BluRay/DVD Reviews

WEREWOLF SHADOW and FRANKENSTEIN Box Set

By • Aug 6th, 2002 •

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WEREWOLF SHADOW
[aka THE WEREWOLF VS. VAMPIRE WOMAN, BLOOD MOON, and NIGHT OF THE WALPURGIS]
(Anchor Bay Entertainment) 1971.
95 mins. Color. 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Theatrical Trailer. TV Spot.
A taped conversation with Paul Naschy.
A Paul Naschy poster gallery and bio.

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN
Paired with
HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN
(Universal Home Entertainment) 1943
71+ mins.

This will make a great double bill, better by association than either one of them alone. The key is in the supplementary section of the Spanish film’s disc, where horror icon Paul Naschy reveals that the film that got him into the biz was the 1943 Universal programmer (sequel # 4 in the Frankenstein series, and sequel # 1 in the Wolf Man series). This being the case, we have a great many things to compare: Naschy and Chaney Jr’s portrayals, scenic overlaps, makeup, music, etc.

F MEETS W came first, almost thirty years before the ‘remake’, so let’s start there. Lon Chaney Jr. was already careening down the big slide that was to be his career. Where do you go after Lenny in OF MICE AND MEN. He was respectable in Lewis Milestone’s powerful version of the Steinbeck novel, but it was the kind of role that could identify an actor in the same way Hurd Hatfield claimed playing the lead role in THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY destroyed his chances in the minds of the public. At least Chaney had the aura of his father to play off. Later, after his looks and health and any shot at appearing in THE MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES had gone, he was still, in the publicity for a film like THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE (’59), proudly bragging that he was carrying on his father’s tradition by fashioning his own false hand for the shoot.
There are images in F MEETS W that trouble me. Chaney’s glistening face in that sheet at the end, trussed up vertically on the operating table, realizing that not only isn’t he dead yet, but the moon is up there in the sky. The only result that Dr. Mannering’s fussing with the electricity seems to have produced is a goiter attack, judging by the cantalope-sized bulge on Chaney’s neck. (And let’s not get started with Lugosi’s dimple-chinned monster…)

Ilona Massey gets top billing. Was that Universal’s consolation prize for dumping her into a throwaway supporting role in a B programmer? I mean, could she have entertained even the glimmer of a thought that her career would hitherto be intact? The pleasant news for Ilona was that she was sweetly effective in the role, her accent and demeanor, her warmth and concern, all lending the film some badly needed verisimilitude and humanity.

Chaney does give it his best shot. I have heard that, knowing the film was a minor effort with a title destined for ridicule, he determined to at least help create the best wolf man transformation of all time. It takes place early in the story, as he lies in bed in a hospital, and both rivals his father’s creations (though Chaney Sr. did his own makeup, and Jr. relied on Jack Pierce’s artistry) and blows away Naschy’s obvious overlap dissolves, something twenty-eight years should have improved upon rather then diminished.

And Lugosi? What can one say? Even for the traditionally caricatured physical motions of the monster, he’s hyperbolic. One can feel him trying to give his gestures a grand theatrical flavor worthy of his ego. And hey, a few of them are fun. Also, in all fairness, I guess he’s not entirely responsible for the hapless way he lurches around – an earlier cut of the film had him depicted as practically blind, but this little detail was lost in the final edit.

In the climactic lab scene, where a power-crazed Dr. Mannering (Patrick Knowles) reverses polarity and restores the monster’s power, Lugosi’s lips form words rapidly, silently, uncomprehendingly, an involuntary reaction to the voltage coursing through his neck. It’s an inspired moment. My guess would be the director told him to just keep reciting his favorite chicken paprikash recipes.

Lionel Atwill is pretty much wasted. Dwight (“Rats! Rats! Thousands of them…”) Frye is completely wasted. However, diminutive Maria Ouspenskaya triumphs over an assignment in which she is mainly required to stare at people, by making the very most of said silences. Of particular impact is her long, intense take as Chaney sits in the moonlit buggy next to her sprouting yak hair. She’s probably thinking “All things considered, I’d rather be anywhere then in Vasaria.” Or maybe not; maybe she was contemplating how to get this big depressive drunk alone with her in the dressing room…

The Festival of New Wine song,’Fa Lo La Fa Lo Lee’, was so unexpected and uplifting that my wife, who’d never seen the film, started chirping along with the chorus from her reclining position on the couch. The lead singer, Adia Kuznetzoff , looks like NBR Board of Directors member Lou Miano. Had this been an MGM musical, the song would have provided Ms. Massey an opportunity to join the merriment and give her lusty vocal chords a workout (she was so good in that studio’s BALALAIKA). Instead she merely watches with fading enthusiasm as Chaney throws a hissy-fit.

Glenn lugs Boris into the quicksand in House of Frankenstein

Rex Evans plays Vazec, the corpulent beer-meister who gets an entire stanza of the song devoted to gags about his body size. Clearly he’s beloved by the citizenry despite, or perhaps because of, his lynch-mob tirades against not only the Frankenstein family (justified) but all gypsies and other vagrants (racist). Twenty minutes later this imbecile is dynamiting the dam overlooking the castle with no thought as to the consequences. He assumes this is the way to take out the monster and the wolf man – though the monster has the lifespan of a hundred men, ‘his father is the lightning’, and a cold shower doesn’t really seem quite the stuff of his destruction, and the wolf man needs a silver bullet to put him down, not a kingsized sitz bath. What Vazec will reap for his impetuous actions are: the loss of the village’s water supply, zero tourist bucks in the the decades to come from what would have been the mobs eager to visit Frankenstein’s castle, possible cholera, tetanus, and black plague as a result of the ensuing ground pollution and rodent infestation, a huge clean-up bill, and no kudos from his fellow Vasarians. Long after he’s succumbed to coronary failure due to clogged arteries, Vazec’s Folly, as it will be called, will be comparable in infamy to Frankenstein’s Foibles.

In terms of the werewolf characteristics, whereas Chaney is in desperate need of Prozac, Naschy is just…earnest. The Spanish actor/writer/director claims the films are personal beyond just resonating cherished images from his youth, and I tend to believe him. But a life connection to your work doesn’t make it art. Putting his limited thespian range aside, as well as his middling screen appeal (his weightlifting status doesn’t show the way Steve Reeves’, or even my cousin Joe Bonomo’s, did), he laments his director’s propensity to rush through an assignment. Maybe he’s attempting to appear objective by assigning blame correctly to others for the film’s weaknesses, and he’s half-correct. But in the final analysis the blame must fall on the project visionary – if there was one. F MEETS W didn’t have one, but Naschy claims he’s the man behind WEREWOLF SHADOW, so the director’s job-shirking falls on Naschy’s shoulders, as does the cosmically lack-luster leading lady, the deadeningly bland dialogue interludes, and the foolish ‘sad werewolf’ musical motif. And must we revisit the plot? I couldn’t get past the girl pulling the silver cross-dagger out of the vampire’s skeletal chest, having already clearly heard what this action would unleash. And Naschy, who told her, is squatting next to her letting it happen. Forty minutes later, when I should have been getting involved in the final skirmish between the werewolf and the vampire, the poor logic of that earlier scene was still repeating on me like a schmaltz-drenched chopped liver appetizer at Sammy’s Roumanian Restaurant on Christie Street in lower Manhattan. Despite the advantages of color, slo-mo photography, a cool costume on the female vampire, the kinetic fact that the werewolf’s opponent is a woman, and the modern liberties with blood and gore, despite all of this, the ending of the film that charmed Naschy twenty-eight years earlier features the better ending. And that fight scene isn’t great by any means, but it has five things abetting it which the later film lacked: 1) a great Universal in-house score by Hans Salter, 2) two actors of Chaney’s and Lugosi’s stature duking it out (even though they didn’t really – it was stuntmen, unbeknownst to patrons of ’42), 3) one fabulous piece of business where Talbot jumps on top of some machinery and the monster pulls it out from under him (nothing in the Naschy climax comes near it), and 4) a deluge of water and castle components coming down on them, adding spectacle to scuffle.

Fifth and perhaps most important, F MEETS W has genuine montage power in its climax. Parallel editing between the monsters’ struggle and the destruction of the dam is an editor’s special province, the results of which Griffith and Eisenstein might have enjoyed. They wouldn’t have felt it had either weight or subtext, but they would have been amused. I’ve actually used the last ten minutes of F MEETS W to teach editing. WEREWOLF SHADOW has nothing like that to admire on an editorial level.

What makes the Naschy DVD collectible is its fifteen minute interview with the man himself, serious about his work, and the meaning it has given his life. Regardless of what I think about the films, he convinces me that there is at least historical importance to their coming out of Spain when they did.

And what makes the F MEETS W disc a collectible – though it had none of the glorious extras of the DVD releases of the earlier Universal horrors, and worse, Universal Home Entertainment shamefully put no money into speckle-removal, rendering the image distractingly dirty – is the presence of a second feature, the next film in the series, 1944’s HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Together they comprise a fast-moving, slick B-programmer double bill. A dazzling roster of genre stars inhabits HOF: Boris Karloff (good), Lon Chaney Jr. (almost a romantic lead), John Carradine (a dark, suave, menacing presence as Dracula), J. Carrol Naish (excellent and sympathetic, a difficult task considering Universal’s hyper narrative short-hand), Lionell Atwill, Elena Verdugo, Sig Ruman, Glenn Strange (least of the Frankenstein monsters, but hey…), George Zucco, etc.

Curt Siodmak (age90) with FIR Editor

Perhaps you’re wondering at the length of my ruminations over these debatably minor cinematic works. Well, as it did for Paul Naschy, F MEETS W occupies a special place in my life: as a teenager, it was the first 16mm film I purchased for a collection which eventually totaled in the hundreds, and was stored in my parents’ wine cellar. This was before the advent of DVD, or Laser disc, or VHS. I bought it from an aggressively friendly bootleg film dealer named Phil Alcuri, whose office was located in the Times Square area of New York City.

As my collection grew, and I came to understand the differing conditions of prints, I realized that my first acquisition was in fact a ‘dupe’. However that didn’t spoil anything for me. The nostalgic power of owning a film I loved was euphoric. I ran it over and over again, sometimes even backwards, on the Bell & Howell projector in my folks’ attic, which had been lovingly converted into a screening room for me, complete with makeshift booth and window. I often entertained thoughts of remaking of the film, but never got to it, though I’ve had a career in the business which certainly wandered through the genre on occasion. I imagine Naschy must have been so happy to have fulfilled a childhood passion by bringing WEREWOLF SHADOW to fruition. Watching him, and knowing that, adds an appreciable dimension to the film.


WEREWOLF SHADOW

Cast:
Paul Naschy,
Gaby Fuchs,
Barbara Capell,
Paty Shepard.

Credits:
Directed by Leon Klimovsky.
Produced by Salvadore Romero. Screenplay by Jacinto Molina and Hans Munkel.
Music by Anton Garcia Abril.

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN

Cast:
Lon Chaney Jr, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya, Ilona Massey, Patrick Knowles, Lionel Atwill.

Credits:
Directed by Roy William Neill.
Produced by George Waggner.
Original Screenplay by Curt Siodmak. Director of Photography George Robinson.
Art Director John Goodman.
Musical Director Hans J. Salter.
Makeup Artist Jack Pierce.
Special Photographic Effects: John P. Fulton.

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2 Responses »

  1. Can you tell me what Phil Alcuri looked like, I used to work with him in Times Square and have been trying to find out if he is still alive.

  2. A guy named Madorsky has a letter published and asks me to describe Phil Alcuri and tell his whereabouts. I tried twice to write in to the FIR site, but was rejected as being in error about email address. I have no idea what I’m doing wrong.

    So here’s my response: In response to your letter, Matt, I haven’t seen Phil Alcuri in at least three decades. I heard that he retired from the bootleg film trade, but I don’t know for sure. As to his description, he was a big guy, tall and fleshy, and overweight but not fat. Outside of that, I’m grateful for all the prints he sold me back in the 60s. It fueled the fire.

    Roy Frumkeas

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