Thursday, October 9, 2014

Shocktober Revisited: The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman

 Review originally appeared in 2010

After two successive Horror Fests of promising to screen The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman and not delivering, I decided it was at least time to give you, the reader, some idea of what it was you were missing out on, and to promise you that it WILL play during the Greensboro Summerfest Massacre Part IV, because it deserves a full fest audience to be properly appreciated. In the meantime, please enjoy a taste of werewolf on vampire action. Kind of.

Fair warning: the Cap'n and the Cranpire deliberately chose to watch the edited, re-titled, dubbed version of Werewolf Shadow (La Noche de Walpurgis), in part because of the ludicrous American trailer that promised more than any movie could deliver, which (of course) was the case. To be fair, we did check out the actual film (also credited to director León Klimovsky), and aside from 9 additional minutes of footage and slightly better color timing (more on this later), I sincerely believe the difference would be negligible.

Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy) is a reputed werewolf killed in a small village in the north of France. During his autopsy, the coroners remove the silver bullets from his heart, bringing Daninsky back to life, free to roam the night in search of new victims. Meanwhile, college student Elvira (Gaby Fuchs) and her friend Genevieve (Barbara Capell) are searching for the burial place of Countess Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy (Patty Shepard), a reputed witch and / or vampire from the 15th century. When their car runs out of gas near a country estate, Genevieve and Elvira meet Waldemar and his sister Elizabeth (Yelena Samarina), who suffered a mental breakdown after the death of their parents. Waldemar has also been seeking the tomb of de Nadasdy, because the silver crossed used to kill her can end his lycanthropy once and for all. But when Genevieve accidentally awakens the Countess and falls victim to her bloodlust, can Waldemar and Elvira stop the vampire from killing again before Walpurgis, when the Devil rises to claim the Earth?

As you might have noticed, that's quite a lot of plot for an 85 minute movie, especially one with so much down time before serious plot advancement. Unless the moon has some magical properties in the north of France, at least three months pass between when Waldemar first rises and when the title characters battle. As a non-werewolf, Waldemar chases off the Countess twice, but if you're expecting an epic showdown like the trailer promises, don't hold your breath.

From the moment that Genevieve cuts herself and accidentally drips blood into the Countess's corpse mouth to the point that Walpurgis apparently occurs, two months of story time passes. In fact, other than doing a cursory search of the graveyard where the Countess is hiding, Elvira and Waldemar do nothing to try to stop her until Walpurgis. It isn't until Elvira's boyfriend Inspector Marcel (Andrés Resino) arrives that anything happens involving the Countess at all in the second half of the film. Most of the time, vampire Genevieve is stalking around, until a non-wolf Waldemar kills her.

At this point, I'm going to drift away from the plot, which drags considerably in the second half of the film. There's some reasonably nice set-up involving Elvira and Genevieve realizing something amiss at the Daninsky estate, even if lapses in logic about why they can't leave or how isolated they are from the village compound to an almost laughable degree. The problem is less with story gaffes than it is with the day-for-night photography, a normally half-effective movie technique that fails miserably in The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman.

From the beginning of the film, it's almost impossible to tell whether it's supposed to be day or night time unless someone says so directly. Unfortunately, when it's clear the sun is shining an a coroner says "It's very dark out tonight," you're going to laugh. The producers of this American version didn't bother to tint the "night" scenes, so most of the time spent watching The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman is devoted to figuring out what time of day it's supposed to be. Usually you won't know until a) they cut to a shot of the moon, b) you see the vampires, or c) someone is holding a lamp / lantern or car lights are on. All or most of the film was made in broad daylight, which adds an unintentionally comic tone to the "horror."

(It is fair to note that Werewolf Shadow, which is a remastered version of the film - unlike the heavily scratched, frame jumping Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman - addresses the day for night by tinting the scenes blue, but it still isn't terribly convincing.)

For entertainment value, I would recommend watching The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman with a crowd; despite the overly languid pace of the film in actually delivering the supernatural smackdown, the over-serious tone of the film is rendered into comedy gold because of the cost-cutting of the American version, including the dubbing of characters, even in cases where it seems clear they're speaking English (like Genevieve). Paul Naschy (who co-wrote the film) is trying to make Waldemar Daninsky a tortured, Larry Talbot-esque character, but the dubbing, coupled with a physical similarity to Marlon Brando, rob him of any pathos.

For a film that promises witchcraft, vampires, a werewolf, and the Devil, The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman is surprisingly tame. The violence is limited to light gore as a result of Waldemar scratching his victims or some blood dripping from Elvira's neck. The film cautiously hints at nudity, only to pull back before exposing any flesh (and if you're thinking "well, maybe in the Werewolf Shadow cut," I'm afraid not. Those 9 minutes are devoted to Marcel's search for Elvira in the village).

On top of all of this, I have to point out the English title cards, which are so clearly not part of the film that it hardly surprised me when the score cut out abruptly, replaced by what sounded like the sound of a projector running. The title cards appear over artificially frozen images from the film that were inserted over the actual titles. The effect is jarring, intrusive, and ultimately lends a cheap, exploitative tone to an otherwise marginal horror film, despite the claim on the DVD that Werewolf Shadow is "now recognized as a milestone film in international horror history." It's certainly a fun movie to have on, but in any incarnation, The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman works best in a party atmosphere.

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