumped under the banner of Italy, probably because they had their fingers in so many pots. Heck, even Spanish directors like Jess Franco and French directors like Jean Rollin are often mislabeled as Italian exploitation filmmakers.

So it wasn’t unusual for Molina to turn to the German production company Hi-Fi Stereo 70, which has to be the most awesome name for a production company ever, to get his horror movie made — a werewolf movie, to be more precise. It was easier than getting the film produced by a Spanish company. There was no tradition of horror movie making in Spain, and no one quite knew what to or how to make a horror movie. The Germans agreed to make the movie, and as legend has it, they thought about casting Lon Chaney, Jr., the original Wolfman and, presumably, the actor who inspired young Molina to eventually write himself a werewolf movie (though Molina himself seemed to idolize Marlon Brando more than Chaney — and hey, he even looks sort of like Brando, or at least like Brando crossed with John Belushi). But even if the story about Chaney is true, the fact is that by the time this script was being floated around (1967 or 1968), Chaney was too broken down, old, and drunk. Instead, Molina himself was given the lead role. Chaney, incidentally, spent that same year starring in Spiderbaby, which went on to become one of the most beloved cult films of all time and gave the battered old warhorse one more chance to shine before his career totally petered out and ended in, of all terrible places, an Al Adamson film.

There were a few problems with Molina’s film. For starters, the writer/star’s name was Jacinto Molina, and that just wouldn’t play on a marquee. He would have to pick a more suitably “international” sounding name. Drawing inspiration from one of his favorite weight lifters and the current pope, he came up with the name Paul Naschy. The other problem allegedly with the movie also had to do with names. The main character originally had a Spanish name, but the Franco regime’s censors weren’t down with a Spanish werewolf, which, I don’t know. Would make other Europeans think Spaniards were lycanthropes? Whatever the case, newly Naschy changed the character’s name to the more Polish sounding Waldemar Daninsky. The censors were happy now, proving that censors the world over and throughout time have been pretty stupid and illogical about the things to which they object.

La Marca del Hombre Lobo rolled into theaters in 1968, and from that moment on, a few things became constants in Naschy’s life. One, that he made horror films, especially werewolf movies. Two, that each of those movies would have approximately thirty thousand different titles, many of them often having absolutely nothing to do with the content of the movie (La Marca del Hombre LoboMark of the Wolfman — for example, was distributed in the US under the inexplicable title Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror). And three, that there would be about the same number of different cuts of the movies, depending on the prevailing cultural mores of assorted countries. La Marca del Hombre Lobo ran 88 minutes in Spain, where sex and violence still chafed censors almost as bad as naming your werewolf Antonio Banderas. In Germany, the film ran 93 minutes. In the United States, it was 78 minutes long — good to know that censors and editors in the capital of the free world were more oppressive than those under the Franco dictatorship.

La Marca del Hombre Lobo found an audience, so Naschy began cranking out one Waldemar Daninsky werewolf movie after another. I don’t know how much of this had to do with their popularity and how much had to do simply with Naschy’s unwillingness to stop making movies. Whatever the case, Nashy’s determination to turn hairy and grow fangs on every full moon helped give birth to what quickly became a fairly healthy Spanish horror boom. In the case of his favorite series, it didn’t matter that Daninsky died at the end of many of them, or that there was a different cause for his werewolfery (sorry, but I like that better than lycanthropy) in pretty much every film. Naschy always had another batty idea for the character, and if it didn’t jibe with what came before, well then, seriously. Fuck continuity. The second film in the series seems to have either vanished under the weight of lawsuits or never been completed at all. The third, Los Monstruos del Terror, has one of the most ridiculous and impossible to resist plots — aliens scheme to conquer planet Earth not by building a big  missile or contaminating our water supply, but by unleashing Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and Dracula on the world. Obviously, they were culling ideas from the same playbook as those Plan 9 guys, who were going to conquer the world using the reanimated corpses of a fat guy, a goth chick, and an old man. Jeez, at least Zontar had the good sense to hijack the minds of a general and some aerospace scientists.

The best-known of his werewolf movies was the next one, La Noche de Walpurgis, which was distributed in the US as The Werewolf Vs. the Vampire Women, which was a title that at least reflected the content of the movie. Naschy continued to crank them out, also appearing from time to time as Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, and a mummy at some point. Many of the movies found their way, in one form or another, into the United States. When I was a kid, I’m sure I saw a few of them on TV, though at the time I didn’t know anything about Paul Naschy or that Spaniards did anything other than look for the Fountain of Youth and send Christopher Columbus out to land in Jamaica or somewhere and proclaim it India. The only Naschy film I distinctly remember seeing, though, is his big Dracula movie, Dracula’s Great Love, which I hated with an unholy burning passion as a pre-teen. I haven’t bothered with it again since then.

In fact, it was many years after the fact that I finally learned who Paul Naschy was, and that was because a video store here had a bunch of bootleg DVDs of Spanish horror films for rent. By then, I’d seen a few Spanish horror films, but really only the ones everyone (relatively speaking) knows about — the first Blind Dead movie and Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. But I absolutely loved both of those films, so off to the Spanish horror section I went. Most of the films were from the 1970s, and I guess one can argue pretty easily that Naschy opened the door and blazed the trail. As restrictions on film content loosened in the 1970s, a whole crop of Spanish filmmakers were finally free to pack their films with the sort of gore and nudity that the French and Italians were enjoying. Amando de Ossorio, Jose Ramon Larraz, Leon Klimovsky — all these directors became fast friends with my late night viewing habits. And finally I was able to watch some of Naschy’s werewolf movies, uncut, in their original format.

It was while poking my way through these films that i found out Paul Naschy had made a movie called The Werewolf and the Yeti. A werewolf fighting a yeti? Now that, my friends, is the sort of plot synopsis for which I live. In some of the earlier wolfman movies, Naschy’s Waldemar Daninsky hinted that maybe it was a yeti bite that gave him his case of werewolfery. Sure, whatever, man. Everyone knows that getting bitten by a yeti turns you into a werewolf. Anyway, with those hints dropped in some of the earlier films, I guess it was only a matter of time before Naschy decided to make the idea into a movie. Thus was born La Maldicion de la Bestia, aka The Werewolf and the Yeti, Night of the Howling Beast, and for some reason, the decidedly Wagnerian sounding Hall of the Mountain King. Like many Naschy movies, the concept is wilder than the actual execution of the idea, but in the end my affection for shoddy little European horror films with ridiculous ideas pushes this one into the win category.

The movie opens with a Himalayan expedition that goes horribly awry when it’s attacked by under-exposed film in a wildly shaking camera. Or a yeti, I guess. Hard to tell. Time passes, and we meet Waldemar Daninsky (Naschy, naturally), who is being recruited to join an expedition that is supposed to find the last expedition. The man putting it together suspects that the last explorers feel afoul of a yeti, a conclusion he reaches upon seeing a wad of hair which is “obviously” yeti hair. “Obviously,” Daninsky agrees, so off he and the gang go to…well, it looks like some scrubby hills in a park in Spain. But I guess it’s supposed to be Nepal or Tibet. The expedition immediately sets about arguing amongst its members, with some of them anxious to press on while others want to delay and wait for the crappy weather to pass. Daninsky doesn’t want to sit around, waiting to get turned into a werewolf, so he grabs a drunk to lead him through a pass that everyone describes as hopelessly deadly and most likely plagued by the tormented souls of the vengeful damned. Predictably enough when you hire drunken psychos as guides, the guy has a freak out and leaves Daninsky stranded in the middle of the woods, err, Himalayas. Since Daninsky apparently set out on his one-man expedition not only with a drunken lunatic as a guide, but also with absolutely no supplies whatsoever, he quickly finds himself staggering around near the point of death, until he finally stumbles into an inviting looking cave.

Where he is discovered by the nude bisexual cannibal girls living in the cave.

Yep. That’s the sort of thing this movie takes as a matter of course. Life is good for Daninsky at first, and he has very little to do but recover his strength and have freaky threesomes with his new roommates. And here’s a note to all bisexual cannibal girls living in caves — if you want your next human meal to stick around long enough to actually become your next human meal, you probably shouldn’t ravenously devour the remains of your last human meal in a place where he can see you. Daninsky scuffles with the humanvores and kills them both, but not before one of them suddenly has fangs and bites him. For some reason only Paul Naschy knows, this turns him into a werewolf.

Eventually, Daninsky finds himself roaming the Himalayan mountains, occasionally turning into a werewolf (like many low budget werewolf movies, the full moon seems to come and go with reckless abandon and no respect at all for actual lunar cycles) to chow down on bandits and save the lost and beleaguered members of the expedition that eventually got itself under way. Daninsky visits a mountain monastery, where one of the resident wisemen tells him of the cure for werewolfery. He’s pretty much done with the yeti thing at that point, and the movie becomes a sort of swashbuckling werewolf adventure in which Daninsky fights against the exceptionally weird mountain bandits and their evil sorceress queen. I think it’s pretty awesome that even though she’s a Himalayan mountain bandit sorceress, her lair is still full of all the multi-colored bubbling liquids you find in any proper mad scientist’s lair. While Daninsky tangles with the bandit king, his true love, Sylvia, helps with a slave girl revolt. Man, what the hell movie are we watching again?

At some point, you’ll look at the clock and realize that this 94 minute long movie has been on for 90 minutes, and you know what you haven’t seen? A yeti. Naschy must have realized this too, because while he and his inevitable innocent young love interest are standing around trying to figure out how to cure werewolfery, the yeti just sort of strolls up out of nowhere and picks a fight. Naschy werewolves out, and for the next three minutes, a dimly lit hairy guy rolls around in the snow with another dimly lit hairy guy. I think the werewolf wins, but it’s pretty hard to tell. At the very least, they could have made the two hairy beasts different colors. The way it stands now, it’s almost impossible to tell who’s who. I guess the werewolf probably has on trousers? To top it all off, most of the fight is shot from sort of far away, with a bunch of shrubs between the camera and the action. And it never even bothers to answer the question — what the hell happens if a werewolf bites a yeti???

So really, that’s it? The yeti is in this movie for like three minutes? It’d be one thing if the yeti wasn’t shown until the end but remained some sort of palpable threat or presence throughout the rest of the movie, but even that doesn’t happen. There’s no scene where a our heroes are huddled around a campfire in the dead of night and the yeti might be lurking just beyond the shadows. There’s no stumbling across a dead man, or a slaughtered beast, where someone kneels down to examine the grisly evidence and solemnly proclaims, “He’s been here” or “it’s following us.” The yeti is not employed once to create any sense of emergency or dread. In fact, the yeti is basically a total non-entity until he pops up at random for the final couple minutes.

I feel like yeti movies, as with Bigfoot movies, need to be steeped in the myth and lore of the creature. There is none of that here. No scenes of serious explorers discussing local legends. No scenes of the true believer arguing with the smirking skeptic. No scene where the cast stumbles across some half crazed mountain man or spooky local who drones on about “the creature.” To me, that’s shoddy writing and a missed opportunity. As silly as the match-up seems to be at first, I think there’s actually a lot of cool nonsense that could be squeezed from pitting a werewolf against a yeti or a sasquatch. This movie, instead, has nothing to do with yetis at all. It’s almost as if Paul Naschy was making a movie about a werewolf fighting bandits and cannibal girls, and the final scene was marred when a yeti just happened to stroll unawares in front of the camera. With no other options and no time or money to reshoot the scene, Naschy decided to just leave it in.

By this point in the series, Naschy was pretty comfortable with the werewolf/Daninsky shtick. He was pretty stiff in the first couple films, but here he’s much improved and more natural. At the same time, he seems to be less committed to really plumbing the tragedy of the situation than he has been in previous hombre lobo movies. There’s something almost casual about his performance, and Naschy himself was ultimately unsatisfied with the tone of the movie, which he thought was too breezy, in large part because this is one of the few Daninsky movies where Daninsky doesn’t die at the end. In fact, not only does he survive, but he is cured of his werewolfery, kicked the abominable snowman’s ass, and gets to walk off into the sunset with the girl he loves. For a series of movies that trades heavily on doomed romance and damned characters, it’s a pretty dramatic shift — unless, I guess, you remember that they are in the middle of the Himalayan Mountains, with no map, wearing nothing but light sweaters.

But I don’t think the script had any intention of having us expect that the two lovers do anything but traipse off into a life of bliss — at least until she finds out that he once spent a night having a torchlight menage-a-trios with hot bisexual cannibal girls whom he then killed. But then, scripts in Euro-horror movies have always been loose, not much more than a series of ideas and scenarios that serve as a skeleton upon which you can hang mood, atmosphere, and general weirdness. The Werewolf and the Yeti is really no different. This thing is, obviously, utterly daft, and Naschy the screenwriter is either thinking exactly like me when he writes these goofy things, or he has a top hat full of monster types and sets that he pulls out at random and assembles into a screenplay regardless of how little sense it makes. As I said before, if you are already a fan of European horror films, you know how to roll with and even enjoy the very different approach to logic and effort that goes into scripting a movie like this. If you’re not accustomed to or just don’t like that style, then The Werewolf and the Yeti is probably going to try your patience — though like much of Naschy’s work, it’s more accessible than many other Euro horror films, since Naschy himself seems to be keen on making sure not too much time passes before he’s wolfin’ out, fightin’ bandits, or making sweet love to cannibals.

The Werewolf and the Yeti does not deliver on its implied promise, at least how I interpreted it. Yes, I suppose by the strict letter of the law (or such laws as apply to werewolves fighting yetis), it fulfills its promise. But there’s the letter, and there’s the spirit, and The Werewolf and the Yeti simply does not honor the spirit of the title The Werewolf and the Yeti. It does convince me that Naschy’s story about being inspired by the old Universal monster movies might be true, because this one definitely suffers from a serious case of the House of Frankensteins, the infamous Universal horror film that put Dracula, Wolfman, and Frankenstein’s monster all together in the same movie — then proceeded to have none of the monsters actually show up on screen at the same time. If you call your movie The Werewolf and the Yeti, I think it behooves you to make a movie in which there is a whole lot of werewolf fighting yeti. Also, your yeti should have white fur. I know, I know. It’s well within the limits of the legends for the yeti to have dark fur. Fine. But we already got one guy running around in a dark fur costume; throwing a guy who looks basically the same but without pants into the mix only confuses things.

Daninsky actually spends more time dealing with those naked cannibal women than he does fighting a yeti — though I guess, given the choice, I’d do the same. And oddly, given the bizarre names applied to Naschy’s other wolfman movies, I can’t believe this one stuck with the yeti. Do yetis sell more tickets than The Werewolf vs. Sexy Naked Cannibal Girls? I like this movie though. Not as much as I’d hoped, but probably more than many. I mean, it’s completely absurd and makes precious little sense, and a wolfman fights naked cannibal girls. The main plot, if you can call it that, about the bandits, is also pretty fun, and whenever Daninsky wolfs out, actor Naschy puts all his energy and athleticism into the scene, leaping off rocks, writhing around, and really giving it his all. I wrote earlier that it’s a shame Naschy never did a peplum movie, but to be honest, the whole bandit king’s palace bit plays out like the finale of a Hercules movie, only with the hero wearing slacks and a turtleneck instead of a loincloth. Had this movie had some other title (which, OK, I guess it did in other countries), I would have embraced it with unquestioning love. Heck, even Hall of the Mountain King makes more sense. At least there’s a large hall on top of a mountain, and if the guy in it isn’t a king, he’s at least a bandit-king. It’s not Naschy’s fault. I mean, he named the movie La maldicion de la bestia.