Tuesday 27 October 2020

Werewolf Woman meets Wolfman. We all lose.


  As with any sub-genre, it doesn’t take long before you come across something manky. Werewolf Woman (1976), by Italian director Rino Di Silvestro, is a pretty nasty exploitation piece that veers almost beyond soft-core porn and is ultimately a pretty nasty film.


   Annik Borel plays Daniella, a woman repelled by sex after being raped when she was younger. This is combined with an obsession about a dead relative to whom she bears a striking resemblance, who was purported to be a werewolf. The film begins with a dream/flashback to the female werewolf, Di Silvestri taking full nasty advantage of the idea of a woman becoming a feral being, complete with full female frontal nudity and even a closer shot of an area normally deemed off-limits in mainstream cinema. She transforms, furry breasts and all and is hunted by the typical mob, killing one of them. Daniella wakes up screaming. Not long after, her sister and her boyfriend turn up, him looking identical to the victim from Daniella’s dream. She spies on them having sex, which pushes her into a crazed attack on the boyfriend later, killing him and blaming it on local dogs. She doesn’t become a werewolf but is always naked when her feral attacks are made, biting and tearing.She soon escapes from a hospital to go on a voyeuristic killing spree.


It’s an unpleasant film that seems to treat the trauma of rape as an excuse to have a naked woman brutalise others; when Daniella is hospitalised, every other female patient seems to be a nymphomaniac. She does find peace for a shirt time with a man she falls in love with, but a wholly unnecessary gang rape sequence removes this joy from her life, resulting in a hasty revenge sequence. The scenes of violence against her would be more difficult to watch of they weren’t to incompetently filmed.

 Grubby and unpleasant.



  Wolfman (1979) was a vehicle to showcase the acting talents of producer Earl Owensby and, on that front, it certainly showcases…well, something. Owensby made films that went to the drive-ins of the 70s, mostly very cheap with actors who possess little to no experience. I did see one of his later films rented on VHS when I was a kid, Gremloids (1984), a cheap attempt at a Star Wars parody, whose only real virtue was giving us Lord Buckethead, who has become a staple of the UK election cycle.


  Owensby plays Colin Glasgow, who has come home to attend the funeral of his father, who we already know has been murdered by Colin’s cousins and a minister who also all happen to be Satanists. Seems there is a werewolf curse they want to pass on to Colin, for reasons we are never truly told. The curse is passed on to Colin and deaths ensue. It’s all meant to take place in the 1910s (?) and attempts a Gothic horror feel, which never feels authentic in any way. This is really cheaply made stuff, shot either on location or in a cheap studio with concrete floors (some high angles give them away, where floorboards should clearly be); no one sounds like they're in the corridors we're meant to believe they are. No work for Foley artists here, it seems. Most, if not all, of the actors are not professional – this should never be a flat reason for dismissal, but just about everyone here is awful. Extras and some victims in the torch wielding mob look like they’ve not even bothered to dress for the period, and bits of set wobble. Owensby’s werewolf is your typical hairy-faced, black snouted wolfman, with dissolve transformations taking just 3 shots, the middle of which he just looks like an ape-man. Owensby’s own central performance is dismal to the point of incredulity. He simple cannot act and his southern drawl is at odds with the location and tone he’s looking to achieve, coming off like Lee Majors after a severe head injury.


This is really only about one step above Troll 2 (1990) territory, but nowhere near as much fun. A cheap, shoddy vanity project, but I suspect it made money due to Owensby’s production methods, similar to Roger Corman, except Corman would employ talented people.

Damn, I hate ragging on films, but these were just awful.

Saturday 24 October 2020

Crying the Wolf Guy Must Die


  The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973) is another one I’d wanted to see since I was a kid. A friend had a book of movies monsters featuring this film and the photos of this werewolf scared the hell out of me, all wild hair and huge eyes. Time has cooled my fear, as this film is aimed less at a horror audience and seems a bit more for kids as well as their folks, and the werewolf is a bit silly. The first film I saw in a cinema was The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958), and this film brings back two of the main players from that film, director Nathan Juran and Sinbad himself, Kerwin Matthews. Matthews plays a recently divorced father, Robert Bridgestone, who takes his doting (and frankly irritating) son, Richie, for a weekend at their cabin in the woods. No sooner have they arrived and strolling through the woods, then they are attacked by a werewolf who has been stalking them since they drove up the road – no sense of anticipation here, the werewolf is in display form the first moment, and not all that scary, aside from some interesting guttural growls. Said werewolf is dispatched (with relative ease, it must be said) but not before dad has been bitten, and when dad starts to turn, Richie starts to suspect but, of course, no one believes him. Until it’s all too late.


Visually, it all feels a bit TV movie of the week, but there’s some interesting stuff going on here, with a boy’s growing fear of his father after a divorce, and an identity crisis for 1970s middle aged divorced men. There are some ropey gender politics going on but those are a product of the time this was made. The werewolf make-up seems less actual make-up and more of a mask, allowing for a more pronounced snout, as opposed to the blackened, dog nose of previous werewolves. I kind of liked that here, even of the snout seems to be open a good deal of the time, precluding much expression, but that comes from Kerwin Matthews’ loud and crazy eyes. It's a memorable werewolf for me. A sub plot involving Christian hippies is relatively amusing, their buffoonish leader played by the screenwriter, Bob Homel, but a buried head in Matthews' cabin is a Chekhov’s Gun which fails to go off.


OK, I admit it; The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad was technically the second film I veer saw in a cinema, being part of a double bill with The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Movie (1979). Chuck Jones and Ray Harryhausen was a decent start for me.


This werwolf is a LIE.

The Beast Must Die (1974) is the film which sparked this whole idea of watching werewolf films during October. The last of Amicus’ horror films, and not an anthology film (something they excelled at), it’s a grand and pompous affair, starring Calvin Lockhart as a millionaire big game hunter, Tom Newcliffe, who seeks the ultimate prize – to hunt down and kill a werewolf. To accomplish this, he has brought a selection of the great and the good to his mansion, all selected due to their proximity to gruesome murders which could be attributed to werewolves, and he’s convinced one of his guests is one. He makes to secret of this and even becomes obsessed with one particular guest, Paul Foote, played by Tom Chadbon, who should be familiar to fans of classic Doctor Who as Duggan in the classic story, City of Death, looking like a drunk Rick Wakeman. Michael Gambon also makes an early cinematic appearance as a classical pianist.


The Agatha Christie roots are obvious and it kind of works, even if it all gets a little rushed; this is no Death on the Nile. Newcliffe is basically a rich maniac who has pulled all of these people together to use as bait. As expected, some of the guests are picked off, leading to a grand finale, but not before innocent people meet with grisly deaths along the way. But there could be something to be said for casting a black actor who has brought a lot of very white English/European types to his mansion to his amusement. The film doesn't appear too bothered with much of this, even if his wife, played by African American actress Marlene Clark, is dubbed by white Scottish/US singer Annie Ross. Annie Ross will forever be ingrained in the terrified minds of 80s kids as the woman who gets turned into a robot in Superman III (1983). And being Jimmy Logan’s sister. Ross’ voice is very distinctive, and the use of her in the dubbing was just distracting. The presence of they call a "werewolf break", where the filmmakers stop everything to ask the audience who they think the werwolf is is incredibly distracting, apparently producer Milton Subotsky''s idea, but it doe slend itself to the evening dinner part feel the film seems to be aiming for, alongside the deaths and ripped out throats.


I had a bit of an issue where the werewolf itself, played by a big black dog (no anthropomorphic Wolf Man here, folks) takes on Lockhart’s own dog and the two fight. It looks like the filmmakers did indeed encourage two dogs to actually fight each other and that’s an unacceptable line crossed for me. As stated, the werewolf itself is just a big black dog, even though the poster for the film clearly shows a full-on Wolf Man as the monster – this image being “borrowed” from The Boy Who Cried Werewolf, quite the cheat indeed. Anton Diffring and Peter Cushing emerge with most of their dignity intact, if not one of their throats, while Charles Grey seems mercifully ignored. The film begins with an interesting fake out regarding the main character and ends with a supposedly noble sacrifice, but the hubris and arrogance of the main character seems forgotten by this moment. Over-acted and rather full or itself, with some brilliant actors a bit wasted. The score is that unique UK 70s jazzy funk thing I remember hearing on The Professionals and The Return of the Saint in early childhood, lending a sense of cool to the daft proceedings.


At no point does Wolf Guy look like James Bond

Wolf Guy - Enraged Lycanthrope (1975) is a Japanese wolf man tale starring Sonny Chiba as Akira Inugami, the last survivor of a wolf clan, now almost exterminated by locals. Based on a manga and actually a sequel to Ōkami no Monshō (1973), Chiba’s werewolf doesn’t assume the form of a wolf but does gain special feral powers when the moon is rising, his powers peaking when the moon is full, and weakneeing during a new moon. Unlike Lawrence Talbot, this werewolf actually looks forward to a full moon, so he can use his abilities for good, being kind of a superhero – I think his actual job is journalism, but I don’t think it’s explicitly stated in the film. But he's played by Sonny Chiba and can therefore kick the living shit out of people, so there's that. He's also bullet-proof at the peak of his powers. A transfusion of his blood to one of the villians does result in a bit of a more wild appearance, but I suspect that's simply because he's a bad guy and this is that kind of film.


Not our Wolf Guy. A different, brief Wolf Guy.

Coming across a crazed man who claims a tiger-woman is coming for him, the poor guy is ripped to shreds by an invisible force right before Inugami’s eyes. He investigates and discovers that the victim is a member of a pop group who gang raped a young woman, Miki, at the behest of a business magnate who didn’t want his son to marry her. Her rage now manifests in this invisible tiger and all she hates are doomed to die horribly. Chiba wants to help her and lift her from her life of abuse and drug addiction, but other powers are interested in both of them. A shadowy organisation, possibly the government, abduct them both. The emotionally fragile Miki has no choice but Chiba resists, leading to a gruesome scene where he is surgically cut open, while awake, and his intestines are left exposed. This is a nasty scene, featuring real surgical footage but the image is turned negative to avoid too much audience vomit. This also leads to a fantastic scene where, as the full moon appears, he uses his powers to draw his horribly exposed guts back into his body, sealing the open wound. It’s bonkers.


A bit of Noir.

Much of the film is, indeed, bonkers, with every woman with a speaking role throwing themselves at Chiba almost the moment they meet him, and a wonderfully funny moment where a thug is shot in the head, screams in the most over the top manner, and falls down a cliff, crap dummy used to full comedic effect. This might make me sound sick, but it is honestly hilarious. Tt seems to jump between genres at will, from crime drama to film noir to action spy caper with the greatest of ease. I had a top time watching Wolf Guy and it’s a shame no more were made.

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.