Friday, February 17, 2012

Primal Rage (Rage, furia primitiva) (1988)

Primal Rage (Rage, furia primitiva) (1988) is one of two "Harry Kirkpatrick" films, shot in Florida. Harry Kirkpatrick is a pseudonym for Umberto Lenzi and he is credited with the screenplay for Primal Rage. Its director is Vittorio Rambaldi who is, according to the IMdB, the son of Carlo Rambaldi. Carlo and Alex Rambaldi are credited with the special and visual effects within Primal Rage. The companion film to Primal Rage is Welcome to Spring Break (Nightmare Beach - la spiaggia del terrore) (1989). Welcome to Spring Break is directed by Lenzi who co-scripted the film with Vittorio Rambaldi. Vittorio and Alex Rambaldi contributed to the special effects on Welcome to Spring Break. Both Florida productions were scored by Claudio Simonetti and photographed by Antonio Climati. Many of the performers of the two productions, like Sarah Buxton, appear in both. Now let us dispense with this mechanical and fact-riddled paragraph and break to hear from Florida’s greatest bard:

Donna, donna, dark,
Stooping in indigo gown
And cloudy constellations,
Conceal yourself or disclose
Fewest things to the lover--
A hand that bears a thick-leaved fruit,
A pungent bloom against your shade. (*)

Primal Rage is set in a Florida university. Student journalist Sam (Patrick Lowe) zips around campus on his red scooter while snapping photos of the excited student population. Beautiful student, Lauren (Cheryl Arutt) is about to have her vehicle towed away, but Sam is able to step in and be her “white knight.” Lauren returns to her dormitory room to discover pretty Debbie (Sarah Buxton), her new roommate. Debbie had to miss much of the semester, because of a medical condition. Sam returns to the campus newspaper office and engages in witty banter with colleague, Duffy (Mitch Watson). Duffy encourages Sam to investigate the experiments of university professor, Dr. Ethridge (Bo Svenson) and his top-secret scientific work. Duffy says that Sam should break into his laboratory to get the big scoop, but Sam plays by the rules and says no. Duffy borrows Sam’s camera and infiltrates Dr. Ethridge’s lab. Once inside, Duffy encounters an extremely angry monkey in a cage. It breaks out of the cage, whips Duffy’s ass a little bit, and bites his arm. Wonder if the animal carries anything infectious? Duffy is curious, too.

Primal Rage is notorious for having the congenial or innocuous tone and visual style of an American made-for-television film combined with some particularly nasty scenes of violence. The film is the very opposite of the cartoon-ish gore flicks made during the same period such as Re-Animator, Street Trash, and Bad Taste. The lack of irony not only adds to the camp value of Primal Rage but it also kind of makes you cringe a little bit in a sickening way. The following paragraph is an example and it contains SPOILERS:

Do you remember the costume party that Daniel (Ralph Macchio) attends in the original Karate Kid (1984)? Daniel opts for a humorous costume (a shower, complete with curtain and nozzle), while his nemeses, the Cobra Kai, don those iconic skeleton costumes (which make them look kind of sinister). As a result of the ingenuity of his costume, Daniel gets to cuddle and dance with his sweetheart, Ali (Elisabeth Shue), without being harassed by the Cobra Kai. Daniel, using stealth (again, as the result of his costume), plays a few pranks on the Cobra Kai. Daniel gets beaten by them pretty badly as a result. Pat Morita, of course, saves Daniel and the world becomes a better place. This whole dance sequence is sweet and overall, very heartwarming.

To contrast, Primal Rage also ends with a costume party, complete with live band in attendance. Previously in the film, Sam and Lauren and Debbie and Duffy, while on a double date, get harassed by three aggressive and belligerent students. These three students are revealed, later in the film, as psychopaths and rapists. They become infected by the titular “rage virus.” One could imagine that the “rage virus” enhances rather than retards their psychopathic behavior. However, the virus does not stop the trio from donning their skeleton costumes and attending the party. When they arrive at the party, they begin killing people by ripping out their throats and beating them to death. They are also doing this quite gleefully. The visual style and tone of this sequence, like almost all of Primal Rage, is completely detached, and this sequence, again like the whole film, is impressive in its stomach-turning quality. END SPOILERS.

Welcome to Spring Break (Nightmare Beach - la spiaggia del terrore) (1989) benefits from the performance of two of its veteran actors, John Saxon and Michael Parks. Bo Svenson lends his veteran talent to Primal Rage, but unfortunately his talent is under-utilized. He appears to be cast to capitalize upon his name recognition. Svenson is an imposing figure physically and in my opinion, he is the action hero to most likely gently squeeze the life out of an opponent. Playing the bookish, self-serving professor does not really mesh with Svenson’s performance. Like Lowe, Arutt, and Watson, Svenson gives a competent and satisfactory performance. Very attractive Sarah Buxton gives the best performance as Debbie. Not only does her character have to endure most of the terrible shit in the movie, she also has to provide the emotional core of the film. As a reward for this focal performance, Debbie is given the most unintentionally hilarious and worse dialogue. Buxton is fantastic and gives an even better performance in Welcome to Spring Break.

Incidental note: Welcome to Spring Break also includes a party with a live band and the same song is performed in both films: "Say the Word" by Kirsten. I have no idea whether its the same band in the two films, but the song is absolute brilliance. It also plays over the opening credit sequence of Primal Rage. Speaking of music, there is a really, really offensive scene within Primal Rage that reuses a metal song from Dario Argento’s Opera (1987). That being said, Simonetti’s score doesn’t really stand out. Considering that three of the Rambaldi family worked on Primal Rage, the gore effects, despite the low budget, are quite credible and nasty.

I have quite the fondness for Florida. I grew up on the Gulf Coast, so when I see the characters walking outside, I can smell the sea air and feel the breeze. I also have a nostalgia for this period of cinema and a serious weakness for Italian genre cinema. These biases considerably enhance my enjoyment of Primal Rage. Bear that in mind. As a final note, I own two DVD editions of Primal Rage: an Italian release by Millennium Storm and an American release by label Code Red. If you want a technical comparison of each DVD, then I would refer you to another site. I only mention the two discs, because the Italian disc seems to be missing quite a bit of the gore that is present in the Code Red DVD.

* “O Florida, Venereal Soil,” by Wallace Stevens. The Collected Poems by Wallace Stevens. Random House, New York, NY. Vintage Books Edition, 1990.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Paura nella città dei morti viventi (City of the Living Dead) (1980)

The village of Dunwich houses a gate to hell in Lucio Fulci's Paura nella città dei morti viventi (City of the Living Dead) (1980). This is not surprising. Most of us have known this for a while:

"In 1747 the Reverend Abijah Hoadley, newly come to the Congregational Church at Dunwich Village, preached a memorable sermon on the close presence of Satan and his imps; in which he said:

'It must be allow'd, that these Blasphemies of an infernall Train of Daemons are Matters of too common Knowledge to be deny'd; the cursed voices of Azazel and Buzrael, of Beelzebub and Belial, being heard now from under Ground by above a Score of credible Witnesses now living. I my self did not more than a Fortnight ago catch a very plain Discourse of evill Powers in the Hill behind my House; wherein there were a Rattling and Rolling, Groaning, Screeching, and Hissing, such as no Things of this Earth cou'd raise up, and which must needs have come from those Caves that only black Magick can discover, and only the Divell unlock.'

"Mr. Hoadley disappeared soon after delivering this sermon; but the text, printed in Springfield, is still extant." (1)
As a traditional narrative, Paura nella città dei morti viventi fails. My chief complaint towards the plot is the complete lack of desperation and fear driving the main characters. Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) and Peter Bell (Christopher George) are attempting to find the village of Dunwich before All Saint's Day. At midnight at this appointed time, shit will go from bad to worse, and the gate of hell will open unto the city of dead. In my opinion, the opening of the gate of hell is a strong motivation to get one's ass into gear. In an endearing sequence yet one that completely undermines the story, Peter, in a fit of frustration, pulls his road map and attempts to find a navigable road to Dunwich. Mary exits the vehicle and flirtatiously asks Peter to take a break and go for a meal. MacColl has a beautiful smile and most could not resist her charms (including me). Peter, with a beaming smile on his face, succumbs to Mary’s wishes, and the two wisp off to the local town to get a meal (and some information).

In a dramatic sense, this scene is designed to show these two characters growing together and, maybe, growing closer romantically. Earlier in the film, Peter nearly crushed poor Mary’s head with a pickaxe. Why? Mary is a medium, and during a séance, she witnessed in a vision the suicide of a priest in the village of Dunwich. The subsequent evil which would come with this priest’s death was also made available to Mary during her vision. This vision was so powerful that it knocked Mary into a death-like trance, so convincing that she was pronounced dead and was half-buried in a coffin in a cemetery. In a gasping fit for air, Mary screamed from her coffin where only Peter was in earshot to hear her. He pulled a pickaxe and drove it as hard as he could into the coffin, several times, specifically in the region where her head laid. He almost kills her but rescues her. Now Mary wants a snack. This is understandable.

Dardano Sacchetti admits that he and Lucio Fulci were unable to work for a year after the phenomenal success of Zombi 2. (2) He writes that, “Well, Fulci, in the long run, managed to persuade the Medusa people to finance Paura nella città dei morti viventi, which I consider one of our least successful films in as much as it was thought out and shot in an atmosphere of sheer desperation.” (3) Catriona MacColl states that, “I spent a lot of time in Italy which I adore. City was done in the spring. I think that we were in the States in April or May. We would do two or three weeks in Georgia, or Boston or New Orleans, and then about six weeks in Rome. Fulci wasn’t actually present at the dubbing, he had a dubbing director take care of it. On City he was still shooting when we dubbed it.” (4) Fulci began shooting Black Cat (Gatto Nero) on the day Paura nella città dei morti viventi premiered in Roman cinemas. (5) From the little information that I was able to gather in regards to this film, it would appear that Paura nella città dei morti viventi was a hurried production. With this information in mind, many of these flaws are forgivable, and for the forgiving viewer, Paura nella città dei morti viventi is an entertaining Italian horror film.

Like L'aldilà (1981), the best Lucio Fulci cinema are works of haphazard beauty, full of contradictions. Paura nella città dei morti viventi is no exception. The opening low-key sequence in the cemetery where the priest enters to commit suicide is an effective atmospheric set piece. (Sergio Salvati’s photography is always beautiful, but his work is in top form in Paura.) One of the most famous sequences of the film, where a young woman regurgitates her innards, is preceded by one of Fulci’s most affecting images: the young woman whose eyes bleed like tears. This image conjures many themes, mostly religious, yet this image even without a context, is extremely beautiful.

Despite the weak narrative of Paura, the film has some brilliant episodes. For example, Janet Agren plays Sandra, a patient of local Dunwich therapist, Gerry (Carlo De Mejo). She’s alone at home one evening and painting. She hears a strange noise and goes to investigate. Sandra calls Gerry, because she doesn’t know if she’s gone crazy after what she has seen. Gerry arrives and goes to look in her kitchen where the dead body lays of a woman who died days previously. How did her corpse get into Sandra’s kitchen? Who knows? This scene is also reminiscent of a famous scene in Stephen King’s 1975 novel, 'Salem's Lot, where Matthew Burke invites Benjamin Mears over to his house to witness the corpse of Mike Ryerson. It’s one of those fantastic sequences where totally rational people are forced to deal with the completely irrational. They’re not used to it, and it’s both kind of creepy and amusing to watch them squirm.

Fulci certainly doesn’t mind putting his gore on display nor his sadism (the drill scene suffices in this respect). I cannot think of another film which has such a striking balance of the visceral and the atmospheric ethereal. And Catriona MacColl was a real jewel who elevated Fulci’s cinema mightily. Paura nella città dei morti viventi, like L'aldilà, is an extremely important film in Italian horror cinema.


1. “The Dunwich Horror.” H.P. Lovecraft. The Best of H.P. Lovecraft Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre. Del Rey Ballantine Books. New York: 1982. p. 100.
2. Spaghetti Nightmares. Edited by Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta. Fantasma Books. Key West, Florida: 1996. p. 124.
3. Spaghetti Nightmares. Edited by Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta. Fantasma Books. Key West, Florida: 1996. p. 124.
4. Beyond Terror The Films of Lucio Fulci. Stephen Thrower. FAB Press. Surrey, England, U.K: 1999. p. 160.
5. Beyond Terror The Films of Lucio Fulci. Stephen Thrower. FAB Press. Surrey, England, U.K: 1999. p. 160.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dèmoni 2 (Demons 2) (1986)

One of the reasons that I immensely love the two Dario Argento-produced and Lamberto Bava-directed Demons films is their narrative simplicity. Make no mistake these films are about demons, and they are coming to get you.

About Dèmoni 2 (Demons 2) (1986) Luigi Cozzi writes, "This time, just like in Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist and Cronenberg's Videodrome, horror comes out of tv sets, a brilliant idea and a poignant metaphor of all the monsters that populate the screen. What Bava's film states is that they all come from our unconscious, and feed through our very eyes: they are born with our complicity and keep growing thanks to our pleasure in consuming what most disturbs and frightens us. That's why they are invincible: they're part of ourselves." (from Giallo Argento, by Luigi Cozzi, Profondo Rosso, Rome, Italy, 2001: pp. 153-154.)
Let’s start the show.

Sally (Coralina Cataldi Tassoni) is having a party for her birthday. She lives in a high-rise apartment building in Hamburg. Her neighbors are George (David Knight) and his expectant wife, Hannah (Nancy Brilli). On the first floor of the building, Hank (Bobby Rhodes) encourages the gym patrons as they furiously pump iron. The rest of the residents of the apartment building settle in to watch what is perhaps the greatest show to ever be broadcast on television. This show, within Dèmoni 2, is so amazing that it deserves its own paragraph and summary.

The culture-at-large within Dèmoni 2 clearly recognizes the outbreak scenario and the events that transpired in Berlin in the first Demons film. The show being broadcast on television to the Hamburg high-rise residents is a docudrama which takes as its thesis, “Would we be prepared if another demon outbreak occurred?” Love it. The dramatization involves four young adults who, like Stalkers, enter a quarantined and forbidden Zone, walled-off from the general population. These young adults are searching for artifacts and proof relating to the existence of demons. (Is this not the coolest shit, ever?) They find a demon corpse, and as all good young people are capable of doing in a horror film, they accidentally resurrect the demon. The resurrected demon kills the young four within the program.
Sally decides to cry during her birthday party and retreats to her bedroom. She watches the demon docudrama on television while the rest of the partygoers continue in the living room. Once the demon within the program kills the final young protagonist, it turns towards the screen and exits the television set to attack and possess poor Sally. It’s time for her to blow out the candles and cut the cake.
Gianlorenzo Battaglia lensed Dèmoni 2 as he did for Dèmoni (1985). As for the latter film, Battaglia employed theatrical lighting to accompany the movie-theatre setting of the film. For Dèmoni 2, Battaglia uses a similar technique: mimicking the light from a snowy television screen, the color scheme is grey and shadows. In a signature scene, involving Hannah and her diminutive demon attacker, the lighting even flickers and flashes. This lighting technique as visual motif is successful because it is subtle. It’s a very creative touch within the film.
Dèmoni 2 features two child actors in important roles. One is Ingrid, played by Asia Argento (daughter of Dario); and the other is Tommy, played by Marco Vivio. On a personal level, I can connect with these two characters: Demons 2 was the first Italian horror film that I saw in a film theatre during its original run. I’m a few months older than Asia Argento and when I initially saw this film, these were the characters to whom I could most closely relate. Asia’s character is sheltered and protected by her father up until an intense battle later in the film; whereas Tommy is alone throughout the entire film. (His parents are out in the city.) Tommy watches the demon docudrama on television, and like me at that age, is enthralled with the proceedings. In a very effective scene later in the film, after the initial group of high-rise demons have gone to cause havoc on the lower floors of the building, Tommy ventures out of his apartment into a darkened hallway. He is equipped with his toy laser pistol. Tommy approaches the stairwell and peeks over the railing. In a sobering moment, he sees a vengeful and furious group of demons racing up the stairs. With a quick cut, Tommy drops his toy and runs to hide. This scene has always been particularly affecting to me. It’s both symbolic and very well orchestrated.
There are light moments within Dèmoni 2. Bobby Rhodes returns and reprises a similar role, as a de facto general of the human population, defending themselves against the demon legion. In a humorous twist, Lino Salemme who played the coked-up thug Ripper in the first Demons, plays the overbearing high-rise building security guard in Dèmoni 2.
The acting within Dèmoni 2 is definitely average and many of the sequences go on for a tad too long, but these are the only real gripes that I have towards the film. There many small and brilliant visual compositions with Demons 2. In addition, the final twenty minutes are intense (and a wee predicable), and the final confrontation is in an effective setting. Dèmoni 2 is way, way better than a sequel should be and far more creative than most fans would expect. Essential viewing.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Killer contro killers (Death Commando) (1985)

I've seen Killer contro killers (Death Commando) (1985) at least ten times, now; and while I notice more of its flaws with each viewing, the film still ranks as one of my favorites from writer and director Fernando di Leo. Killer contro killers is di Leo's final film. While most would see this film as an ignominious ending for the master filmmaker, his playful spirit is still very evident and his most dominant theme in all of his work, freedom, continues to pervade.
Scumbag and broker for the local criminal syndicate (Franco Diogene) is approached by His Excellency, the local kingpin (Edmond Purdom) to assemble a crew for a heist. Diogene's financial greed trumps his good sense and he agrees to assemble a crew for the heist, despite not knowing the particulars of the job. Diogene hires safecracker, Jaffe (di Leo regular, Fernando Cerulli); conwoman Cherry (Dalila Di Lazzaro); jack of trades, Ferrari (Albert Janni); and loner hitman, Sterling (Henry Silva). They all agree to work the heist. The heist involves breaking and entering into a military facility; stealing an important document out of the safe; neutralizing all hostile targets with non-lethal means; and blowing up the facility to erase all traces of a heist. The crew is successful, but it appears that each of the crew is another loose end in need of tidying up. Time to grab the firearms.
The first and second act of Killer contro killers are strong in their execution, primarily in their pacing, and the dramatic structure is easy-to-follow and competent. The first act is the exposition and introduces all characters while the second act involves the heist. None should find any distracting flaws, here.

The first and second acts are highlighted by their di Leo-ian flourishes and touches. During her character exposition in the first act, Di Lazzaro's Cherry is posing as an expectant mother, shuffling through a thoroughfare. Her mark is a businessman with a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. He is accompanied by two bodyguards. Cherry's boyfriend is in on the con and he is posing as a leisure-time roller-skater. Cherry gives the signal and her boyfriend grabs the mark. Cherry reveals a pair of wire cutters, but her mark kicks her in her belly, temporarily stunning her. She gets back up and defiantly, instead of cutting the handcuff, she cuts of the mark's hand.
Jaffe, the safecracker, is a voyeur. He likes to spend money on women and watch them disco dance in the nude in his apartment. His employers bring to his apartment a facsimile of the safe that he will encounter in the heist. Jaffe is supposed to practice upon this facsimile safe to prepare for the heist. I don't know why this sequence is brilliant, but when Jaffe practices on the safe, it is the ladies who like to watch.
As the hitman, Silva's Sterling must utilize non-lethal methods on his marks during the heist. He is given a tranquilizer rifle with darts as ammo. He goes to the park and practices using the rifle on the park's patrons. I bullshit you not. I do not laugh during these sequences but obnoxiously cackle.
Finally, during the evening of the heist, in order to gain access into the facility, the crew hires an extremely attractive young woman to bounce on a trampoline on the outside of the walls to attract the guards' attention. The crew is beyond successful.
The final act of Killer contro killers suffers from too many conversation scenes between Silva's Sterling and Janni's Ferrari. The substance of their conversation is repeated over and over. An especially long conversation occurs between Silva and Purdom. This scene wants to be confrontational and intense but it goes on too long to sustain its energy. The final shootout is fantastic. The scenes that are particularly noteworthy are Sterling unleashing his exotic pet (Puma? Cheetah?) upon an incoming gangster and the numerous scenes of Silva blowing up a single person with a bazooka. (Note: I obnoxiously cackle during these sequences, as well.)

All joking aside, Fernando di Leo envisioned Killer contro killers as a remake of John Houston's The Asphalt Jungle (1950). The original Spanish producers pulled out of the production and eventually the small production company, Robur, based in Rome, agreed to finance the film. Robur was comprised of producer, Mario Colajanni and actor, Albert[o] [Cola]janni and while they agreed to finance the film, the budget would not be much. As a result, di Leo significantly altered his script. Di Leo would have preferred Harrison Muller from his previous film, The Violent Breed (1984) as Silva's "co-protagonist." (from Fernando di Leo e il suo cinema nero e perverso, by Gordiano Lupi, Profondo Rosso, Rome, Italy, 2009, pp. 171-172.) This is speculation, but perhaps di Leo originally envisioned an American-style noir with Melville-ian undertones, as with his Milano calibro 9 (1972). Lupi suggests that Killer contro killers is "un noir ironico" in the vein of I padroni della citta (1976) or Colpo in canna (Loaded Guns) (1975). (Lupi, p. 172.)
Killer contro killers is definitely not for the uptight, and in my opinion, the veteran filmmaker played fast and loose with the film. Dalila Di Lazzaro performed a pop song entitled Cry baby cry within the film, and the entire song and her performance is captured, like a proto-music video. This sequence is strong evidence that the man was definitely not uptight. God bless you, Fernando di Leo.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Trail (Jui gwai chat hung) (1983)

Michael Hui produced and co-wrote The Trail (Jui gwai chat hung) (1983) with director Ronny Yu. The Trail is a film with three strong elements: adventure, comedy, and horror; and the film is also an offhanded morality tale, which is pretty cool, too.
Set in 1922 in the Xiangxi province in China, Kent Cheng plays a Taoist priest who, along with his assistant, played by Ricky Hui, is leading a group of corpses to their burial grounds. (All gweilo who are versed in Hong Kong horror cinema are familiar with the image of the Taoist priest leading a group of corpses. These corpses' main mode of locomotion is "hopping." They are under the control of the Taoist priest who rings a bell to lead them and uses charms/talismans to control them.) This is, however, a front. Cheng, as the Captain, is actually leading a group of opium smugglers. Those corpses are Cheng and Hui's comrades, played by genre stalwarts such as Chung Fat (who also serves as co-stunt coordinator) and Anthony Chan, for example. They move from town to town within the province, not collecting corpses and performing religious rites but moving product. The crew makes a stop in a small town which is controlled economically by a lecherous and iron-fisted businessman, played by Miu Tin. He lusts after the town's pretty singer (Tsui Siu Ling). Miu Tin's character kills the singer's husband in order to have sex with her. For a large sum of money, Miu Tin gives the husband's corpse to Cheng and Hui, to lead out of town, away from prying eyes...
After a skirmish with some bandits, while en route to another town, Cheng, Hui and crew lose the corpse in a pit of quicksand. "Oh, well" is the consensus of the group. At a layover at an inn, later that evening, one of the crew is killed. The perpetrator is the corpse of the singer's husband, back from the grave for revenge.
Nothing about The Trail is over-the-top. It's a rare film, because it's energetic in its pacing yet low-key in its humor and tone. When Cheng, Hui and crew realize that the corpse is reeking havoc near the local village, they decide to subdue the creature (with Taoist magic and good old-fashioned ingenuity). Yu presents two fantastic episodes, one in an abandoned and ruined temple and the other in some ancient catacombs. The set design, by the way, is superb. Yu, one of the best visual directors currently working today, establishes the temple as an ominous and eerie location with a single composition. Within the temple, he uses shadows and off-kilter compositions to show the monster. Intuitively, one would think that the production is hiding poor special effects with such camera work, but Yu's style appears organic and artistic. Likewise, the jokes are subtle but by no means are the jokes small: nearly every punch line is dangerously close to a character's death.
The primary reason that Cheng, Hui and crew decide to subdue the walking corpse is not because it's the right thing to do (like preventing more deaths) but rather because the walking corpse will hurt their credibility. If word gets out that they lost a corpse, then they will become suspect and their smuggling operation will cease. As The Trail progresses, the seemingly small task of leading a corpse to burial becomes monumentally and drastically hazardous. By no means is The Trail didactic (the talent involved is too good), but by the end of the film, it's quite obvious that exploiting the spiritual world for material gain is a losing proposition.
The Trail (Jui gwai chat hung) (1983) is a fantastic film for fans of any of the participants or for fans of old school and really cool Hong Kong cinema.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

La maldición de la bestia (Night of the Howling Beast) (1975)

La maldición de la bestia (Night of the Howling Beast) (1975) is not one of my favorite Paul Naschy films. Naschy writes that La maldición de la bestia is "[a] comic-strip brought to the screen; with the Wolf Man, Tartars, the Yeti, action, the ever-present curse of the werewolf, and the Tibetan flower which frees Waldemar from his curse. In short, a film that I find very amusing." (from "Filmography," by Paul Naschy, Videooze, No. 6/7, edited by Bob Sargent, Alexandria, VA, Fall 1994, p. 33.) "Amusing" is a perfect word to describe this production. La maldición de la bestia has its strengths but it's overshadowed by even stronger flaws. Here's a quick set-up for the plot:

Waldemar Daninsky (Naschy) is summoned by Professor Lacombe (Castillo Escalona) to accompany him and his daughter, Sylvia (Grace Mills) on an expedition to the Himalayas to find the mythical Yeti. Daninsky agrees to help, as he is a prominent anthropologist and adventurer. The expedition arrives in Nepal and assembles a local crew, but the navigable trail into the mountains has been snowed in. Daninsky agrees to take a more treacherous path into the mountains for the expedition to follow later. Unfortunately, Daninsky gets lost on his way, and the expedition goes to look for him. The funky stuff happens next.

One of the key characteristics of all successful Paul Naschy cinema is a strong female performance, buttressed by a focal plot centered around her and Naschy. For example, in La noche de Walpurgis (The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman) (1970), the main plot involves Daninsky attempting to lift his werewolf curse with the help of Elvira, played by Gaby Fuchs. The secondary plot line involved Ms. Patty Shepard’s vampire queen and the havoc that she was reeking across the region. In La maldición de la bestia, the adventure plot line, involving the expedition, the bandits, the Yeti, and so on, is focal; and the curse plot line, involving Waldemar and Sylvia, is collateral. Naschy, who pens the screenplay for La maldición, reverses his successful formula, and the finished film suffers as a result. The adventure plot line grows tired quickly and it doesn’t involve a strong female presence (or performance).

In addition, one of the other key characteristics of successful Paul Naschy cinema is a real artistic command of the fantastique by the director. Directors who have worked with Naschy such as León Klimovsky, Carlos Aured, and Javier Aguirre, for example, were all adept at creating fantastic images, atmosphere, and settings. The director of La maldición, Miguel Iglesias, is not capable of creating the rollicking fun and enthusiasm of Naschy’s screenplay nor creating a film that in any way looks interesting. Iglesias is certainly competent but lacks any artistic flare. Music is sparse. Any energy in the film comes from the performers.
The first act exposition moves swiftly in La maldición de la bestia, and the first act concludes with one of the more audacious sequences in the film. Tired, hungry, and on the verge of death, Waldemar wanders into a cave which houses two young attractive priestesses who worship an evil deity. They nurse Waldemar back to full health and then engage in some awkward sex with him. When Waldemar is able to walk again, he wanders further into the cave and witnesses the two priestesses feasting on flesh like two ravenous animals. Repulsed, Waldemar decides that it is time to split. He is attacked by one priestess who reveals that she has vampiric powers! Waldemar stakes her before she bites. The second priestess reveals she has lupine powers and nibbles on Naschy. Her bite results in the Wolf Man curse upon Daninsky. In more adept hands, this sequence would have been classic Spanish horror. In Iglesias’s hands, the sequence is pale. A lot of its life blood comes from its performers.
Save Naschy’s Wolf Man attacks in the second act of La maldición, the film becomes extraordinarily boring with the plot line involving the expedition besieged by bandits. The final act sees the introduction of sexy Wandesa (Silvia Solar), an evil alchemist in the midst of the bandits who forces Daninsky to bow to her will or see the death of his friends! In addition, the final act is the most action-packed. Naschy, in non-werewolf form, goes hand-to-hand with the big bandit, Sekkar Khan (Luis Induni) in an excellent fight sequence. Don’t forget the Yeti. Please don’t forget the Yeti. If the viewer can labor through the main narrative, then he/she will certainly be rewarded with a few strong episodes in La maldición de la bestia.
Paul Naschy won the Silver Carnation Award for Best Actor at the International Cinefantastique Film Festival in Sitges in 1975 for his performance in La maldición. (from Memoirs of a Wolfman by Paul Naschy, translated by Mike Hodges, Midnight Marquee Press, Baltimore, MD, 2000, p. 244.) A must see for Waldemar Daninsky fans and for Paul Naschy completists.