APRIL 21, 2009
Though I hear the name a lot, my only exposure to Paul Naschy was from his role as the titular role in School Killer, a middling slasher movie from a few years ago (i.e. a long time AFTER his heyday). So I chose Curse Of The Devil (Spanish: El Retorno de Walpurgis) for my real introduction to the man, as he also co-wrote the film, which is often cited as one of his more memorable efforts.
I assume those folks are correct, for this is a pretty good werewolf movie. It follows the Wolf Man formula pretty closely (though he is directly cursed due to his family name, not given the curse by another werewolf), so I was rarely surprised by any of the plot developments (the final shot has a wonderfully silly/awesome setup for a sequel though). However, it IS an early 70s horror movie, which means it tells the tale in a wonderfully gory and occasionally sexy manner.
The gore is of the red paint variety, but there's plenty of it. And the werewolf is pretty non-discriminating with who he kills: other dudes, younger women, old folks... everyone gets mauled to death here. Thus, this movie has a much higher body count than I was expecting, which is a definite plus. I've seen this story so many times, but often in older films (read: ones that lack gore or even onscreen kills), so it was nice to get an updated version, albeit one before the CGI era that, as far as I'm concerned, killed the werewolf movie for good.
See, moreso than any other horror subgenre, the werewolf movie needs a good transformation. For a vampire movie, as long as the fangs look good, you're covered. And zombies just sort of turn green for the most part - not a lot to work with there. But with werewolves, you need to really sell the transformation, which is a huge part of why American Werewolf In London has endured - the transformation scene is amazing. Nowadays they just use morphing programs in a computer to do it, and it always sucks. So personally, while nothing pre-AWIL can measure up, I'd rather the usual sort of "fade from one stage of transformation to another" sequence that this film employs than any bullshit CGI monstrosity. Yeah, it's not going to win any technical awards, but its got a certain charm that CGI can never muster.
The other nice thing about the movie is the unabashed nudity. I'm not a big skin guy, but there is something inherently awesome about a woman disrobing and approaching a man (her sister's fiance, in fact), practically demanding sex. And his attempts at refusal are pretty hilarious - he at first rejects her, only to walk a few feet away and sit down in his bed. Really putting up a fight pal. And then he transforms into the wolf and kills her once the act is done, which is even more awesome. Fuck your sister-in-law, and dispose of her before she pulls the "I'm telling my sister about us" card that has ruined so many such affairs. I'm guessing if guys in the real world could turn into werewolves, there would be a huge increase in the number of deaths among younger sister-in-laws. And because he's the film's hero, he is of course instantly forgiven by everyone, including the sister (he's also killed her dad, another thing she readily chalks up to "it's the curse, not you" - she is seriously the most understanding woman in the world).
The movie also contains one of my favorite inadvertently hilarious lines in recent memory. After a number of murders, Naschy tells his fiance that she should leave "this awful place", and suggests she go to Budapest instead. Given that Budapest served as a primary shooting locale for Underworld, I found this pretty amusing. "Go get killed by a different werewolf!"
The only issue I had with the film is that it's fairly inept in the technical areas. The sound is atrocious at times; crackles and pops are heard more often than not, sometimes practically drowning out the dialogue. Director Carlos Aured's attempts at day for night are pretty laughable, which also render some scenes confusing (he's worried about turning due to the full moon, but it seems to be about three in the afternoon). And the editing is haphazard at best, particularly in the first reel or so. After a prologue that takes place hundreds of years ago, we get a brief "modern day" scene before flashing back about 6 or 7 years - none of this is explained via a title card or anything*. Scenes often end or begin with characters in the middle of a conversation, and things like establishing shots are in short supply as well. I don't expect some sort of Oscar-caliber filmmaking from these movies, but even with that in mind, the work here is substandard, marring an otherwise fun and somewhat unique take on the story.
The only extra on my DVD is a pair of trailers, which as always with these older films, give pretty much everything away. The DVD also contains both the original Spanish as well as an English dub, which is nice as many of these "cult" DVD releases only offer one or the other. Obviously I prefer the original language, but if I'm starting to get sleepy, it's nice to switch to English and "rest my eyes".
What say you?
*I later discovered that this is like the 4th movie in a loose series featuring Naschy as the character of Waldemar Daninsky, so maybe this would have been more clear had I seen the others. At least, I think they are related. Maybe "Waldemar Daninsky" is just Spanish for "Walter Paisley".