Tag Archives: Werewolf

1971 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS, AND WILLARD

1971 began with one of the most stylish horror films ever produced: The Abominable Dr. Phibes, a near-perfect collaboration between director and star produced a “masterpiece” of a very different kind with Dracula vs.Frankenstein, featuring the most (unintentionally) frightening performance of poor .’s career and the most hilariously inept portrayal ever of the Transylvanian vampire count (by “Zandor Vorkov”). Director Eddie Romero and “star” John Ashley teamed up for both Beast of Blood and Beast of the Yellow Night, which may be as unimaginative as they sound, but would make a worthwhile, howling triple feature with Adamson’s opus.

 was still gifting the world lesbian vampires with Caged Virgins (AKA Requiem for a Vampire) and The Shiver of the Vampires. Following suit were Stephanie Rothman with The Velvet Vampire, Ray Austin’s The Virgin Witch (starring twins Anne and Vicki Michelle), and with the bluntly titled Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed In Ecstasy, both starring the tragically short-lived cult figure . Not to be outdone, Hammer Studios contributed to the thriving same-sex bloodsucker subgenre with as a “Calgon Take Me Away” Countess Dracula (directed by Peter Sasdy), and with Lust for a Vampire (directed by Jimmy Sangster and starring Yutte Stensgaard). Neither of these were as explicit as they promised and probably should have been. Considerably better was another Hammer opus with identical siblings (Playboy playmates Mary and Madeleine Collinson): Twins of Evil, stylishly directed by John Hough and featuring a superb authoritarian performance by . However, it was ‘s Belgian Daughters of Darkness, starring and Danielle Ouimet, that made the biggest impact, becoming an international cult hit that is still referenced today. Of course, hetero bloodsuckers were not be left out and had their moment under the sequel moon in The Return of Count Yorga (directed by Bob Kelljan and starring Robert Quarry), which failed to repeat its predecessor’s success. Night of Dark Shadows by Dan Curtis improved on the previous years effort, despite an absent Jonathan Frid. Oddly, it was the Japanese who were perhaps most suited to Transylvanian folklore in 1971 with Lake of Dracula (directed by Michio Yamamoto).

Still from Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)Amando de Osario charted unexpected territory with his zombie monks in Tombs of the Blind Dead, the first of his Blind Dead series (he had previously made the unrelated vampire opus, Fangs Of The Living Dead, in 1968). Although short on actual plot, it’s arguably Osorio’s finest moment. Scenes of the blackened, dead Templars rising from their graves (resurrected by Satan) and mounting horses (juxtaposed to Anton Abril’s highly effective, eerily faint score) to ride into the slaughter (filmed in slow motion) are spine tingling.

These are zombies of a different sort who raise their swords to slash at victims, before draining their blood. Scenes of the Spanish Inquisition, failed crusades, misogynistic torture of women, and lesbianism are surprisingly low-key, and often poetically surreal. Although Osorio’s influences (including Mario Bava’s color palette) are in full evidence, his is a strongly original film, almost painterly. Decaying abbeys and a potential victim standing motionless to avoid the army of blind marauders evoke a sense of dread. Even a massacre on a train is artfully restrained.

Michael Winner presented a literal-minded prequel to Harry James’ Continue reading 1971 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS, AND WILLARD

LIST CANDIDATE: THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, David Warner

PLOT: A young girl moves from the city to a big house in the country. Her dreams mirror her dissociation from her surroundings and family, and an examination of her development as a person (and as a girl becoming a woman) follows through increasingly odd studies of gender and of the notion of the werewolf.

Still from The Company of Wolves (1984)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Neil Jordan’s second film is co-written by the sadly deceased Angela Carter, and her literary tralents are on full display here in an extremely layered and artful examination of gender and sexuality set against traditional folk tales such as Red Riding Hood. Ostensibly a single narrative, Company of Wolves loses itself in stories within stories, all held together as one long dream sequence. This film is quite a feverish and nuanced experience that is a must for inclusion on the List.

COMMENTS: Angela Carter was a fine writer, and anyone who is a fan of the written as well as the cinematic weird who hasn’t yet discovered her would be advised to do so. Company of Wolves draws on the traditions of spoken word narrative and folktales seen through a modern lens. Its source material is Carter’s short story collection “The Bloody Chamber,” which she herself described as an attempt “not to do ‘versions’ or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, ‘adult’ fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories.” What the viewer gets is a modern retelling of Red Riding Hood with all the sexual connotations not only intact but made explicit for a modern switched-on audience. More than just a straight fantasy and horror, The Company of Wolves is a study of the feminine psyche and its attitudes toward desire and familial responsibility, told through a rich narrative web. Perhaps the most indelible image is “the red wedding,” which gives “Game of Thrones” a run for it’s money in regards of worst end to a wedding possible. Grandma’s inevitable fate in this film takes a visually distinctive and surreal twist on the standard “what big teeth you have” story. One of Carter’s few forays into script writing, this film makes you wish her unique talents were more widely adapted for the big screen; furthermore, it showed Neil Jordan would be a talent to watch out for.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The movie has an uncanny, hypnotic force; we always know what is happening, but we rarely know why, or how it connects with anything else, or how we can escape from it, or why it seems to correspond so deeply with our guilts and fears. That is, of course, almost a definition of a nightmare.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961)

This post is part of an ongoing series on Hammer horror director Terence Fisher.

Terence Fisher never considered himself a “horror” filmmaker, and he clearly disliked the term.  While a number of Fisher’s film could be apt examples to drive home his point that he was more than a mere scare merchant, The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) will suffice quite nicely. This is a quite literary film, far better than either of Universal Studio’s versions of The Wolfman (1941 & 2010).

Fisher and writer Anthony Hinds (loosely adapting Guy Endor’s novel) weave a narrative tragedy through folklore, mythology, religious metaphor, and character revelation.  The symbols of class struggle ebb throughout the film, beginning in 18th century Catholic Spain.  A beggar is imprisoned in the dungeon by the powerful and callous Marques (Anthony Dawson).  Naturally, the beggar is forgotten about, cared for only by the jailer and his mute daughter.  Years later, after her father’s death,  the now grown servant girl (Yvonne Romain)  tends the beggar.  While cleaning the aged Marques’ room, Romain rejects her master’s sexual advances and is imprisoned in the very same dungeon occupied by the beggar.  After resisting the brutal, savage passions of the Marques, the  girl is raped by the crazed and dying beggar for whom she has cared these many years.  In retaliation, once released, she stabs and kills the cruel Marques, fleeing into the woods where she is found, face up in the river, by  Don Alfredo Corledo (Clifford Evans), an empathetic patriarchal figure.

Still from Curse of the Werewolf (1961)Corledo’s servant Teresa (Hira Talfrey, who seems more like a wife than a servant) notices that their new guest is with child and dreads the thought of the baby being born on Christmas, which, according to her tradition, is an affront to God.  Dec 25th arrives and the child, Leon,  is tragically born to a dead mother, who is  finally released from the misery of a peasant life.

In a reversal of the Christ child’s dedication at the temple,  the local priest baptizes Leon, soliciting a storm from the heavens.   Even the baptismal water reacts to the sanctifying of this curse of birth. The water bubbles intensely and reflects the face of a gargoyle from above.  The motherly Teresa, the superstitious one, alone recognizes the sign, while the priest and Don Alfredo dismiss it.

Years later, the child Leon ventures out, tasting the sweet blood of a squirrel, killing lambs and goats.  By now Don Alfredo and the priest know that Leon suffers the curse of the werewolf and the priest warns that only love can relieve Leon from his affliction.  Surrogate parents Don Alfredo and Teresa supply that love to the boy, but as a man, Leon will need the true love of a woman, ala Beauty and the Beast, to harness the wolf.

Some reviewers have predictably commented that the first half of Curse is slow, yet it is in the first half that the narrative is uniquely compelling.  The film unfolds like a literary fairy tale.  Once the narrative takes the obligatory horror route, in the last quarter, with a gray-furred, Henry Hull-looking lycanthrope, it feels a bit recycled, complete with the beast, atop a cathedral,  being chased by the torch carrying mob.

Still, Oliver Reed is superb as the adult Leon, registering torment far more convincingly than either  Lon Chaney, Jr. or Benicio Del Toro.  Hira Talfrey  and, especially, Clifford Evans are equally accomplished as Leon’s concerned guardians.  There are genuinely effective moments of tingling suspense, such as Leon’s cornering an unfortunate prisoner in a cell.  Leon’s virtuous fiancee is his potential salvation, but the animal side of Leon emerges once he ventures out from his sanctuary into a hedonistic society; after which there is, literally, hell to pay.

Curse of the Werewolf is a fine example of a director who utilized a genre for his own aesthetic expression, much the same way that Rod Serling utilized science fiction for his own expressionist gain.

THE WOLF MAN (1941) & THE WOLFMAN (2010)

“Even a Man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolf-bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright”.

The best thing about the 1941 film is the tone-setting poem above, which was repeated at least one too many times in the original, yet it is absent from the 2010 remake except in the title. The Wolf Man seemed ripe for a remake since, of the original “horror classics,” it really wasn’t that good to begin with (the same goes for Creature from the Black Lagoon).

The 1941 film has several strikes against it, the first and foremost of which is writer Curt Siodmak, who, frankly, was a hack. The second is director George Waggner, who wasn’t really a hack but merely a competent, unimaginative commission director with no personal vision. Finally, there is “star” Lon  Chaney, Jr. The younger Chaney gets picked on a lot these days and always has. He deserves it. He was an idiotic, drunken bully who had an obsessive hang-up about outdoing his father. Since Lon Sr. probably ranks with Chaplin in the silent acting department, Lon Jr., the pale, watered-down copy, did not have a chance. It’s amazing that Jr. even thought he would be able to compete. That said, Lon Jr. did have a few good character roles in his career. Damn few out of literally hundreds of films. He was quite good as the arthritic sheriff in Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon, as Big Sam in Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones, as Spurge in Raoul Walsh’s Lion is in the Streets and Bruno in Jack Hill’s cult classic Spider Baby. Like Bela Lugosi, he was only good when he was actually being “directed.” Unlike Lugosi, however, Jr.’s signature horror role is not one of his best. That honor goes to his immortal Lenny in Lewis Milestone’s Of Mice and Men.
Still from The Wolf Man (1941)
Even considering his success with Lenny, Larry Talbot is out of Lon’s range. Never once does Talbot’s amorous nature register. Evelyn Anker’s repeated flirtations with the hulking, rubbery Chaney only evoke numbing disbelief. If Jr. the romantic lead is ludicrous (that side seen at its mustached worst in the execrable Inner Sanctum series), then seeing Lon’s Talbot crying on the bed inspires cringe-inducing embarrassment.  Chaney’s performance as Talbot was marginally Continue reading THE WOLF MAN (1941) & THE WOLFMAN (2010)