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January 5, 2009

Werewolf Shadow (aka La Noche de Walpurgis; aka The Werewolf vs. Vampire Woman)

1971, Dir. by Leon Klimovsky

As a fan of all things monstrous, it should not have taken me this long to first view a film starring Paul Naschy - widely regarded as "a Spanish Lon Chaney". From his rise to fame in the late '60's, Naschy has been known for playing versions of the usual horror suspects, anything from Dracula, to the Mummy, to Mr. Hyde. However, Naschy is most famous for his turn as Count Waldemar Daninsky in a series of Hombre Lobo films, translating to - you guessed it - Wolf Man. It's unsure how many films starred Naschy as Daninsky (he claims 12, but there is some doubt as to whether one of the earlier films ever existed), but the most popular and successful of the bunch is this one - which made it a good place to start my Naschy experience.

The Plot
Originally titled La Noche De Waspurgis in Spain in 1971 (but released stateside as The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman with this killer poster), the now Werewolf Shadow picks up Daninsky as he's facing an autopsy in the morgue after some kind of massive accident. The coroner does a good job of explaining that the dead is rumored to have been a werewolf, just before removing silver bullets from his back, reinvigorating the lycanthrope in the process. Meanwhile, a young woman named Elvira, intent on investigating the legend of an ancient witch-turned-vampire, and her closest friend Genevieve are traveling the contryside and find themselves stranded at the count's cottage/castle in the Spanish countryside. Turns out paranormals flock together, as it's soon realized that the evil countess Wandesa that Elvira's been searching for is buried on the property. A slip by the clumsy (and occasionally useless) Genevieve revives the lady vamp, and the battle's on.

The Good
Directed by Leon Klimovsky and co-written by Naschy, Werewolf Shadow shows a great respect for the tradition of horror that many of us horror freaks hold dear. The film's atmosphere is fantastic, and is a nice parallel to the work directors like Terence Fisher and Mario Bava were doing at the time. There are issues with editing and pacing, that nearly kill the film at times, especially in the final half hour when subplots start coming out of nowhere, but throughout the movie it feels like a gothic horror should, while maintaining setting in modern time. The film also manages to balance between the old and new of horror in its creature, which mixes the classic Wolf Man look with the taste for blood that was becoming popular at the time. Just take a look at this picture, and you'll see what I mean.

Naschy takes the lead with a completely serious tone, and does well with both the monster role and the hero role. As with most werewolf films there's a tragic and romantic edge to the story, and Naschy manages to make the Count a sympathetic human when he's not covered in fur. It's easy to see why he's so respected in the genre.

The Bad
As mentioned above, the movie's biggest problem lies in its pacing, as it's too slow to develop the plot. Just when the film seems to be setting up for the battle between wolf and vamp, there's a reintroduction of Elvira's earlier love interest, a sideplot regarding the werewolf's victims, and a far-too-lengthy discussion of the town's thoughts on lycanthropy - and more! I didn't really need more scenes of Elvira randomly sitting at a small table fondling a cross (no, really); but it felt like the movie was trying to go too far with the plot, and could have benefited for the "less is more" perspective. There's also alot of choppy editing in the film, but I'm not sure if that was due to poor work by the filmmakers or by the DVD producers. Considering how clean the print was, I'm assuming the former.

And, while the werewolf looks great, the vampire women could have been less dramatic.

Random Moments
  • Early in the film, Elvira's gentlemen friend makes a comment about how he's "seen this in enough of those James Bond pictures". I wonder what he'd think now that they're up to 22 films instead of 7?
  • I'm not sure why, but it was decided that vampires move in slow motion most of the time.
  • Daninsky's crazy sister gropes/strangles Elvira early in the film, looks creepy, and then goes away.
The Verdict
While the film has its fair share of problems in structure, it has exactly what a fan of classic horror could ask for. If you're looking for a classical werewolf tale, there's a lot worse out there. Naschy's performance and the great creature effects make it well worth seeing, and I'm excited to see more of what Naschy has done.

The Mike's Rating: Solid Selection

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