Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Month of the Werewolf - Two Comedies and a Biker Flick

 

A few to catch up with from the past few days.

 

 

  First up, La Casa del Terror (The House of Terror, 1960). Jumping backwards in time a little bit, my next werewolf film was meant to be Face of the Screaming Werewolf (1964) which is just a brilliant title. I want to see a film with that title, but just not this particular one as it’s a cut and shut job, like a dodgy car. Two Mexican films were stitched together to create what is said to be an incoherent mess that just takes advantage of the fact that Lon Chaney Jr appeared in one of the two films, while much of the rest of that film was removed. And it’s dubbed, so thaty  knocked it from the list. What remained, though, was an interest in the original film, a Mexican comedy horror in which Chaney appeared, La Casa del Terror.

   A comedy vehicle for German Valdez, popularly known as Tin Tan, appearing as Casimiro, the night guard in a wax museum which also happens to be run by a mad scientist. The filmmakers persuaded Lon Chaney Jr to appear as an obvious Wolf Man imitation, not just any old werewolf, but with the added bonus of him being a Mummy as well, a blend that the US distributors of Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror (1968) failed to achieve. This one embraces the absurdity and tropes of its predecessors, complete with a King Kong reference, as the Wolf Man (clearely not Chaney at this moment) scales a city building with his unconscious damsel over his shoulder, only to reach the top and then use the stairs to get back down again, achieving very little. The villain of the piece, the mad Professor Sebastian (Yerye Beirute), who bears more than a passing resemblance to Boris Karloff, with yet another plan to reanimate corpses to dominate the world.

 

  Above all, this is an obvious vehicle for Tin Tan, who does no favours to the horrid stereotype of Mexicans being lazy and eating too much. Chaney is clearly tired and was not happy with playing a Wolf Man again. His performance veers directly into tragic Talbot territory (literally the same performance) but without any dialogue, and his make-up looks like a poor man’s version of Pierce’s design, which leads to the feeling that the filmmakers wanted to simply have Universal’s character in their film. The only effective horror scene is where he is silently stalking Casimiro’s girlfriend, Paquita (Yolanda Varela), with visual reference to the stalking scene in Cat People (1942), and this continues into her apartment with some nice tension, but it all falls apart when he is revealed to her, featuring a terrible and slow “attack” scene. It’s entertaining enough with an agreeable balance between Tin Tan’s comedy and the horror plotline. But I felt terribly sorry for Chaney here, he's not in good shape and this part does little for any sense of dignity.

 

 

You can’t get much more of an exploitation film by crossing a Biker movie with a Monster movie, but like most exploitation films, that’s all there is here, and there’s not even too much of that. Werewolves on Wheels (1971) has a decent start with obvious Biker movie style; dust trails on the road from a distance, chrome trims, crazy hogs and wild, violent biker gangs. This particular gang seek shelter in appears to be a Satanist temple and are met with surprising hospitality by the Satanists in residence, offered lots of food and drink which turns out to be drugged, so they can have their way with one of the female bikers. Comedian Severn Darden, from both Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), features as the leader of the cult, his face caked in dark make-up. The ritual is interrupted and the bikers attack, only for the girl and her boyfriend and leader of the pack, Adam (Steven Oliver) to become cursed as werewolves.

 

There’s not much in the way of actual werewolves until the end, with an initial attack portrayed either a bit abstractly or just ineptly, as the bikers get picked off one by one at night by their own leader, with things coming to a head as they both transform in front of the gang (conveniently) leading to the film’s fiery climax, which features two dark haired werewolves with a traditional appearance, except we know which one of the girlfriend character because that werewolf has long hair… The poster does not keep its promise of a werewolf on wheels – this does happen at the end, but everything is so dark and poorly edited that it’s impossible to really understand what’s going on. There’s an aimless air to the proceedings which matches the bikers’ lifestyle, and a clear connection to the myth of Circe, with bikers drugged via food by cultists only to be turned into beasts. The finale is meant to be trippy but feels tacked on to simply try ad mess with the audience’s minds. Real bikers used. Local hippies used to play cultists, ironic as hippies blamed for satanism due to Manson family, etc. Technically not great on many levels. I had bene looking forward to this one. That'll learn me...

 


Another comedy, I was positive I had watched The Werewolf of Washington (1973) as a teen but clearly had not remembered much about it. Technically inept, it functions as a satire that is pretty heavy handed, if prescient, treating the ongoing Watergate scandal a good year before Nixon’s resignation. Dean Stockwell plays a press secretary to the US President and is bitten by werewolf while on assignment in Hungary, returning to Washington to become a werewolf who begins to eat and/or maul the President’s enemies. A mostly good cast is squandered on a poor script and direction. The framing during dialogue shots is awful, with a baffling amount of extra headroom above the actors. But it does have its moments, and there are some good performances from Dean Stockwell, Clifton James, and Biff McGuire as the idiotic POTUS. 


 

  The Werewolf of Washington clearly uses familiarity with The Wolf Man (1941) as jumping off point for it's script, with clear references to original. Stockwell’s werewolf make-up (presented through the usual dissolve transformation) has a bigger, greyer look to Pierce’s design, but it seems to big on his light frame, although this does give his beast more of a light agility. This werwolf is light on his feet, sneaking around and hanging on to car rooftops.

 


Stockwell has weird but amusing scene with an odd horror homage scene with Michael Dunn as Dr Kiss, a strange scientist who exists beneath the White House, an obvious satire on Henry Kissinger, with suggestion of Frankenstein’s Monster experiment. Stockwell’s werewolf is affectionate towards Dunn, licking him like a dog, but this idea goes nowhere. A cheap, half-baked and wasted opportunity with some garish 1970s interior decoration that’s liable to give headaches; not once does this feel like it takes place inside the White House.

 A word of warning about The Werewolf of Washington - it's available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime streaming. Don't. It has to be one of the worst prints of a film I've ever paid to see. Inexcusable qualoty where hardly a thing can be seen. It's on YouTube if you're that curious.

Friday, 16 October 2020

Mark of the Wolfman aka Frankenstein's Bloody LIES!



 Breather was a bit longer than anticipated. But I return.

 Spain’s Paul Naschy is a name that’s popped up quite a few times when compiling a list of werewolf movies to watch – it seems, to date, that he’s portrayed werewolves more than any other actor. Real name Jacinto Molina Alvarez, he was advised to change his name for international markets by the German distributors of this, his first werewolf move and also his first appearance as the mysterious Waldemar Daninsky. He would play the part another 11 times, each film unconnected to the others, So, he could be killed at the end of one film and then just turn up in the next with no explanation; not unlike Lawrence Talbot and Dracula in House of Dracula (1945), after they were seemingly permanent demises in House of Frankenstein (1944). Logic’s not always great, and that’s just as applicable here in La marca del hombre lobo (1968), which translates as Mark of the Wolfman. The version I managed to see was actually titled Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror and promises a Frankenstein Monster which becomes a wolfman!  This does not happen. Nope.

 

 Waldemar is bitten by a formerly dead werewolf, of the family Wolfstein (as close as this affair gets to the broken promise of a lycanthropic Frankenstein), after he is accidentally by a drunken Romani couple seeking shelter in his ruined castle. Now cursed, he seeks help from his two “friends”, Rudolph and Janice, only after stealing Janice from Rudolph, as is the way with mysterious chaps like himself. They call on two strange doctors, who claim they can help cure Waldemar, but in fact turn out to be vampires who want Waldemar’s werewolf for, well, it’s never really explained. Even less makes sense after this turn of events, with the original werewolf somehow resurrected again for purposes as unclear as anything else.

   The version of the film I saw was dubbed, atrociously, with the entire soundtrack replaced with some weird 60s sounds that were quite distracting. I’d be interested in seeing it in the original Spanish, with its original soundtrack intact. Scenes in this version also play out strangely, sometimes just ending. Other times characters appear in the next scene in a totally different location, seemingly at the same time, and then they jump back conveniently to the original location, as though someone got happy with a razor blade if re-editing for other markets. Hairstyles change sometimes instantenously between scenes that take place immediately after the previous one. I cannot stand dubbed films, unless they involve Kaiju in the 1960s (gimme some of that Showa Toho energy!). But this kind of dubbed crap appraoch is the ultimate phoniness.

 There’s a decent sense of gloom across the film, even with the garish and slightly overdone production design. We get treated to Waldemar’s first transformation through a weird, blurry lens effect. The make up design is not bad, clearly your average wolfman, but the difference is in Naschy’s wild performance, as he jerks unpredictably from side to side, almost like a crab, on his haunches. His first victims, who coincidentally speak to each other about werewolves just as Waldemar burst into their cottage and engages in what a police report might refer to as a frenzied and sustained attack. Naschy’s werewolf is a little dynamo, full of manic energy. He would play the part again and I’m intrigued as to what the rest of his films are like.But good to see werewolf films from other parts of the world.

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

A Breather

 No werewolf film blog tonight, so you're all spared more of my inane, shallow babbling.

I'm a few films ahead, and family and work have exhausted me today.

See ya's tomorrow for some Paul Naschy madness.

 

B

Monday, 12 October 2020

Moon Shadows & Dust - Curse of the Werewolf

 


Moving on to the 1960s, it wasn’t just the US studios who were going back to the werewolf well. And this is, I think, my first non-US werewolf film of this blog series. UK studio, Hammer, was beginning to carve out a solid reputation as horror filmmakers, after The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958) and The Mummy (1959) amongst others, and so it was only natural to turn to the next obvious monster icon, the Werewolf. But no Christopher Lee as the titular monster here. Hammer were after younger blood for this beast.

 

1961’s Curse of the Werewolf is another one of those films I’ve been wanting to see since I was a kid. The images of Oliver Reed’s werewolf were striking, with that kind of contained cruelty I felt Reed’s face contained now fully unleashed; I always felt intimidated just by his face, no matter the role. But this was quite the disappointment. It takes a full 50 minutes for Reed to even appear in the film, with the first half dealing with the origins of his characters, Leon, being born of a mute serving girl (Yvonne Romain) who was raped by a mad imprisoned beggar, in 18th century Spain. Given sanctuary by a kindly don (Clifford Evans), she dies in childbirth and Leon’s baptism is accompanied by lightning and a demonic presence. This werewolf’s curse is bestowed upon his baptism, giving the proceedings a very Catholic guilt/original sin feeling. Once again, our werewolf has done nothing to deserve his curse, other than being conceived in violence and born on Christmas Day.

 


What follows when Reed does turn up, is the kind of stuff we’d expect to see far earlier in the film, giving the whole thing a very odd pace. The first half is slow as hell while the second half feels rushed. Bright Young Thing of the time, Oliver Reed’s performance seems dominated by histrionics and director Terence Fisher doesn’t seem to realise the pure threat contained in Reed’s general demeanour. Roy Ashton’s make-up allows Reed’s performance to show through (the fur looks very different than anything I've seen so far, wiry and feral) but it’s also very blocky in its design, looking like he can’t turn his head. It does cut a fine silhouette, though, and works well in a great close shot where he hauls himself into a bell tower in the film’s climax. This make-up does seem more savage in its appearence to me and there is far more blood in this film than in any previous werewolf films I've watched - the BBFC were not happy about this film. But, Curse of the Werwwolf could have been so much better with a differently structured screenplay to give it all a bit of breathing space. As such, there’s not a great deal of tension and it's ultimately disappointing. But it’s a Hammer film, so there is obviously an appearance from Michael Ripper, which is always oddly comforting.