NB: this is an entry for the Paul Naschy Blogathon, unfolding right now at Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies through the good agencies of the Vicar of VHS. I'm indebted to the Vicar for putting me onto a number of obscure and fun monster movies, plus I like his take on 1941's The Wolf Man, as seen here. I thought a contribution from somebody new to the genre might be interesting, so here we are.
Paul Naschy/Jacinto Molina made a metric ton of monster movies in his native Spain, and I've only ever seen one. This was directly thanks to the Vicar's enthusing so much about them that I got curious and borrowed the only one that the Friendly Local Video Store could loan me: The Werewolf Vs. the Vampire Woman. It is... exactly what it says on the package, executed with fabulous panache. Either you love this sort of thing, or you run screaming over the horizon. I love this sort of thing.
The hero is Waldemar Daninsky. A short guide for those few souls not into Spanish-language monster cinema: among Naschy's most renowned work is a series of films about a werewolf named Waldemar Daninsky. Almost all of them are set in different time periods with different origin stories for the hero. The linking factor is simply that Naschy always plays a werewolf with the same name and at least vaguely similar characterization. They aren't a continuous plot arc--though you could probably create your own by deciding that it was a case of reincarnation or similar. I think that Daninsky is also always a Polish nobleman. He was originally going to make the character Spanish, but the executives (whoever they were) objected to its being derogatory to the Spanish for one of their aristocracy to be shown as a werewolf. I think. Sounds a bit odd, given the context--nobody had greater respect for a werewolf with a noble nature than did Paul Naschy.
He was what TV Tropes would call an ascended fanboy. At the age of eleven, he saw Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man in the theater, and it seems to have shaped his life forever; his movies are full of nods to the Universal horror canon. The only film by him that I've ever seen comes across like the work of a rabid classic-horror fan who's been gifted with a camera crew, a tiny budget, and tons of imagination. The only thing I hated was that I could only find a dubbed English-language version titled Werewolf Shadow. They do a good job of making the voices cover everybody's mouth flaps, but I am still not satisfied. Voices mean a lot to me. They can annoy the hell out of me, or charm me forever, and I have actors I love just on account of their voices (hello Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Gregory Peck). I think I shall like Paul Naschy's real voice. This tribute vid is worth watching; the first thirty seconds are so are from Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and everything after that is a Best Of Naschy collage. When you can hear him over the music, he sounds like an enraged elk. I dunno, I like elk.
The movie is composed of plot elements you've seen before, executed in ways you won't see anywhere else. It goes through the familiar steps in a progressively weirder and more nightmarish fashion. A short recap will show you what we're facing.
We begin with two idiots in the morgue examining the body of a guy who's been shot with silver bullets. This is the aftermath of the previous movie (OK, there is some continuity), and also an instant salute to FMTWM. Of course, the two idiots remove the bullets, and of course that was all that was keeping our boy dead. Snarl drool carnage drool, flee into the woods. (This film had the worst day-for-night sequences I've ever seen. The characters were often supposed to be running around at midnight, and you could see clearly that it was the sunny Spanish sky with a dark blue filter on the lens. I don't normally notice stuff like that, that's how bad it was.) And then there's the equally well-trodden bit of two gorgeous babes out driving in the country when their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. As luck would have it, they're right near the castle of Waldemar Daninsky, a charming fellow who seems to be nursing a secret sorrow. Also, he was the werewolf non-corpse in the morgue in the first scene, so start worrying now. Also-also, he has a crazy sister who breaks into his guests' rooms at night to molest/seduce them (hello, exploitative girl-on-girl scene). Crazy Sister seems to be set up as a potential extra villain and she appears in a Peeping Tom manner that is actually pretty creepy. I was surprised when she died as a vampire victim, but--I anticipate.
It eventually comes out that the two babes (Elvira and Genevieve) and Waldemar want the same thing. They're all interested in finding the grave of a famously evil vampire,
Well. The ladies are academics-or-something (archaeologists? They have a lot in common with Indiana Jones, and it's not finesse) so they all go out and dig up Wandessa's grave. As you do. And one of the girls is injured in the process, just enough to bleed a tiny bit onto Wandessa's rotten corpse. Anybody who likes Hammer Horror can make up the next bit for themselves.
Isn't she beautiful? Wandessa is another constantly fabulous thing about this film. Whoever came up with her look deserves a prize. That Malificent headdress gives her a crow's beak and sort-of-horns and sort-of-wings, and further down her body she's wearing shapeless black silk draperies that swirl out whenever she moves. Appearance would be nothing without acting, of course. Wandessa is very happy about being evil, and she lets you know it. This film has some of the smuggest vampires ever, which is all to the good.
Of course, one of the babe-like archaeologists gets vamped and the other one falls in love with Waldemar Emoboy Daninsky. Lots of other stuff happens which is much more fun to watch than to talk about. The one inevitable plot point is that Waldemar Daninsky will have a brawl with Wandessa the Vampire Babe at some point, and he does, and it's splendid.
You know, a problem with a lot of vampire movies is that you have superpowered vamps. Better, stronger, faster than humans. As negothick and I agree, it's largely a product of the movies, though Stoker did his part to make Dracula scary by making him a more powerful physical presence than the men around him. Anyway, even in shows like Buffy which have a lot of finesse in other matters, you get vampires who might as well be martial-artists or superheroes or something else that's humanoid and hits you. It's just like an action-movie brawl, only with fangs. The more you have vampires in an all-out physical struggle, the more they lose their mystery and therefore a lot of their interest for me. It's a matter of brawling making them seem more human, more of a known quantity.
This film had a vampire-versus-werewolf fight that handled the monster differences perfectly. I wanted to stand up and cheer. To begin with, Werewolf!Daninsky does all the actual brawling. Wandessa and her swirly black draperies become a giant black cloud of evil that slithers around him, looking as though she's lost human form. This all takes place in a sand-floored amphitheater, like a little two-monster gladiatorial show, and Waldemar sticks a cross into the one exit so that the vampire can't just run away. When Wandessa finally dies, though, there's a nice visceral touch: her clothes settle to the ground in a heap with her rotting corpse inside them, and maggots crawl all over her. You can see that the film crew went to the store and bought a bucket of live bait and dumped it onto the fake corpse. It's nasty, clever, elegantly simple, and I don't think an American movie would be that visceral or creative in a hurry.
Aaaand Paul Naschy also makes a splendid werewolf. The Vicar and others have already said a lot on the subject, so I'll just add a few observations. For one thing, in keeping with the tone of the movie overall, Naschy is not afraid to drool when it's appropriate. The werewolf transforms in the time-approved manner: sprout fur, drop out of camera range and gurgle, pop up sporting more fur, drop out of range, groan, pop up and gnash your fangs. And, in the process, he foams at the mouth. It's not a pretty sight, but, again, it's what the scene demands, and it's startling even to those of us who've seen a lot of werewolves. (Those Spaniards know their drool.) Of course, he's also very good in human form. Naschy is basing Waldemar Daninsky heavily on Lon Chaney's performance as Larry Talbot, as I've said, and I like Chaney, so I felt at home right away. They aren't identical, of course, and Daninsky gets to have a lot more control over his own fate than does Larry Talbot, who spent a lot of time suffering and stuck in limbo. But they're both macho, barrel-chested actors who do pathos and puppy-dog eyes surprisingly well. The biggest difference between them is about a foot of height.
Have I ever complained to you about short actors and tall actresses, and how Hollywood and pop culture will not permit either type to exist? Because it bugs me and I hate it. (Said the 5'11" woman.) Humphrey Bogart was like 5'8", but they can't let him just be medium-sized with dignity. That would not do. And the gods forbid he should ever, EVER be shorter than a woman. His manliness would dry up like spit on a hot stove. The world would end if a woman was taller than Humphrey Bogart. So he appears opposite Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca either wearing platform shoes or standing on a bench, I'm not sure which. As for big actresses, they must either (a) remain seated when the men are standing, (b) slouch to a ridiculous extent, or (c) be filmed standing in a trench. That'll teach them to be so tall, the emasculating harpies!
End of sarcastic rant. And it's a very happy end, because Paul Naschy is about two inches shorter than the gorgeous blonde who plays his love interest, and he apparently doesn't care in the slightest. They don't really try to conceal the fact that she's taller than he is; they embrace and make out with their feet planted firmly on the same floor, and she looms over him slightly. And, you know what? It doesn't matter. For one thing, if they don't care, neither will we, the audience. Also, Naschy is extremely macho and buff and his role is written as something of a Mary Sue figure, able to overwhelm women with his raw animal magnetism. (This despite the fact that he's an eternally cursed werewolf who eats people and a succession of dreadful creatures will attack you if you hang out with him. I dunno, maybe it's his pheromones.) Well, I sometimes like a Mary Sue (Gary Stu) if it's a well-written character with a sense of humor, as was Daninsky. And I'm so darned pleased at the sight of a short guy and a tall girl who are out of the closet about their height, I still have a warm and fuzzy feeling.
There are dozens more movies with this guy, and even if this is one of the best, I still want to watch them all. I don't have time for more film-hunting till after the end of this semester, which is thundering down upon me like a poorly-worded simile, but after that I see Netflix membership in my future. And possibly I see myself acquiring Spanish language skills in rudimentary form.