El Retorno del Año del Lobo


Well I'll be a son of a wolf bitch -- I missed a big werewolf movie from 1981.  Granted, it's not a big budget American feature, but Paul Naschy, El Hombre Lobo himself, is nothing to sneeze at.


Night of the Werewolf - 1981
Written & Directed by Paul Naschy

Back in May when I did my feature on the Monster Mash-ups, I devoted an entire entry to El Hombre Lobo, Spanish actor and sometime writer & director Paul Naschy who played a werewolf in more than a dozen films.  His work was a new discovery for me at the time and I was only able to watch one of his films before finishing the feature.  Since that time, from the reading I'd done, I've suspected that he, to one extent or another, had made the same movie (albeit remixed) several times throughout his career.  That would appear to have been a somewhat accurate impression.

Naschy almost always played the character of Waldemar Daninsky in the Hombre Lobo films, although there was little-to-no continuity between them, and as far as I know, none were direct sequels to any others.  He frequently comes into conflict with the vampire witch Elizabeth Bathory (who is served by a skeletal knight) and in the ones that I've seen, he has a doomed female servant and falls in love with one of the college girls that show up to serve as a conduit for the story taking place.  Those elements all come into play here, although in a somewhat remixed form from what I saw in Noche de Walpurgis AKA The Werewolf Vs The Vampire Woman.  Granted, this is an acknowledged remake, but many of those elements do seem to recur in Naschy's Lobo films.

The film opens in the Middle Ages, during the sentencing phase of a trial for witchcraft.  This was, of course, the most popular phase of Medieval trials, and constituted the greatest effort on everyone's part.  The condemned is Countess Elizabeth Bathory and her cohorts who have been found guilty of murder and witchcraft.  Bathory, owing to her status, will not be executed, but confined to her quarters to live out the rest of her days, at which time she will be burned.  Her handmaidens will be imprisoned with her, because she certainly can't be expected to take care of herself, and various other accomplices witll be executed in a variety of ways.  It's good to see that the double-dealing judicial system enjoys such a grand heritage.  After one brusque beheading, it's the silent and brooding Waldemar Daninsky who faces his fate.  Convicted of devil-worship and murder by dint of being a werewolf, he neither cries foul nor curses his executors.  An iron mask is clamped over his face and a silver cruciform dagger driven through his heart.  The the frame freezes and we simply stare at him while some rockin' boogie music plays, eventually turning into the opening credits.  Seriously, we look at the mask with blood pouring out of the mouth for an awfully long time.

Centuries later, in the "now" of three decades ago, three foxy Spanish grad students (one who has devoted herself to Satan, 'cause, you know, those Liberal college professors) believe that they have found the location of Bathory's tomb and set out to find it, although one has a more detailed plan than the others are aware of.  Meanwhile, a pair of bumbling grave robbers find the crypt of Daninsky and immediately bull the silver dagger from his heart, waking him instantly, causing their own eternal slumber.  In no time, Daninsky is back to pouting about his fully furnished castle in velvet tunics that totally didn't get eaten by moths in the past 800 years.  His lovely but auto-de-fe-scarred friend and servant Mircaya is by his side to deliver exposition unbecoming his station.

Daninsky rescues the women from some swarthy robbers/rapists and grants them shelter in his castle.  One will fall in love with Waldemar.  One will raise Elizabeth Bathory and become a vampire herself, and one, well, it takes blood to raise the countess, so...

Meanwhile, Waldemar can't help but roam around the countryside mauling anyone he finds by the light of the full moon.  He doesn't even eat them, just kills on sight.  While he frequently advises his beloved to lock herself in on the nights of the full moon, it seems a little irresponsible that he isn't locking himself in.  He at least made a token effort toward this in the previous version.

It turns out that Daninsky was enslaved to Bathory through witchcraft, all those centuries ago, and she manipulated him to kill on her behalf -- although it seems that he was still a werewolf, so he was going to be killing anyway.  At any rate, he's free of her now and determined to prevent her from coming into her full power again, which evidently would unleash Hell on Earth.  However, to finally be freed of his curse, he will need someone who loves him to kill him with the silver dagger, thus assuring that he will not rise again.  Much of the werewolf lore is fairly faithful to the extended lore built up for Lon Chaney's Wolf Man, and indeed Naschy's Hombre Lobo makeup strongly resembles the hairy human face approach taken by the 1941 original.  Naschy, however, plays him much snarlier with considerable commitment, and drools water like a six-month-old.

Kill-kill-kill, fight-fight-fight, burn-burn-burn; die... The End.

For as much action as there is, there's still a lot of time in the first couple acts where not enough is happening.  The story could be greatly streamlined, which would actually make it more effective.  I am, however, forced to recognize that my expectations as a 21st century moviegoer are considerably less patient and more demanding of gratification than Naschy's audience.  It's really pretty satisfying in terms of creepy cool monster moments in a pre-Howling/American Werewolf sort of way.  The coolest monster is neither the wolf nor the vampires, but Bathory's skeletal knight bodyguard who gets more screen time here than he did in Noche de Walpurgis, but still gets hustled in and out far too quickly for my tastes.  The final fight between Bathory and Daninsky mostly involves a lot of pushing and shoving, about which I really don't have a point other than that I'm already imagining how I would retell this story in a film with all the modern conveniences.

Night of the Werewolf is really a pretty good b-flick.  I feel a little bit bad even calling it a b-movie when it comes from a different cultural context, although that's how it would have been released stateside.  While I don't recommend it for everyone, it's really not a bad time at all for someone interested in going a little deeper into cinematic werewolf lore or the scope of horror history.

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