Night of the Werewolf (US - DVD R1)
Gabe barks at the moon and checks out the first of BCI's new Naschy collection...
In the 1600s Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy) is sentenced to an execution along with a coven of witches under the service of the Bloody Lady of Čachtice, Elizabeth Bathory. Daninsky the Wolf Man has a silver dagger plunged through his heart, and an iron mask nailed to his face, and is left to rot in a tomb for centuries. Finally, in the 1980s, the dagger is removed by grave robbers, and Daninsky returns to his grim life, fighting against Bathory in a desperate struggle for atonement.
I talked a lot about Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy (real name Jacinto Molina) when I reviewed the German release of one of his best films, The Hunchback of Rue Morgue, a few months back. I kind of figured I wouldn't be reviewing any more Naschy flicks any time soon, so I kind of went all out. Little did I know BCI Video was preparing an entire region one Naschy collection.
This collection doesn't really get off to a great start unfortunately, as Night of the Werewolf (aka: El Retorno del Hombre-Lobo and on US home video The Craving) isn't exactly the ex-body builder's best. In fact, it may be my least favourite among the Naschy films I've seen. In 1980 the man had already played the Wolfman Waldemar Daninsky eight times throughout the late '60s through the '70s by my count (and would play him three more times later), but this would mark the first time he would direct himself in the role. Naschy isn't a weak director, but he only has himself to blame for this weak script (and by Naschy terms that's saying a lot).
I should probably make it known that I'm not really a fan of the Hombre Lobo series on the whole. They're kind of repetitive, the character being the only corresponding factor between them, and the plots usually consist of Daninsky brooding, having a few awkward sex scenes, and chomping into throats. They're fun in parts, but with the possible exception of Night of the Howling Beast, I've pretty much always lost interest before the end credits have rolled.
The problem I have with Night of the Werewolf is the same problem I have with the rest of the series–it's really slow. Unlike some of Naschy's better films, the exploitative elements (i.e.: sex and violence) are few and far between, and though I respect the Hell out of Naschy for filming in and around real Spanish castles, the gothic elements aren't enough to reel me in visually. The gothic look is really pushed in most positive reviews of the film, but to me 'gothic' is a hard earned title. Gothic are equal parts visual and narrative feel. Mario Bava is gothic, Taxi Driver is gothic, Night of the Werewolf is a cheesy horror flick filmed on Gothic locations.
I'm coming up to a bit of a writer's block here, because there isn't much to say about a film that is so obliviously campy. This is a case of glass half full or empty. Hardcore Naschy fans will find my review worthless, and even passing fans may enjoy this film, but to the uninitiated I can't recommend the film. The opening sequence where Báthory and her followers are sentenced to death is a nice start, and the corny credit score is golden (which is apparently taken from Tentacoli, which starred John Huston, Shelley Winters, and Henry Fonda!), even placing the film in the (then) modern era rather than the middle ages like so many of El Hombre Lobo's other adventures is a step in the right direction, and opens a whole new can of camp appeal. Unfortunately the film as a whole is not equal to these parts.
Bad movie or not, the folks at BCI Eclipse have done a bang up job with this transfer. The flick is old and the negative was most likely mal-kempt, and this shows in the form of dirt and artefacts. The contrast and colours are right on, something that can't be said for a lot of other older Spanish horror films on DVD, which are often faded and very high contrast. Details aren't as sharp I may've liked, but are at least consistent, as dark areas are just as discernible as light ones. I've seen better work out of Blue Underground and Anchor Bay, but for a smaller studio this Spanish horror series is off to a great start.
I often prefer watching European horror films dubbed, especially if they're of a 'cheesy' nature. Sometimes the bad lip-sync and listless acting will be a positive addition to my viewing experience. The majority of films from the area and era are recorded without sound anyway, and often star multilingual casts. Needless to say I was happy listening to the remixed English 5.1 Dolby Digital track. The track is pretty much identical to the mono English track, which I see as a good thing. Only the bass and musical score really benefit from the remixing. The film's score, I should say, is one of its finest assets, and is truly disturbing in some parts.
Overall both tracks, and the alternate mono Castilian track, are often distorted and muddled. The sound often peaks at higher levels and ends up buzzing. Vocals are usually discernible, but the crackling of an old track is still pretty obvious. There are a few cases of audio drop-out as well, but they're all very brief.
Though not exactly overflowing with extras, Naschy fans should be content. The film is preceded by a special message from the man himself, looking a bit haggard, and the seriousness to which he takes these films is endearing. Love the guy. After watching the movie, we are treated to the alternate Spanish title sequences (which are exactly the same as the English one, but in Spanish), an international trailer, and three different still galleries, one of which features my favourite, poster art. The set's most enduring extra is its booklet, featuring liner notes from Naschy expert Mirek Lipinski. Very informative.
So I didn't really like this one, but stay tuned for reviews of the further adventures of everyone's favourite Spanish horror-monger. So far BCI Eclipse is doing right by the man, and I only feel valid complaining about the distortion on the audio tracks. Next up: Vengeance of the Zombies.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 8th May 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Mono English, Dolby Digital Mono Castilian
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Paul Naschy Introduction, Trailers, Original Titles, Stills, Liner Notes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Paul Naschy
Cast: Paul Naschy, Silvia Aguilar, Azucena Hernández
Length: 92 minutes
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