Welcome to our Paul Naschy Weekender here at The House Of Freudstein… all Naschy, all trashy and nothing but the Naschy! If you’ve just woken from your siesta and are sitting comfortably with your tapas and glass of rioja, we’re going to kick off with one of Jacinto Molina Alvarez’s most influential efforts.
DVD. Region 2. Anchor Bay. 18.
Written by Paul Naschy himself and directed by Leon Klimovsky, La Noche De Walpurgis (1971) is the third… or possibly fourth… or perhaps even fifth (depending on which filmography you believe) instalment in the ongoing saga of Naschy’s “tragic wolf man” character, Waldemar Daninsky. Its original title translating as Walpurgis Night (didn’t know I was such brilliant linguist, did you?), this one goes under a bewildering number of aliases, including Werewolf’s Shadow, Shadow Of The Werewolf, Satan Vs The Wolf Man, Fury Of The Vampires, The Black Masses Of Countess Dracula, Blood Moon and – for those among you who like a film to do what it says on the tin – The Werewolf Vs The Vampire Woman. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet and under whatever guise you see it, this one is generally acknowledged as one of the seminal Spanish scream-fests that ignited the Iberian horror boom of the ’70s. Nor did its impact go unfelt in English-language markets (witness the grind house ad mat and American novelisation below.)
In the pre-titles sequence, sceptical coroner Dr Hartwig is unwise enough to remove the silver bullets with which Waldo was peppered in the previous episode… doubly unwise as he effects said procedure during a full moon! No prizes for guessing what happens next. The mandatory werewolf transformation scene is skilfully rendered here via edits around strategically placed objects, setting the standard for those that follow it… well, for most of those that follow it. Meanwhile in Paris, sexy student Elvira (Gaby Fuchs… yep, the gal who gets her tongue pulled out in Mark Of The Devil) is giving her boyfriend a lurid albeit rather fanciful (e.g. black mass blood drinking) flashback rendering of the life and misdeeds of Countess Bathory figure “Wandesa Darvula De Nadasdy” (sexy Patty Shepard.)
Elvira and fellow student Genevieve (Barbara Capell) head off into remote French countryside to locate Wandesa’s fabled tomb, in pursuance of their joint doctrinal dissertation (now there’s a bizarre educational initiative that even Michael Gove baulked at.) Having lost their way, they are taken in by kindly Waldemar. His insane sister tries to warn them against various supernatural threats, though they seem to be in greater danger of sexual assault from her. Next day, during a casual stroll in the countryside, Waldemar and the girls stumble upon the location of The Countess’s tomb. “Satan’s favourite mistress…” declares her tombstone: “None must disturb her rest until the day of The Last Judgement” (wonder how that went unnoticed all these centuries.) Although a keen Wandesa student, Elvira squeamishly excuses herself from the disinterment, during which Genevieve cuts herself while pulling a silver chalice dagger (readily available in most good hardware stores) out of the corpse and drips blood into its mouth. When they hook up with Elvira again, she is being threatened by a decomposing monk who seems to have wandered in, apropos of nothing, out of one of Amanda De Ossorio’s Blind Dead epics. Daninsky wastes no time seeing him off with that dagger. Meanwhile, Wandessa is clawing her way out of her grave. Elvira and Genevieve close out their eventful day with a bedtime chat about their love lives… I mean, what else is there for them to talk about?The revived Wandesa is a sight for blood shot eyes, fulsomely fanged, with a pale green complexion and decked out in the height of Medieval Hungarian fashion. She floats around in slow motion (another pinch from The Blind Dead, along with the services of soundtrack composer Anton Garcia Abril) amid billowing dry ice, seducing every other female character in the cast during the build up to Walpurgis Night, when Satan will give vampires dominion over the Earth… unless Waldemar has anything to do with it. Predictably, he’s bonking Elvira by this point and tries to protect her from his beastly side by getting himself chained up during the next full moon and entrusting her to the “care” of his friend Pierre (Jose Marco) who promptly attempts to rape her! An equally random, though significantly less hilarious way of filling out the running time till Walpurgis Night rolls around is the introduction of Elvira’s boring Parisian boyfriend Marcel (Andres Resino), who gets involved in an interminable discussion with one of the local yokels about superstition vs rationalism.
Finally, it’s The Big Night and Wandesa is just about to sacrifice Elvira to Satan when rudely interrupted by Waldemar, in full werewolf drag. The ensuing smackdown is pretty lively compared to others in the Daninsky series, indeed executed with such gusto that the only thing conceivably missing from it is a Kent Walton commentary! Wandesa gets stabbed by that ol’ silver chalice digger and her decomposition is niftily rendered via melting wax. Unfortunately for Waldemar’s reverse transformation, after Elvira has turned the knife on him to end his undead torment, it’s back to the unconvincing lap dissolves effect from Naschy’s beloved Lon Chaney Jr Movies. Despite such niggles, it’s easy to see how Klimovsky’s energetic Walpurgis Nacht / Werewolf’s Shadow became such an influential success… it certainly lacks the significant longueurs that disfigure many of those that followed in its wake… … notably Carlos Aured’s 1973 return engagement, El Retorno De Walpurgis (“The Return Of Walpurgis”) aka Curse Of The Devil, aka Curse Of The Devil / Return Of The Werewolf / The Black Harvest Of Countess Dracula. Avoid this vaguely Black Sunday flavoured effort under any title (or, if you must watch it, don’t say you were’t warned) because it’s all downhill after an amusing titles sequence in which Daninsky, in full suit of armour, decapitates Count Bathory for “driving our bishop to suicide…and turning our holiest nuns into daughters of Satan, consumed and maddened with lust!” (a nice trick if you can manage it…) When Waldo brandishes aloft the Count’s severed noggin, Erzsebeth Barthory (Maria Silva) sagely observes: “My husband is dead!” “Yes”, agrees her equally astute sidekick. No prizes for guessing that their revenge consists of turning him into a werewolf and blah, blah, blah…
Naschy directed himself in Night Of The Werewolf, a virtual remake of Werewolf’s Shadow ten years after the event. It’s an ’80s reboot of the familiar werewolf, witchery and sapphic shenanigans (with more explicit plunderings from Bava’s Black Sunday) that suffers from sharply diminishing returns and the fact that Julia Saly as the Countess Bathory figure is a pretty poor substitute for Patty Shepard.
Bonus materials on the Anchor Bay disc of Werewolf’s Shadow constitute a 15-minute interview with the Spanish horror icon, theatrical trailer and TV spot, Naschy biography and photo gallery plus a reproduction of the film’s Spanish press book.
TOMORROW… our All Naschy Weekender continues with a look at his unredeemed and arguably irredeemable “video nasty”, The Werewolf And The Yeti (1975.)