Tuesday, October 15, 2013

El retorno del Hombre-Lobo (1981)

El retorno del Hombre-Lobo (Night of the Werewolf) (1981) is the culmination of a strong career in the fantasy genre for Paul Naschy.  While Naschy was often solely the screenwriter and performer on most productions, Night of the Werewolf afforded him the opportunity to direct himself as his most famous character, Waldemar Daninsky.  Utilizing very familiar themes from his past work, such as the heavy burden of history upon the present, tragic and doomed love, and the eternal battle between good and evil, Naschy creates with El retorno del Hombre-Lobo a very personal and special work in his filmography.

Unsurprisingly, Naschy is quite proud of the film.  In his autobiography, Memoirs of a Wolfman, he writes:

"El retorno del hombre lobo contains all the coordinates of my own life, fitting together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle:  the claustrophobic castle, the Gothic tombs, the ill-fated love affair, the menace of the undead, the ostracism of someone who is despised for being different and the all pervading shadow of death.  All of these elements go to make up my personality and my work.  Movies, even horror fantasy movies, can carry real depth of meaning because through fantasy we can convey a far deeper message than would appear possible at first sight." (Midnight Marquee Press.  Baltimore, Maryland.  1997. p.150.)
Night of the Werewolf begins in medieval times where Elizabeth Bathory (Julia Saly) is adjudged a witch, a Satanist, and a vampire and sentenced.  Her followers, including Waldemar Daninsky (Naschy), a werewolf under the control of Bathory, are sentenced to death before the royal court.  Cut to the present where lovely archeological students Erika (Silvia Aguilar) and Barbara (Pilar Alcón) are planning a special holiday trip to the Carpathian mountains.  At a fireside meeting on a dark and stormy night, Erika tells her professor that she has located the tombs of both Elizabeth Bathory and Waldemar Daninsky and intends upon traveling to the region to investigate the site.  She asks her professor if she may take a special talisman on her journey, a medallion bearing the demonic name of Astaroth, with the intention of performing a ritual at the grave of Bathory.  Her professor resoundingly says no, but Erika is channeling an evil vibe in her dreams and is determined to resurrect Bathory to all of her former glory.  Auspiciously, two dullards happen upon Daninsky’s crypt slightly before Erika, Barbara, and their friend, young Karen (Azucena Hernández) arrive in the region.  These two geniuses intend to loot the crypt’s contents for treasure.  One pulls the silver cross dagger from Daninsky’s heart, and the newfound crypt becomes their own...
I’ve seen a lot of Naschy’s cinema, and at first blush, one would think that El retorno del Hombre-Lobo is a retread of themes and stories from his previous films.  For example, think of the iconic opening of El espanto surge de la tumba (1973), where Alaric du Marnac (Naschy), a warlock, and his faithful servant, Mabille (Helga Liné), a witch and vampire, are adjudged by the royal court as criminals and executed for their crimes.  Later, during a present-day setting, the descendents of that past event are called upon from the grave by their evil ancestors.  The theme of tragic love is a strong and familiar one in Naschy’s cinema.  In El gran amor del conde Drácula (1973) (as in other films, for example), Naschy’s monster character may only find peace in death from the hand of a woman who completely loves him.  The appealing irony of this theme is through love life is worth living, but a happy life is impossible when a violent creature stirs also inside that same heart.  Finally, one can see the lasting influence of the Universal Studios’ classic, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), in several of Naschy’s films, especially its classic final battle.  One needs only to look to Naschy’s previous La noche de Walpurgis (1971) as evidence.  El retorno del Hombre-Lobo contains all of these themes, and these themes are dramatized in sequences that eerily resemble their predecessors.
However, Night of the Werewolf really stands out from other Naschy work for this performance of Waldemar Daninsky.  Naschy is often praised for his athleticism and dedication to detail with his acting.  Rarely is kudos ever given for his emotive ability.  Naschy’s cinema is often talky, but Night of the Werewolf shows a judicious use of dialogue.  By this point in his career, Naschy was a veteran actor and he is able to bring a real sensitivity and tenderness to his Daninsky character.  For example, in a particular scene, Daninsky sits in front of a fire alone.  He is joined by his companion, an outcast who cares for Daninsky in his home, named Mircalla (Beatriz Elorrieta).  She is a beautiful woman who is horribly disfigured on the left side of her face.  Mircalla tells Daninsky that one of the young women will be able to free Daninsky from his curse.  He acknowledges the truth of what she says, and with a tender gesture, he rests his hand upon the left side of her face.  No long. heavy-handed, and drawn-out conversations.  Just quiet and intense character interactions.
Make no mistake, however, El retorno del Hombre-Lobo is a werewolf film; and Naschy is going to tear into quite a bit of ass during its running time.  If nothing else can be said about the film, it is so damn entertaining, well-paced, and handsomely-filmed.  I always giggle when Naschy as the werewolf grabs a rifle from an unsuspecting victims hands and breaks it in half before tearing into his victim’s jugular vein.  Who doesn’t love the sensuous imagery of the vampire women appearing at will upon the guests at the castle?  One also cannot forget the truly provocative imagery of Saly’s Bathory bathing in the blood of her victim.  El retorno del Hombre-Lobo ranks as one of the best of Spanish fantastic cinema.
I’ve seen Night of the Werewolf at least a dozen times and I will see it a lot more.  For those who have not seen it, check it out immediately (it was released on both DVD and Blu-Ray about six or seven years ago by BCI/Deimos).  For those who have seen it, Night of the Werewolf is worth revisiting, especially during this Halloween season.

No comments: