When he was a kid, Judge Patrick Bromley thought he was a werewolf. Turns out those hairy palms were caused by something altogether different.
"I know she's perverse…but she has such beauty!"
It's difficult to talk about Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy's 1980 film, The Night of the Werewolf, without pointing out that it was released just one year before the two best werewolf movies ever made (as well as two of my favorite horror films of all time): Joe Dante's The Howling and John Landis's An American Werewolf in London. Together, those two films helped expand the boundaries of the horror genre and all but redefined the celluloid lycanthrope. Much of the monster's traditional romanticism was stripped away, and in its place came some rather dark humor. And, thanks to special effects innovations, the torture of turning into a wolf under the full moon was no longer so much a crisis of the soul as it was pure physical agony. All right…it was a little troubling for the werewolves in The Howling, but they were getting therapy for that. Gosh, I love that movie.
I mention this only because across the ocean nothing of the sort was taking place. The Night of the Werewolf (or El Retorno del Hombre Lobo, its original Spanish title) is a horror film in the totally European, totally traditional sense, owing far more to the classic Hammer films of the 1960s than to any of the breakthroughs Landis and Dante were making. This is gothic horror, filled with castles and caves and blood-drenched vampire chicks and massive sets and gorgeous production design. Naschy finds no humor in the plight of the werewolf—only romantic angst and emotional torment. He's a lover, not a fighter. Except when he's a werewolf. Then he's a fighter. A fighter and a biter.
I had seen only one of Paul Naschy's werewolf films prior to Night of the Werewolf, and that was 1971's Werewolf Shadow. Naschy receives screenplay credit on both films, which doesn't really surprise me; Night is a veritable remake of Shadow. Both films star Naschy (who also directs this time around) as Waldemar Daninsky, tortured Spanish romantic by day and slobbering, fur-covered werewolf by night. Both films feature pretty Spanish women coming to town on some kind of research/fact-finding/satanic mission. Both films feature the resurrection of an ancient vampire Countess (here it's Countess Elisabeth Bathory, played by Julia Saly). Both films find one of the pretty Spanish girls falling in love with Daninsky (in Night it's the freakishly attractive Azucena Hernandez), while the others become vampire bait. And both films climax in a werewolf-versus-vampire fight to the death, leaving Daninsky's lady friend to fight through her feelings and finish the job that the vampire Countess couldn't do. Or could do. I don't want to spoil it.
Night of the Werewolf comes to DVD for the first time completely uncut and restored courtesy of BCI Eclipse. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is quite rich, with nice detail and colors that pop—the movie doesn't show its age. The studio has also wisely seen fit to give viewers the choice of watching the film in its original Castilian with English subtitles, or with an English-dubbed audio track. For this reviewer, the Spanish track is preferable, but the quality of the audio on either choice is sufficient. As far as extras are concerned, there isn't much here. Paul Naschy provides a brief video introduction, which is sweet but doesn't offer much beyond the chance to see how the actor looks in 2007 (pretty good, really). The original Spanish credit sequence has been retained, and it's interesting to compare it to the American credits included in the film (there aren't many; it's actually funny just how long that opening freeze frame goes on without any titles appearing over it). The U.S. theatrical trailer, some deleted scenes, and a decently-sized still gallery round out the supplements, along with some liner notes by Mirek Lipinski, webmaster of the Naschy fan site. He provides some background to the film and discusses the history of its numerous releases and titles, but his comments are ultimately too brief to cover much ground.
There's a definite charm to a movie like The Night of the Werewolf. It's unpretentious and awfully sincere, even if it's also goofy and dreadfully slow going at times. It doesn't offer the same pleasures as a movie like The Howling, but it's probably not fair to even compare the two—that's were-apples and were-oranges. I know that to some audiences, Naschy practically wrote the book on horror. I don't have a problem with that. It's just not my book.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BCI Eclipse
• Paul Naschy Introduction
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