Movie Review: Night of the Werewolf

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Night of the Werewolf (1981)
Directed by Paul Naschy
Starring Paul Naschy, Julia Saly, Silvia Aguilar, Azucena Hernández, Beatriz Elorrieta, Rafael Hernández, Pepe Ruiz, Ricardo Palacios, Narciso Ibáñez Menta, Pilar Alcón

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My very first introduction to Paul Naschy’s on-going Daninsky/werewolf films was Night of the Howling Beast (1975), which not only blew me away, but remained my favorite of his werewolf films for a very long time. But one time when I was in the mood for some ‘carnivorous lunar activities’, I decided I needed to watch one of Naschy’s Daninsky films. I picked Fury of the Wolfman (1972) because it had been quite a while since I’d seen it. Of course, as much as I love his work, this is not one of his better outings, which one of the reasons is rumored to be due to the director. None the less, my hungry had not been sated, so I grabbed another one, Night of the Werewolf (1981), which had originally been released on video here in the states under the title The Craving. In 2007, BCI put it out on DVD and blu-ray the following year, in an incredible looking presentation. It might have just been one of those ‘just at the right time’ moments, but seeing that gorgeous looking print right then, made this film move up to the top spot as my favorite Naschy werewolf movie. And here’s why.

But before we get to that, let me give you some brief history about this film. Back in 1971, Naschy wrote and starred in La Noche de Walpurgis, better known as Werewolf vs the Vampire Women (as well as Werewolf Shadow, Blood Moon, and a few others). It was directed by Leon Klimovsky, a someone that Naschy would work with several times in his career. It tells the story of some young women in search of the tomb of Countess Wandessa, a murderous vampire from medieval times. During their search, they come across Waldemar Daninsky, who says he can help them. But one of the women accidently revives the Countess, who starts her plan of world domination, she didn’t count on the fact that Daninsky is a werewolf! The film was a great success and is an entertaining film, but Naschy always thought it would have been better. So ten years later, he wrote basically a remake of it, though there are a few differences, and titled it El Retorno del Hombre-Lobo (The Return of the Wolfman), which Naschy himself considered to be “one of the most significant titles” of his entire career in the horror genre. According to Naschy in his auto-biography Memoirs of a Wolfman,  he wrote “I really enjoyed making this picture, giving full rein to my love of heavy Gothic imagery, blended with both real historical detail and unbridled flight of fancy. I was also able to give vent to my most intimate fantasies.” I happened to think it really does show too!

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In this version, we start with the sentencing the Countess Elisabeth Bathory and execution of accomplices. She had been accused of witchcraft, vampirism, cannibalism, and sorcery and sentenced to be locked in her room until her death, much like the real life Bathory (except maybe the accusations…she was just accused of murdering hundreds of young girls and bathing in their blood). One of these accomplices is Waldemar Daninsky, who was said to turn into a wolf during the full moon. He was a helpless pawn, under the control of the Countess. After the executions and opening credits we come to present day, where we find the three students that are researching the countess and want to find her tomb. But one of the students, Erika, has plans to awaken her for her own personal needs.

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One their way to the castle ruins, they are attacked by some local thugs. They are saved by the crossbow of a mysterious stranger who disappears after killing off the attackers. This turns out to be Daninsky, who had been unknowingly revived by a couple of grave robbing thieves. When he later meets up with the girls, he tries to warn them to stay away from the ruins, but Erika will not listen, determined to carry out her evil plans. A good old fashion monster-rama ensues!

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So many reasons why this is my favorite, not to mention why it is just a great movie in general. Let’s start with just the look of it. There are so many incredible shots here, from the werewolf jumping out a plate glass window, to two of the vampire women slowing floating down the hall towards a victim, with smoke almost enshrouding them, to the re-birth of the Countess…all just staggering looking shots. Naschy really showed that he knew how to make the film look good. Without over using the slow motion shots (which I think was overdone in the previous version), he creates plenty of style here, making some very memorable sequences. Then there is the makeup effects. Not only is there plenty of the red stuff flowing, but the werewolf makeup is probably the best of the entire series. The film really looks like one of the Hammer films, with plenty of gothic atmosphere just oozing out. You have some beautiful vampire women, a resurrected zombie that almost looks like an extra from a Blind Dead film, decrepit old castle ruins, and so much more.

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Of course, we also have Naschy. As always, his performance as the hairy beastie is top of the line, playing it with such energy and enthusiasm. Under the full moon, he is brutal and savage, a creature that cannot be bargained or reasoned with, for he will simply just tear you apart. But in his human form, he still emits this pathos and sadness for his crimes, even they are done because of his damning curse.

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Playing his rival here is Julia Saly, who had worked with Naschy on a few movies before, like Inquisition (1976), The People Who Own the Dark (1976), and Human Beasts (1980), and would go on to appear in many other of his films like Panic Beats (1983), Beast and the Magic Sword (1983), Operation Mantis (1984), Ultimate Kamikaze (1984), and My Friend the Vagabond (1984). She also appeared in Amando de Ossorio’s Demon Witch Child (1975) and his fourth Blind Dead film, Night of the Seagulls (1975). As much as I like Patty Shepard’s performance in Werewolf vs the Vampire Women, I think Saly is perfect here as the undead Countess. Something about her eyes that gives her an unworldly and mysterious look to her that seems to elevate her performance even higher.

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While the debate of which version of this story might be better might live on longer than Daninsky’s curse, they are still both out there for us fans to enjoy and continue that discussion. But for me personally, I don’t think there is even a question. But the important thing isn’t which one is better, but that they both are great examples of the work of my favorite hombre lobo!

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