Werewolf Shadow Review

Jacinto Molina, better known to his adoring public as Paul Naschy, is renowned in certain circles as the European equivalent of Boris Karloff or Christopher Lee. World famous in Spain, Molina carved a niche for himself in the horror boom that resulted from the post-Franco relaxation of censorship. He played the Mummy, Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster but his most famous character was the Polish aristocrat Waldemar Daninsky who, following a curse, is doomed to walk the earth for all eternity as a werewolf. Daninsky appears in a number of films, some better than others, and was such a popular character that he was resurrected by Molina as late as the mid-1990s. Werewolf Shadow, also known as The Werewolf Versus Vampire Woman, Blood Moon and Walpurgis Night, is one of his better known films and has been restored to what we might describe as its original glory by Anchor Bay.

Although there is some geographical confusion, the film appears to be set in France. It’s also sometimes set at night, a fact which the appalling cinematography does not immediately make clear. Day for night is one thing, day for day-looking-a-bit-like-night-if-you-screw-your-eyes-up is another. Waldemar Daninsky (Naschy), nobleman and werewolf, is resurrected when some dopey authority types remove a silver cross from his heart. He kills the men who revived him, runs off into the forest and bites a chunk out of a bit-part actress prepared to suffer for her art by having red paint poured over her cleavage. Meanwhile, the sound of maracas and Hammond Organ which has always said La Belle France indicates that we are in Paris. Elvira (Fuchs), an academic, is researching the legend of a Hungarian Countess who used to get her kicks by drinking the blood of virgins before the Inquisition spoiled her fun with a spot of decapitation. A flirty blonde who looks a bit like a Freeman’s catalogue model but without the spontaneity, Elvira is slow-dancing with her shifty boyfriend, Marcel. While she goes off “into the North”, to search for the tomb of the aforementioned Countess, Marcel is planning a trip of his own; “I must go to Istanbul. Duty calls,” he says cryptically, “Please, no more questions about my trip to Turkey...” Agog, we wait for more details of Marcel’s glamorous life as an international secret agent but we are destined to be disappointed when he goes off to Turkey and leaves us with boring old Elvira. Luckily, our intrepid heroine is accompanied by the lovely Genevieve (Capell), as easy on the eye as she is light on brain cells.

At this point, the film is somewhat light on interesting features, apart from the bad dubbing and worse costumes. The former is forgivable, the latter inevitable. Once the girls voyage “into the North” and meet Daninsky, things begin to liven up. Their car being low on gasoline, Daninsky offers them a billet at his house for a few days, being unable to offer any transport. His house is primitive but comfortable, enough so for the ladies to wonder whether Waldemar is telling the truth about living alone - “Look at how the table was set. Only a woman knows that”. Their suspicions are well founded, for Waldemar has a loony sister hidden away. She lost her marbles after discovering that her sibling had a penchant for tearing flesh off the bodies of strangers, and who can blame her ? She bursts in on the dinner party and causes a bit of a ruckus but Daninsky skilfully covers for her - “Please forget her intrusion, she’s mentally disturbed”. These scenes appear to take place at night, although from the lighting one would not be able to guess this - it’s confirmed only when we see a picture of sunrise indicating that a new day has dawned. The intrepid threesome take a trip to the ruins and find the tomb of the Countess. Elvira fears retribution if the grave is opened but Geneveieve and Daninsky ignore her. But Elvira's worst fears are confirmed when Genevieve cuts herself and drips blood on the corpse, reviving the Countess in the form of a voracious vampire named Wandesa. Needless to say, it's not long before Genevieve has herself become a rather foxy vampire, menacing Elvira who has, for reasons which are beyond this viewer, fallen hopelessly in love with Daninsky. This is lucky for our hero as he can only find rest if stabbed through the heart with a silver cross by a woman who is in love with him.

I don't want to give the impression that this film is totally devoid of merit. It's certainly inept in terms of direction, editing and cinematography and ludicrous in its narrative and characterisation, but it's also rather charming and undeniably entertaining. The sillier it gets, the more compulsive it becomes. How can you dislike a film with a line such as "Walpurgis night is imminent...the devil will take over... there will be many strange things, many things unseen by human beings." Strange things keep occurring. At one point, Elvira is driven into the village by a loony handyman called Pierre who has been dubbed with the worst French accent this side of American Ninja. Pierre feels socially isolated - "Zey say lots of zings about me in ze village but zey are not true !" - and has, er, issues - "I like you. Zere are a lot of vimmin I don't like...". He tries to rape her, clubs her over the head and ends up being eviscerated by our favourite werewolf. It's the sort of film where characters say "It's all over. Everything is going to be all right" solely in order to be proved wrong by an inefficient shock cut to something unpleasant. Unintentional humour abounds. Waldemar, keen not to hurt his true love before she has chance to kill him, asks her something many men have been shy to propose - "I want you to put me in chains" - but once she does so, he has no trouble at all tearing them out of the ceiling. Meanwhile, Marcel, fresh from his mysterious Turkish adventure, arrives in 'the North' in order to be baffled by a local Mayor who proves evasive; getting angry, Marcel shouts at his host, "Don't talk ambiguously!". This is a bizarre world where night looks like day, blood has the consistency of watercolour paint and characters greet each other with "Bonjour" then talk in English. Bad dubbing doesn't help of course, but it's comforting to be reminded in one scene which is in Spanish (having be recovered by Anchor Bay) that the original language with subtitles is just as ludicrous.

Once or twice, glimmers of genuine talent shine through the dross. Some of the imagery has a genuinely nightmareish quality and the make-up is generally of pretty good quality. The werewolf transformations are well achieved, for the period, although they are obviously not up to Rick Baker standards and the attempted hidden edits are obvious. The use of slow motion is quite effective as well, although its nothing like as impressive as the similar scenes in the contemporaneous Blind Dead movies directed by the more talented Amando de Ossorio. The acting varies from the competent - Naschy and the heroines - to the dreadfully wooden - the rest of the cast. As for the horror content, it is minimal for anyone with the slightest experience in the genre. Kids might be a bit troubled but otherwise it's safe for anyone who is capable of sitting through a Harry Potter movie. There is some gore but not a great deal and the 18 certificate is presumably down to the opening lingering shot of blood running down breasts, which used to be the big BBFC no-no but is now tolerated.

The Disc

Anchor Bay have restored this film for DVD release and the result is generally impressive although in some respects it left this viewer wanting more. The version of the film presented here is the uncut original version and not the hacked about US version called "The Werewolf Versus Vampire Woman". The gore has been restored along with a lengthy scene which only exists in the original Spanish language.

The film is presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. At the start it looks worryingly bland with washed-out blacks and a great deal of artifacting. However, this rapidly improves and we get a good visual transfer with superb colours - the reds are to die for - and surprisingly little print damage. Excellent contrast throughout and the artifacts that plague the early mist-shrouded scenes do not occur in the later ones. Fans of the film are likely to be very pleased with this, especially in contrast to the reportedly appalling Madacy release of a cut version of the film some years back.

The soundtrack is monophonic and in dubbed English. Some of the originally cut portions of the film have been presented in Spanish with subtitles. No problems with this and the music comes across very well - although it's so hysterically inappropriate that this is a mixed blessing.

The extras are reasonably generous. We get the original trailer, containing lots of spoilers and gore, and a TV spot (which, amusingly, also begins "Coming soon to this theatre"). There is a nice poster gallery for Naschy's films and a lengthy biography of the star. Also present is the original Spanish pressbook with lots of stills. Most substantial is a 15 minute interview with Naschy which contains clips from some of his films. He comes across as a pleasant, unassuming man, loyal to his colleagues and friends, and the questions are intelligent and assume some horror film knowledge of the viewer. Most interestingly, Naschy explains that the geographical confusion is largely down to censorship restrictions in Spain - films were less censored if they took place in other countries. However, this short documentary made me want more on the man and his films, many of which have not been available in the UK since the early days of video. If the others are as charmingly silly as Werewolf Shadow then I might become a big fan.

There are 25 chapter stops and no English subtitles for the majority of the film. This lack of subtitling is the main flaw of Anchor Bay's otherwise excellent discs and one which they should think about carefully.

I enjoyed Werewolf Shadow despite it being more than a little unintentionally amusing. Horror fans will enjoy watching it and this restored version is likely to be the answer to the prayers of many Spanish horror fans. It would be nice to see Anchor Bay follow up with more Naschy titles and perhaps the de Ossorio Blind Dead movies. For the moment, this is generally up to their high standards.

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