Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Monster Team-up Reflection #9: Night of the Howling Beast/Werewolf and the Yeti

Recently I reflected upon Paul Naschy’s “Assignment Terror” and thought it might be fun to bring another of his monster mergers to the blog spotlight: “Night of the Howling Beast” (aka, “La Maldicion de la Bestia”, “Werewolf and the Yeti”, “Hall of the Mountain King”, et al), the eighth entry in the Waldemar Daninsky series, directed by Miguel Iglesias and scripted by Naschy (as Jacinto Molina).

The film was released in ’75 (though not officially in the U.S. until ’77, and then only limitedly) and has since gained greater exposure through VHS and disc. It’s generally considered one of the most violent installments in the Daninsky franchise and was even relegated to Britain’s banned “Video Nasties”, thus furthering its notoriety. In truth, “Howling Beast” is probably no more extreme than others of its kind made during the same period: graced by several gruesome moments and some brief nudity within its 80-minute time frame.

The film is also another specialized re-imagining of Daninsky’s affliction, for in this instance, he obtains his lycanthropy through vampiric means. (For what it’s worth, “Fury of the Wolfman” and "Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman" reference a yeti bite as the cause of Daninsky’s physiological change, leaving “Howling Beast” in opposition to what was an already widely embraced origin.) There’s also, of course, the anticipated match between Naschy’s werewolf and a wandering abominable snowman, who is otherwise seen momentarily in the pre-credit prologue, where the creature mercilessly attacks an expedition, but then remains unseen until the ending.

Naschy’s script is basic, though seemingly unconnected in parts: Daninsky, who holds an interest in yeti lore, learns of the ill-fated expedition and embarks to verify its details. He gets lost in the process and is given shelter by two, beautiful cave-dwellers, who just happen to be vampires (or at least a flesh-eating variation of such). Daninsky slays them, but not before they inexplicably infect him with the lycanthropic strain. Daninsky frantically flees the dwelling, ultimately transforming into a werewolf and mutilating a few local rogues, until the spell temporarily subsides.

Meanwhile, Daninsky’s expedition members are seized, tortured and slain by bandits led by a Tibetan tyrant named Sekkar Khan (Luis Induni), who is plagued by a skin disease (his back frequently blisters, though the rest of him remains illogically unblemished). He is, in fact, receiving “treatment” from a Dragon Lady-type named Wandesa (Silvia Solar), who sadistically skins captive, young women and places their hides upon thug’s wounds in a questionable attempt to heal him. Daninsky eventually combats Khan, while Wandesa’s captives rebel, and no sooner do the villains meet defeat, Daninsky resumes bestial form, just as the yeti conveniently returns, granting us the long awaited monster melee (as well as a surprising turn regarding Daninsky’s condition).

Except for a few fleeting facial shots, the yeti is never distinctly defined (whether in the prologue or the brawl), most often resembling an elongated blur, with the werewolf staying fairly succinct throughout all sequences. Also, none of the proceedings take place in just one day or night, which considerably skews the “Night of…” designation. Daninsky also transforms initially during what appears to be dusk, only later to morph under the full moon. Unfortunately, such unexplained causes-and-effects give “Howling Beast” an uneven mythological flow.

On the plus side, the Himalayan setting gives the film a prevailing, exotic look, distinguishing it from other Daninsky ventures (including “Fury of the Wolfman”, which contains only a few murky Tibetan flashbacks, and Universal’s classic, “Werewolf of London”, which also makes effective use of such terrain, in addition to founding several “Howling Beast” plot points).  Naschy’s make-up, though certainly in sync with his previous applications, looks strikingly more devilish in this outing, his ears often horn-like, his mouth messily blood-drenched. Seeing his dark form sprint about the stark snow also presents an intriguing visual contrast, creating one of the movie’s most atmospheric, recurring attributes.

There are certainly superior Daninsky entries, but “Howling Beast” more than adequately holds its own, if only for its edgy violence and unapologetic adult content. As far as monster team-ups go, it’s a far stretch from “Assignment Terror” (or even “Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf” and “Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman”, which spend better time blending their monstrous mixes), but in the end, after watching the hairy beasts go claw-to-claw, one can’t help but feel ferociously empowered.

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