Dr. Jekyll versus the Werewolf Review
1972’s Dr. Jekyll versus the Werewolf is a fine example of the Spanish horror boom of that decade. One of ten films which starred genre favourite Paul Naschy as the wolf man Waldemar Daninsky, the picture often seems like a demented homage to those films that appeared at the tail-end of Universal’s cycle of horror films from the 30s and 40s.
As those later films either collected a bunch of renowned horror actors (Roland V. Lee’s Son of Frankenstein, for example, gathered Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill) or paired up the genre’s most loved characters (the self-explanatory Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man), Dr. Jekyll versus the Werewolf sees the meeting of Daninsky and Dr. Jekyll, or rather his grandson. However, in an attempt to outdo the Universal pictures, director Leon Klimovsky also throws in marauding peasants brandishing sickels and pitchforks, a witch, a leper and even a dash of science-fiction. As this suggests, Dr. Jekyll versus the Werewolf’s brisk 83 minute running is pretty much crammed full. Indeed, the film could be easily split into two shorts, though the ideas present are more than enough to stretch both out to feature length.
The following two paragraphs contain plot spoilers, so those preferring to know as little as possible about the film’s storyline may wish to skip pass them.
The first half concerns honeymooning couple Imre and Justine. Upon arriving in a small town, the pair are informed by the local innkeeper (shades of Michael Ripper’s roles in numerous Hammer horrors) of bandits roaming the area, as well as a witch and, of course, the wolf man (“the devil himself”). Unconcerned by the tales which they denounce as simple superstitions, the unfortunate couple are later set upon by the aforementioned bandits, leaving Imre dead and Justine nearly raped. Fortunately, she is saved by Daninsky and taken to his castle, unawares that every full moon he undergoes a dramatic change.
Just as the film appears to heading in the direction of a slightly off-kilter homage to Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la bete (and Naschy’s wolf make-up bears more than a passing resembling to Jean Marais’ eponymous beast), events suddenly take a detour to London, where Justine, having now fallen in love Waldemar, approaches Dr. Jekyll hoping he will be able cure the werewolf urges. Of course, not everything goes to plan and soon Mr. Hyde is stalking Soho for prostitutes to satisfy both his immense sex drive, as well as his murderous urges, leading to him being dubbed by the tabloid press “a sadist worse than Jack the Ripper”.
As this brief, and by no means complete, synopsis would suggest, Dr. Jekyll versus the Werewolf’s script contains so much bizarre behaviour that it would succeed as entertainment even if everything else about the film was utterly dire. Admittedly, Leon Klimovsky’s direction is more than a little hackneyed (the sudden move to London is signified by establishing shots of Big Ben and double decker buses) and a number of scenes are so flatly staged that the film really does need to rely its storyline, yet he does understand that a film such as this requires a heady pace, which he delivers in bucketloads. Certainly, for anyone unaware of Dr. Jekyll versus the Werewolf’s plot, it is often unpredictable as where the film will take its audience next, though you can guarantee that they’ll be taken there before they know it. Moreover, his decision to treat everything as seriously as possible helps the film immeasurably; the sudden introduction of a scene where Waldemar gets trapped inside a lift with a young nurse just prior to a full moon could easily be played for laughs, or perhaps just seen as a lazy attempt at cheap thrills, yet this straight-faced attitude allows it to work solely on its own merits.
This seriousness extends to the actors as well. Paul Naschy, in particular, and in no doubt due to him being one of the actors to truly instigate the sudden burst of horror movie production in Spain, approaches the role with exactly the same gravity that Peter Cushing would in his numerous forays into the genre. That said, Naschy isn’t a particularly great actor, indeed he is often wooden beyond belief, yet there is a definite charisma present and, moreover, he has the looks of a leading man. Certainly, this may explain just why he became one of Spain’s favourite genre specialists, his career having also taken in performances as the phantom of the opera, a hunchback and Dracula following his star making turn in 1967’s 3D extravaganza The Mark of the Werewolf.
As if Dr. Jekyll versus the Werewolf didn’t already offer enough pleasures, there are also some wonderful incongruities that stick in the mind. A prostitute getting murdered next to a poster of Lee Marvin is particularly bizarre, as is the fact that every Londoner is fluent in Spanish! In fact, it is these elements that raise the film above being just an interesting curio to become an endlessly re-watchable near classic.
Remarkably, Dr. Jekyll versus the Werewolf arrives on disc with a truly breathtaking transfer. The picture remains crisp and clear throughout, and despite the DVD being released by a small-scale production company, there are no technical inadequacies.
As if this wasn’t enough, Boum Productions have also released the film in its original Spanish language with optional English subtitles. Admittedly, the two-channel stereo is often hampered by the odd bit of crackle and some noticeable background hiss, though this never proves to be truly distracting.
As for special features, Dr. Jekyll versus the Werewolf is supplemented by an excellent and informative text history of Spanish horror cinema by Euro-horror expert Pete Tombs and some similarly in-depth cast and crew biographies (we are informed, for example, that director Klimovsky worked as a dentist before venturing into the filmmaking trade!).
Certainly, these extras would seem sufficient for a low-budget foreign genre picture of little interest to anyone besides horror enthusiasts, yet the DVD also includes a 19 minute interview with Paul Naschy. As with the main feature, this interview is conducted in Spanish (though here the English subtitles are non-optional) and shows Naschy to be a remarkably intelligent man. As well as discussing the film in question, the actor also finds the time to talk about politics, Spanish culture and the horror film in general, as well as providing a number of anecdotes. Indeed, this is a truly excellent addition to a wonderful film.