Thursday, March 27, 2014

Monster Team-up Reflection #11: Werewolf vs Vampire Woman

Though the official fifth in Paul Naschy’s Waldemar Daninsky series, “The Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman” (aka, “La Noche de Walpurgis”, “Blood Moon” and “Werewolf Shadow”) remains prominently lodged in many fans’ memories, if only due to the affluent exposure it’s received over the years. By title alone, it invokes pure exploitation (like “Werewolves on Wheels”, which was also in successful circulation during the early ‘70s), but in truth, this ’71 epic is more an excursion in subdued creepiness than extreme flamboyance.

The film, (directed by Leon Klimovsky, who would later helm “Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf”, and written by Naschy and Hans Mukel), focuses on a couple of sight-seeing lovelies (Gaby Fuchs and Barbara Capell), who are seeking the castle of legendary Countess Wandesa Darvula de Nadasdy (Patty Shepard): a character based on Elizabeth Bathory (the real-life Countess Dracula). While attempting to get directions, the women stumble upon Daninsky, who graciously lets them stay in his castle, where (much to their torment), his weird and violent sister (Yelena Samarina) also resides.

When one of the women (Capell) injures herself by pulling a cross from out the Countess’ disinterred corpse—and profusely bleeds upon it—matters quickly turn surreal. Wandesa, now magically revived, proceeds to transform her unintentional resurrectionist into a faithful, parasitic companion: an act punctuated by implied lesbianism, which was a common motif in horror films of the period (e.g., “Daughters of Darkness”, “Vampire Lovers”, “Vampyros Lesbos”). As a consequence, the altered victim becomes as much an occupying force in the storyline as Wandesa.

With the exception of the prologue and two midway transformation scenes, Daninsky basically haunts the sidelines, only significantly intervening toward the tale’s conclusion, and then when the inevitable confrontation with the Countess occurs, he again predictably turns lupine, while she does little more than swoop down upon him, so that they may briefly roll around the dirt: alas, a far cry from cinema’s best monster brawl. (Clips from the “fight” can also be viewed in the film’s opening credits.)

However, what makes “Werewolf vs Vampire” worth watching is its lush, visual ambiance, thanks to cinematographer Leo Williams. Arguably more than any other early Daninsky vehicle (with the possible exception of “Jekyll vs Werewolf”), “Werewolf vs Vampire” exudes the Hammer Studios flow and feel, remaining engrossingly atmospheric and ethereally alluring throughout and does an exemplary job catering to the fanged females, who are so magnetically photographed that it’s understandable why one might willing offer one’s neck to them.

“Werewolf vs Vampire” is also another fine example of how sensuality and splatter can successfully blend: a feature that would be further pronounced a few years later in Naschy’s “Night of the Howling Beast”/”Werewolf and Yeti”.

Because of its impressive box-office gross and its easy access via VHS and disc, “Werewolf vs Vampire” has become Naschy’s most referenced film (though some might justly argue “Mark of the Wolfman”/”Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror” rivals such). Also like other drive-in staples over the decades, such as “Giant Leeches” and “Killer Shrews”, “Werewolf vs Vampire” has certainly gained pop-cultural status in various eclectic circles, and on that basis alone should be particularly sought among Naschy’s extensive work. It also aptly grants one a hardy glimpse into Naschy’s story-telling style: an undeniable blueprint for why his films, particularly the werewolf ones, continue to enthrall.

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