Wednesday, July 16, 2014

LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS (WEREWOLF SHADOW) 1971

AKA THE WEREWOLF VERSUS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN
THE BLACK MASS OF COUNTESS DRACULA





   Having worked our through The Blind Dead films now its time to start on the Spanish horror legacy of Paul Naschy. Most likely due to several factors (more on these this later) Naschy has always had a somewhat spotty and under the radar reputation in regards to American horror fans as he seems to be the last one that's explored when they dive into euro horror. First and foremost among these reasons is that except for one brief glorious time his stuff (and Spanish horror in general) has always been hard to get on this side of the pond in decent editions with most of them regulated to public domain releases of varying quality or mail order through collector video dealers.
   Born in 1938 in Madrid, Spain Naschy was a champion weight lifter as a young man and after knocking around films for awhile (including a small uncredited part in 1961's KING OF KINGS) in 1968 he wrote a screenplay based upon a werewolf figure that in human form was that of a Polish nobleman named Waldemar Daninsky. Securing financial backing it was released in 1968 as LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO (THE MARK OF THE WOLFMAN with its U.S. title being FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR). Originally in 70mm 3D (!!) this would kick start Naschy's highly prolific horror career and he would appear as the tragic Daninsky character in 12 more films (with one being a "lost" film along the way). Along with starring he also wrote the majority of the screenplays for his horror projects, that along with werewolf movies would would also include period horror movies and vengeful zombies, devil possession, Frankenstein's monster, hunchbacks, mummies and resurrected warlocks among other evil manifestations. A lifelong fan of horror movies (especially the classic Universal films of the 30's and 40's) Naschy's films are unique among other Spanish horror in that they featured a characters from "classic" horror monster figures and were influenced by the Universal and Hammer films.




   Released in 1971 LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS (NIGHT OF THE WULPURGIS) is most commonly known by its UK title of WEREWOLF SHADOW and was released in the U.S. as THE WEREWOLF VERSUS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN. It was the 5th movie in Daninsky saga (with the 2nd THE NIGHTS OF THE WOLFMAN being the lost one) and was the first one directed by Leon Klimovsky. The Argentinian born Kilmovsky would go on to direct eight of Naschy's films along with THE VAMPIRES' NIGHT ORGY and THE DRACULA SAGA among others. WEREWOLF SHADOW is often credited with starting the Spanish horror boom as it was a huge hit in Europe and played on American drive-in screens on various dbl. and triple bills.




   Somewhat following the events in 1970's THE FURY OF THE WOLFMAN (it's best not to attempt to follow a discriminable story arc in these films) Waldemar is resurrected by a couple of doctors who remove some silver bullets from his chest and after bloodily dispatching them he sets up house in a large French country estate. Elvira (Gaby Fuchs from MARK OF THE DEVIL) along with Genevieve (the very beautiful Barbara Capell) are traveling in the area searching for the grave of the medieval murderess, devil worshiper and most likely vampiress Countess Wandessa Nadasdy (Patty Shepard from HANNAH QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRES and THE WITCHES MOUNTAIN) and they follow the usual Euro horror plot line of city people who dress in loud 70's fashions and venture out in the countryside where they become involved in the supernatural. Having run short of gas the two women take Walemar's up on the offer to take shelter in his home and upon learning of their search for the grave he offers to help them as he's looking for a silver cross/dagger believed to be buried with the countess.




   After comparing notes and a few minutes detective work its discovered that the tomb is located on his property (hey, how 'bout that !) near an an old monastery. After digging up the tomb the silver cross is removed from the countess's remains and in a bit of homage to Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY Genevieve cuts herself and her blood falls upon the rotted corpse. We soon have a resurrected countess lurking about and and with her long flowing black dress in the form of Patty Shepard she is was of the more striking images from 70's European horror. In one of the movies highlights the now vampiric Countess Nadasdy stalks Genevieve turning her into a vampire and in a bit true hyperbole (at least as far as the U.S. title is concerned) we actually do get a werewolf vs. vampire climax with the wolfman Naschy battling vampire Patty Shepard (or least her double).
    Like most of Naschy's scripts (and Spanish horror in general) there are several "what the hell" subplots that don't really go anywhere and are there most likely to pad out the running time as here we get a way too long sequence of  Elvira's boyfriend investigating her disappearance (most of which was cut for the U.S. release) and there's a weird bit involving Naschy's mad sister lurking about. Kilmovsky does set up some deliriously atmospheric scenes (mostly involving the female vampires) with slo-motion, billowing dresses and fog along with plenty of bright red blood splashed about. As in all these movies Naschy's werewolf is highly athletic bounding about and smashing trough windows all the while dispensing gallons of drool and spitting up copious amounts of blood after a kill. In addition there's one scene involving a zombie like monk figure that bears a striking resemblance to the Blind Dead whose first movie would go into production a bit later in the same year.




    The South Carolina born Patty Shepard was the daughter of a military man and while he was stationed in Spain she starting modeling which led to roles in movies. She had a very unique look and a presence that was somewhat reminisce of Barbara Steele and although only available in a severely butchered edit her 1972 film THE WITCHES MOUNTAIN is well worth a look. She worked fairly steadily up until the late 80's (appearing in 1988's SLUGS) before retiring. She passed away in 2013.
     As mentioned earlier Naschy has always been rather difficult to gauge as far as horror fandom is concerned as his catalog has for the most part been problematic in regards to finding decent additions and until the Phil Hardy and Michael Weldon books in the late 80's he hardly got a mention in print form. Although to be fair, his movies do have some achingly dull moments and the sometimes overwrought dialogue (especially in regard to the romance scenes) are unintentionally funny even in the subtitled versions. However for fans of Euro horror there is something fascinatingly entertaining about these (especially the Kilmovsky ones) as there's tons of great Gothic atmosphere, lurid color, blood and beautiful women. At the center of everything though is Naschy and as especially in regards to his characterization of the forever tortured soul Waldemar Daninsky its fascinating to watch an actor who truly believed in these movies and his work. I got the chance to meet him at a Fanex convention in 2000 where I purchased his then newly translated autobiography. He was very kind and I remember being a bit saddened at the lack of people there to see him.




    Back around 2005 BCI/Deimos put out a fine series of Spanish horror DVD's including this title and other Naschy films, plus THE LORELY'S GRASP, NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS and THE DRACULA SAGA. Except for a few glitches, these were beautiful transfers and as unbelievably as it may seem in these days of disappearing brick and mortar video stores you could walk into Best Buy and there they were. Unfortunately BCI went belly up before finishing the series, however in the past year there's been rumors of Kino/Redemption releasing some Naschy titles. Code Red DVD released the interesting & different (and sporadically available from Code Red ) Nsaschy/Kilmovsky post-apocalyptic zombie horror/thriller THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK with the always worth a look Maria Perschy. Please check out my fellow blogger Brian at his Cool Ass Cinema for a review of this. Code Red also has out a really nifty dbl feature disc of  THE VAMPIRES' NIGHT ORGY and Naschy's DR. JEKYLL VS. THE WEREWOLF and Shriek Show released FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR. As to be expected there 's been numerous European releases with Artus of France recently announcing some titles.



  








Wednesday, July 9, 2014

PSYCH-OUT 1968

"These are the PLEASURE LOVERS !"


"They'll ask you for a dime with hungry eyes..but they'll give you love for NOTHING"




    A pony-tailed Jack Nicholson helps flower child in training Susan Strasberg search for her missing brother in an A.I.P. version of 1960's hippie San Francisco. Produced by Dick (American Bandstand) Clark this was based upon an earlier script titled THE LOVE CHILDREN written by Nicholson. It was later re-worked seemingly enough not to have Jack credited as a writer, but he was able to get himself cast into what is essentially the male lead (although Dean Stockwell is top billed). One of those movies that's instant fodder for jokes and "so bad its good" viewing recommendations its actually a lot better then its reputation and plus where else are you going to get to see Jack fronting a psychedelic rock band in 1960's San Francisco ?? Sure its a bit hokey at times, but does feature a well written script with some depth to it, beautiful cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs, earnest work by its leads and best of all there's an almost impossibly cute Susan Strasberg.




    Straight off (literally) the bus deaf runaway Jenny Davis (Strasberg) arrives in the midst of counter culture 1968 'Frisco to search for her missing brother. Wandering into a coffee shop she makes the acquaintance of "Stoney" (Jack Nicholson) who along with his friends Ben & Elwood (Adam Rourke & Max Julien) head up a rock group known as Mumblin' Jim. Hiding her from the police in their Mumblin' Jim day-glo painted Chevy van they take her back to their commune located in an old Victorian house that comes complete with hippies lounging around and making love on pillows, plentiful drugs and trippy lighting. As it turns out Jenny's missing brother Steve is a local street corner preacher and sculptor known as "The Seeker" who's disappeared from his apt. after sending Jenny a postcard that reads mysteriously reads "JESS SAES God is alive and well and living in a sugar cube".




    After being informed that local artist Warren (who also designs Mumblin' Jim's concert posters) is "freaking out" on STP Jenny and the boys arrive just in time to stop him from cutting off his supposedly rotting hand with a circular saw and plus he imagines everybody as festering zombie-like creatures !  There Jenny recognizes a sculpture as her brothers work which leads them to guru Dave (Dean Stockwell) who's the "oracle and speaker of the truth" character that's always around in hippie films. Dave was also a past member of Mumblin' Jim but quit because he thought the band was too concerned with success and "playing games for the man". He's standoffish to Stoney but seems attracted to Jenny (with motives that don't seem all that "truth seeking") and is eager to help her whereupon he gives them information that leads Jenny and the boys to a local junkyard for clues to the missing Steve.

 Watch out for that bad acid !!


  Mumblin' Jim jammin' at the ballroom !!

    Once there they see a Jesus Saves sign with a couple of letters missing which ties into Dave's cryptic postcard to Jenny. They also run into into gang of short haired thugs who attempt to rape Jenny (and as it turns out are looking to put an ass whoppin' on The Seeker). Luckily during the fight a stoned Elwood hallucinates that the junkyard thugs are knights and dragons and proceeds to wipe them out with a hunk of metal pipe.
   Meanwhile Mumblin' Jim seems to headed for the big time as they get an offer from a promoter to perform at "the ballroom" (a reference to the Avalon or Fillmore) on a bill with The Strawberry Alarm Clock and as Stoney says "maybe be as big as the Airplane". This causes a major rift between Stoney and guru Dave as he feels the band is "selling out" and "chasing the dollar" (Hey !, where's my official band sanctioned Mumblin' Jim t-shirt !). Stoney's preoccupation with making it big also hurts his burgeoning love affair with Jenny (which was punctuated by some stoned out blurry love making) and this allows Dave to start putting some non-guru like moves on Jenny and trick her into drinking some acid laced Kool-Aid (with resulting dire climatic consequences including hallucinatory exploding fireballs, flashbacks to evil moms and Golden Gate Bridge freak-outs). To top everything off it seems that "The Seeker" is a somewhat crazy and wacked out Jesus like figure and is played by everybody's favorite crazy and wacked out actor Bruce Dern. Holy Crap !




    In addition to the appearance by The Strawberry Alarm Clock (who also supply several songs to the soundtrack) there's also Sky Saxon and The Seeds preforming at a mock hippie funeral. Although there is some great documentary style footage street footage of San Francisco (complete with a quick appearance by Jerry Garcia) the majority of PSYCH OUT was filmed in Los Angeles, including Jack Nicholson's actual house. This might explain the presence of two Los Angeles bands in the form of The Seeds and Strawberry Alarm clock rather then San Fran based bands. Director Richard Rush's original cut was 101 minutes (and this was mistakenly issued on video cassette by HBO), but was cut down for release to 82 minutes - which is now the cut available on DVD from MGM. I've never seen Rush's 101 minute version, but seemingly how there is some filler here the shorter version probably works best.
    The cast were all in their late 20's with this seemingly most apparent with Nicholson as his looks practically scream out NARC (!) and would probably be pretty much guaranteed to clear out a hippie pad in no time. As mentioned Kovac's photography is beautiful (this would look gorgeous on blu-ray) such as the opening close-up of a wistful Strasberg gazing out of the bus window while coming into San Francisco and the film makes great use of the bright psychedelic color scheme of the time.



Hey, Mumblin' Jim have even got themselves a flute playin' hippie chick ! Far Out !

   With its in the open drug use (plus showing its sometimes ugly after result) along with Nicholson's presence make this an interesting companion to Peter Fonda and 1966's THE WILD ANGELS as precursors to EASY RIDER. The pretty girl stringing beads all over the commune at one point is played by Mireille Machu who was Jack's girlfriend at the time and played "The Pleasure Girl" in The Monkees HEAD (billed as I.J. Jefferson). Pretty cool stuff !  





  


 LOOK OUT ! Some more trippin' on that ol' nasty bad acid !