"Despite my reservations," writes Paul Naschy, "La noche de Walpurgis was a worldwide box-office sensation and went on to become a movie legend and a genuine social phenomenon...This modest production marked the high point of Spanish horror fantasy and revitalized the genre throughout the world." (from Memoirs of a Wolfman by Paul Naschy [hereinafter, MW], translated by Mike Hodges, Midnight Marquee Press, Baltimore, MD, 2000, p. 107) As for this Naschy classic, La noche de Walpurgis (The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman) (1970), it would appear that we have the Germans to thank. Naschy writes:
"After the success of La marca del hombre lobo, the Germans decided to do another werewolf picture. They contacted Alberto Platar, the producer who had purchased Los monstruos del terror, for the purpose of doing another co-production. Platar had the idea of using another actor to play the Wolf Man. When he proposed this to the Germans they wouldn't hear of it...if Paul Naschy wasn't playing the role of the Wolf Man, they weren't making the film. Naturally, Platar had to change his mind and I was the protagonist." (from "Filmography," by Paul Naschy, Videooze, No. 6/7, edited by Bob Sargent, Alexandria, VA, Fall 1994, p. 24; hereinafter, VO)
Two young women, Elvira (Gaby Fuchs) and Genevieve (Barbara Capell) are traveling through the French countryside. They are searching for the tomb of the Countess Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy (Patty Shepard) in order to complete their scholastic essay. They become lost and encounter Mr. Waldemar Daninsky (Naschy) who invites the two ladies into his secluded home. Daninsky agrees to help the young ladies find their tomb, as Daninsky is looking for the crypt, also. The tomb houses a silver cross, which is, according to legend, piercing the heart of the Countess, keeping her vampiric soul at rest. Daninsky believes the silver cross can effectively end the werewolf’s curse, if plunged into the werewolf’s heart by someone who loves him on a full moon...
La noche de Walpurgis is an effective and beautiful fantastic film. Its screenplay, penned by Naschy (under his real name Jacinto Molina) and Hans Munkel, is a fairy tale. There’s innocence, tragedy, love, violence, death, hope, coincidence, and the supernatural, for example. Fantastic cinema is wholly unique; and if fantastic cinema didn’t die with Paul Naschy, then it most certainly did with the death of Jean Rollin.
One of the wonderful aspects of fantastic cinema is the use of slow motion, often creating ethereal and dream-like sequences. Naschy writes, “The film had the characteristic ups and downs of León Klimovsky, but I believe that the positive elements stood out above the errors or flaws it might have had. One of those positive elements is the way in which it treated the world of the vampires; I think the movement of vampires in slow motion is quite successful.” (VO, p. 24) Klimovsky is successfully able to channel the vibe that the vampires exist out-of-time. It’s as if they are real yet not real. In addition, they provide an excellent foil to Naschy’s quick and intense wolf man attacks. When the characters of the English-language title meet, Klimovsky mixes the two styles so well that it appears seamless.
La noche has the most simple of narratives. It’s a story where the strength comes from the images. Exposition, especially when it comes with dialogue, is especially laborious and cumbersome. The narrative of La noche obviously meant something to Naschy, as he penned the script, but I believe it meant little to any of the other participants. In an interesting yet odd touch, the performer who receives the best treatment with Klimovsky’s camera is an actress in a supporting role, Barbara Capell as Genevieve.
Despite Gaby Fuchs as Elvira becoming Naschy’s love interest in the film and Patty Shepard’s performance as the main antagonist, Capell receives the juiciest close-ups and dominates most frames. Unsurprisingly, Genevieve is attacked and becomes a vampire by the Countess. Surprisingly, it is Genevieve who gets to make two vampire seductions solo; and when Genevieve attacks with the Countess, it is Genevieve who takes central notice, as Shepard’s character wears a black veil which covers her face for the overwhelming majority of her performance.
Naschy notes that Patty Shepard, as the Countess, “in the beginning didn’t want to do the film (VO, p. 24)” and later “regretted having accepted the role (MW, p.107).” If I had to speculate as to why, I can understand Ms. Shepard’s regret. As noted, her character has little dialogue and shows almost no emotion. In addition, her face is almost completely obscured by a black veil for almost the entirety of La noche. Patty Shepard is undeniably a gorgeous woman and a talented actress (see El Monte de las brujas (1972) as clear evidence of this statement). As a visual motif, the look of the Countess is sometimes effective, but overall, not utilizing Shepard in her role is a missed opportunity.
La noche de Walpurgis is primal and is essential fantastic cinema. This film is one of my favorites starring Paul Naschy. The BCI Eclipse DVD is a must-have.