Werewolf Shadow

March 18, 2003

Never wear your curtains as a hat.

With the release of the Mexican lesbian vampire movie Alucarda just about imminent, this week seems like a perfect time to cover last year's reissue of a Spanish film with Sapphic blood drinkers (and a lycanthrope!), Werewolf Shadow. Though not without its flaws, this Eurohorror period piece is perfect filler for anyone trying to kill time before Moctezuma's bloody epic finally hits the shelves.

One of this film's great charms is undoubtedly that it stars Paul Naschy, an actor who is sometimes referred to as the "Spanish Lon Chaney". That may be overstating the case a bit, but Naschy has certainly put together a great career in the horror genre and he continues to work actively today. In fact, at the present time Naschy is in Los Angeles to work with Fred Olen Ray in a reprisal of the role of Waldemar Daninsky, the lead that he has played in many films, including Werewolf Shadow. Naschy first got his start as an extra in the 1961 Nicholas Ray Christ biopic King of Kings, and then would eventually go on to star in all kinds of horror films over the next few decades, which manage to mine just about every genre character from mummy to Jack the Ripper to zombie to Frankenstein.

In the project currently under discussion, Naschy's character is a brooding werewolf who is first seen having two silver bullets dug out of his corpse by a foolishly rationalist doctor who knows that legends are nothing but piffle when exposed to the cold hard light of reason. Soon, of course, he is as dead as the proverbial doornail and the manbeast is set free to rampage throughout the Spanish countryside looking for human tapas to quell his hunger. After this opening sequence - and some suitably swingin' '70s mood music - two young women (Genevieve and Elvira) are introduced to the audience and we are brought along on their quest to look for the legendary tomb of the Countess Wandessa. In a truly shocking turn of events, they have a bit of car trouble (no!) and end up staying in Waldemar's rustic castle in the hills, seemingly beset by nightly atmospheric thunderstorms.

As events unfold, their lupine benefactor helps them to locate the grave of the sorceress and they engage in the nearly always brilliant genre machination of defiling the grave and accidentally dripping a young woman's blood onto the desiccated corpse. Lo and behold, this matches up point by point with the local folklore by which the evil Countess is to be brought back to life to commence the onset of La Noche de Walpurgis, wherein the Lord of Darkness will return to walk the earth and visit upon humanity crimes of evil beyond the wildest dreams of the globe's inhabitants. From here, the plot continues to twist, leading to all sorts of complications from romantic bylines to insane estate handyman to mad sister meltdown and right on through the inevitable girl-girl hemoglobin swapping.

As the above should indicate pretty clearly, if you're looking for tightly plotted action then it may very well be that this movie isn't for you. But director Leon Klimovsky manages to create enough atmosphere that at times the abandoned monastery setting becomes suitably creepy and disturbing. And while there aren't too many truly chilling moments over the course of the film, there's at least enough of an eerie air to make the movie interesting to watch throughout its 95-minute length. The first half hour or so is especially fun, and though it's hard to take much of the film seriously, there are still plenty of great moments during its running that keep it entertaining. The cheesy dubbing is good for a laugh, the makeup effects are suitably crude and the convoluted story is twisted enough that it's eminently satisfying - as long as you yield to its internal illogic.

For all its entertainment value, however, the film does drag a bit at times and may have ultimately been a better movie if some extraneous bits had been shaved. This is not completely uncommon with Eurohorror from this period, though, and I have to say I found the film's pace to be much more engaging than many an Italian piece from the same era. Here at least the story advances through the slower parts, and with the near endless introduction of absurd sub-plots there's enough drive to maintain one's attention. Coupled with the garish '70s fashions, some surprisingly decent acting, the impressive visual setting and the spectacular use of music and sound, the continuous shifts in the tale serve only to engage the viewer and help create a very watchable film.

Turning to the DVD itself, as is usually the case with Anchor Bay editions, the movie both looks and sounds great. The colors are crisp, the widescreen format reveals far more than in the previous fullscreen versions, the dubbed mono mix is audibly fine and the transfer is top-notch. A number of scenes that were cut from the original American version have been restored and are presented here in Spanish with English subtitles. As far as extras go, the DVD also includes a nice 15-minute interview with Paul Naschy himself, an extensive stills section containing posters and lobby cards from many of Naschy's films, the movie's original TV spot and a lengthy three minute theatrical trailer. Additionally, a brief Naschy bio is included, leading to an attractive overall package for the very reasonable MSRP of only $19.99.

Though certainly not to be considered a cinematic enterprise of the highest order, Werewolf Shadow is an entertaining trip into a rural Spanish countryside where an ancient lesbian vampire and a melancholy werewolf meet up with a pair of mod young women with suitably amusing results. Luckily, the film's value doesn't rest entirely on its campiness (while that is certainly an attraction), as its period flavor and occasional air of fright help in the ultimately succesful disposition of the tale of terror. In tandem with Anchor Bay's excellent restoration and inexpensive purchase price, this DVD reissue of Werewolf Shadow is simply a must buy for anyone with a passing interest in either Eurohorror or the career of its star, the seemingly immortal Paul Naschy.

As this article was written, it came to our attention that when Paul Naschy and his wife Elvira (after whom many characters in Naschy films are named) came to Los Angeles just last week, she was unfortunately hospitalized with stomach pains. Though it appears now that the problem was thankfully minor, best wishes from BOP go out to Naschy and his wife and we hope that the rest of their stay in the U.S. is a healthy one.



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