Frankensteinís Bloody Terror / Hellís Creatures / Mark of the Wolf Man / La Marca del Hombre Lobo (1968/1971) ***
Wait a minuteó Frankensteinís Bloody Terror?! Itís werewolf month at the B-Masters Cabal, and El Santo reviews a movie called Frankensteinís Bloody Terror as his roundtable contribution? Hey, donít look at meó blame it on Sam Sherman. You all remember Dracula vs. Frankenstein, right? And you remember how funding problems and assorted other fuck-ups caused it to spend fully two years in various stages of production, with each pause precipitating rewrites, reshoots, retitlings, and other sorts of mutation? Well, either late in 1970 or early in 1971, when that movie was still called The Blood of Frankenstein, and didnít yet feature the concluding battle between Count Dracula and the Frankenstein monster at the formerís improvised lair, Independent-International Pictures boss Sam Sherman started cutting pre-release deals with exhibitors and sub-distributors, people heíd been doing business with forever. For whatever reason, those folks were very excited to be getting a Frankenstein picture from I-I, and started holding dates open for it in their schedules. The trouble was, Sherman had become embroiled in some bewildering battle with the lab that was supposed to make him his prints. The latter outfit essentially held The Blood of Frankenstein hostage (leading ultimately to its transformation into the fabulous disaster we know today), and as the months stretched on, Sherman got so worried about those looming play dates that he started shopping around for unreleased horror movies that he might be able to offer his partners in its place. One of the films Sherman looked at was Assignment Terror, a crazy Spanish monster rally in approximately the old Universal style, featuring not only the Frankenstein monster, but Count Dracula, a werewolf, and a mummy, tooó to say nothing of Michael Rennie as a mad scientist from outer space! It would have been the perfect Blood of Frankenstein substitute, but for one thing. American International Pictures had already bought the television rights, and were set to ship prints out for broadcast in six months. Theatrical rights were still available, but realistically speaking, it would take Sherman three months to get Assignment Terror into US theaters, which left far too little time for it to turn a profit at the box office before its debut on TV.
It then came to Shermanís attention that Paul Naschy, who had played the wolf man in Assignment Terror, had made another horror movie previously. The same people who were handling Assignment Terror were also trying to drum up American interest in its predecessor, which they called Hellís Creatures, so Sherman had them screen it for him. He loved it, and so did everybody else at I-I whose opinion meant anything. Mind you, there was no Frankenstein, either doctor or monster, in Hellís Creatures, and that might be just the slightest problem for a movie that was supposed to take the place of The Blood of Frankenstein. Hellís Creatures did, however, feature a character called ďWolfstein.Ē You see where this is going, right? In a bait-and-switch so brazen that I almost have to admire it, Sherman replaced the filmís original opening with an animated intro in which a voiceover proclaims, ďNowó the most frightening Frankenstein story of all, as the ancient werewolf curse brands the family of monster-makers as WolfsteinÖ Wolfstein, the inhuman clan of blood-hungry wolf monsters!Ē So problem solved, yes? Hellís Creatures became Frankensteinís Bloody Terror, the exhibitors and sub-distributors got their Frankenstein picture, and if anybody in the audience got pissed off that there was no Frankenstein in it, that was nobodyís problem but their own.
Itíll be a while before the Wolfsteins enter into things, at least if youíre watching the uncut version of Frankensteinís Bloody Terror. (US theatrical prints trimed two whole reels from the beginning, jumping straight to the ruins of Castle Wolfstein, where the core of the back-story gets its exposition.) Instead, we focus at first on the Weissmann and Aarenberg families. The current Count Aarenberg, a middle-aged man called Sigmund (Jose Nieto, from Revolt of the Slaves and The Wicked Caresses of Satan), is close friends with Aarno Weissmann (Carlos Casaravilla, of Pyro and Fangs of the Living Dead), a high-ranking judge in whatever generically Teutonic country this is supposed to be. Even closer are the menís offspring, Janice von Aarenberg (Dyanik Zurakowska, from Orgy of the Vampires and The Sweet Sound of Death) and Rudolph Weissmann (Agonizing in the Crimeís Manuel Manzaneque). In fact, the old count is of the opinion that he and the judge will soon be in-laws. Well, maybeó or maybe Waldemar Daninsky (Naschy, whose notable non-werewolf movies include Inquisition and The House of Psychotic Women) will succeed in interposing himself between the young lovers. He surely is trying, and Janice seems to find him charming despite his rough manners, bad reputation, and disfavored parentage.
And now we get to the Wolfsteins. Daninsky isnít a Wolfstein exactly, but he is descended from them down some distaff line or other. The clan hails from Poland originally, but that isnít why nobody around here likes them. To understand that, you have to know about Count Imre Wolfstein, the werewolf. According to legend, Count Imre racked up one hell of a body count back in the day, until finally he was slain by one of his own dearest relatives, who stabbed him through the heart with a sharpened silver cross. To all appearances, nobody holds the Wolfstein lands or title today; at the very least, the castle has been allowed to fall into disrepair, although itís not so far gone yet that it couldnít be rendered habitable with a little work. Daninsky spends a lot of time there, and so, just lately, does Janice. Rudolph, naturally, isnít happy about that last part. For now, though, the salient fact about Castle Wolfstein is that itís where Waldemar sends a pair of Gypsies, Gyogyo (Gualberto Galban) and Nascha (Rosanna Yanni, from Two Undercover Angels and Kiss Me, Monster), when he encounters them on the road, seeking shelter from a brewing thunderstorm.
Gyogyo and Naschaís problem is that they donít know when to leave other peopleís stuff alone. Castle Wolfstein has somehow escaped being seriously looted in all the years itís lain derelict, and the Gypsies get it into their heads that theyíve made a big scoreó especially once they find the family crypt, with all its jewel-bedecked skeletons. Itís Nascha who does the truly stupid thing, pulling that silver cross loose from Count Imreís heart even though his corpse is so uncannily preserved that youíd think anybody would get stage IV heebie-jeebies just looking at it. As soon as the cross is removed, Imre (probably Antonio Escribano, from Graveyard of Horror and Scream of the Demon Lover) rises from his sarcophagus, wolfs out, and slaughters both Gypsies. Over the next several nights, the werewolf count picks up his old reign of terror more or less where he left off.
The locals donít take the ensuing reports of a killer wolf in the neighborhood lying down, and luckily, the hunting posse that assembles to deal with the situation includes Waldemar Daninsky. Thatís lucky because heís the only one who suspects the true nature of the problem; along with the expected rifle, he carries his ancestorís dagger-cross on all his forays into the woods. Less lucky is the outcome when Daninsky (teamed on this occasion with Rudolph Weissmann) and Wolfstein cross paths. Daninsky is successful in re-killing the werewolf, but he is badly injured in the process. We all know what that means. The region may be rid once more of Imre Wolfstein, but its wolf man troubles have only just begun.
To his credit, Daninsky takes steps to protect his neighbors from himself, but they work about as well as the similar measures undertaken by Wilfred Glendon in Werewolf of London. Daninsky works smarter than Glendon, though, by confessing his condition to Rudolph and enlisting his aid. Rudolph, in turn, semi-unwillingly gets Janice involved, and the next thing we know, Waldemar is caged pretty securely in the dungeon of Castle Wolfstein. Janice and Rudolph are also the ones who find what promises to be Waldemarís best bet for getting quit of his new curse. Imre Wolfstein, not unreasonably, amassed a substantial library on the lore of lycanthropy, and one of the more recent volumesó recent enough that its author, Dr. Janos Mikhelov, might possibly still be aliveó contains hints that Mikhelov was close to discovering a cure. It happens that that Janos Mikhelov is no more, but his namesake son (Julian Ugarte, from All the Colors of the Dark and The Killer with a Thousand Eyes) has continued in the family business, as it were. Dr. Mikhelov and his wife, Wandessa (Aurora De Alba, of The Hanging Woman and Vengeance of the Zombies), come at once in response to Rudolphís entreaty, and set to work studying Daninskyís case. All is not as it seems, though, for Mikhelov has not been entirely honest about his identity. In point of fact, he is the Janos Mikhelov who wrote that old lycanthropy treatise, however impossible that might seem to judge from the doctorís youthful appearance. He and Wandessa are vampiresó devil-worshipping vampires, as if drinking the blood of the living werenít bad enough all by itselfó and far from curing Waldemar, they plan to use him (and Imre Wolfstein, for that matter) as part of some vaguely conceived but surely none-too-nice bit of diablerie.
Frankensteinís Bloody Terror could do with a faster pace and a tighter focus. Especially in the third act, there are way too many real-time chase sequences and back-and-forth cycles of inconclusive table-turning. Apart from that, however, itís easy enough to see why this movie and its star could accomplish what Jesus Franco, Julio Coll, and their ilk could not, putting Spain on the map as a significant producer and exporter of horror films. Paul Naschy makes almost as good an old-school werewolf as Oliver Reed, combining Lon Chaney Jr.ís sympathetic ďhard luck suckerĒ quality with the rough and rugged charisma of the competitive weightlifting champion that he was before turning to acting and screenwriting. He gives an interesting performance under the monster makeup, too. In wolf form, Waldemar Daninsky is all frenetic, pent-up energy; it doesnít actually resemble the demeanor of a wild animal, but it feels like it should, if that makes any sense. This is also a case where putting the writer in the starring role confers a major advantage, because itís obvious that Naschy knows every last thing about Daninsky, including the parts that the movie isnít telling us. That intimate knowledge is especially important because Daninsky is such an ambiguous figure. A feared and mistrusted outcast, a Satanically virile lothario, and most of all a monster with a tortured conscience, who got royally screwed by doing the right thing, this is the rare character who probably could adequately support a dozen-movie franchise, and the part demands an actor who understands all those nuances. The curious thing is that Iím not sure Iíd call Naschy a good actor in the ordinary sense of that term. Heís a little too blunt for that, his performances a little too oversized. And yet paradoxically, he captures an awful lot of subtlety as he strides galootishly through this movie and the handful of others Iíve seen him in. Maybe what weíre looking at with Naschy is an attempt to emulate an older, gaudier style of acting that feels natural in a massive Hollywood production, but decidedly odd in a comparatively small film like Frankensteinís Bloody Terror. Certainly the rest of the movie is straining after the spirit of the old Universal horrors, even as it embraces techniques and subject matter that were unknown or forbidden to them.
Naschyís obvious love for the horror movies of his youth may also go some way toward explaining the surprising presence of no fewer than four monsters in this, Waldemar Daninskyís debut feature. That is, a fan of the old fright films would realize that Universal already did the straight werewolf origin story as well as anyone was very likely to in The Wolf Man. Naschy would have stood to gain very little from a de facto Wolf Man remake beyond a cheap edge at the box office, and he commendably looks to have had higher aspirations than merely to make a bunch of money as easily as possible. Meanwhile, Universal themselves suggested a fruitful direction for further werewolf stories with their continuation of the Larry Talbot sagaó especially since they twice put Talbot in the same movie as Dracula without ever having the two characters meaningfully interact. Janos and Wandessa Mikhelov arenít Dracula, of course, but their presence here does give us an element of the werewolf-vs.-vampire action that was irritatingly absent from House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. It would remain Naschyís standard operating procedure throughout the series to pit Daninsky against other, less conflicted monsters, and in that light, itís probably admirable that he wasted no time in establishing the formula.
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