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.

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