The Werewolf Vs the Vampire Woman (a.k.a. La Noche De Walpurgis, 1971): Review
Paul Naschy returns for his third outing as Waldemary Daninsky, the unfortunate aristocrat afflicted with the curse of lycanthropy. You have to give the old ghoul credit for trying so hard to squeeze a little more blood out of the rapidly shriveling corpse. THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN (known as LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS [“Walpurgis Night”] in its native Spain) is on par with the other Daninsky films, which hardly acquired classic status but did manage to entertain with their enthusiastic blend of elements: plot motifs from Universal Pictures’ black-and-white WOLF MAN movies of the 1940s; colorful gore from the Hammer Films output of the 1960s; and a distinctly European dash of exploitation, including gratuitous nudity and lesbianism. It’s the kind of film you enjoy late at night, especially after a few drinks, but you don’t really respect it in the morning.
The screenplay (co-written by Naschy under his real name, Jacinto Molina) once again revives Daninsky by having a silver bullet removed from his heart, as in the previous year’s ASSIGNMENT TERROR (a.k.a., LOS MONSTRUOS DEL TERROR). This time, the revivification is accidental: the bullet is extracted during an autopsy, which takes place in what appears to be a tomb (at least the creaking gate outside the building and the wind rustling through the trees suggest a cemetery setting, which the bare-bones interior set does little to dispell).
Awakened form his near-death experience, Daninsky reverts to werewolf form and kills the two men performing the operation, then departs to the nearby woods, where he kills a random woman. The victims tend to live just long enough to roll over so that we can see their bloody wounds in close-up; the camera thoughtfully tilt’s down from the naked woman’s torn throat to reveal a rivulet of blood between her naked breasts. In case this carnage (all in the first five minutes!) is not enough to grab viewer attention, the credits that immediately follow play over a montage of horror highlights from later in the film.
Meanwhile, as part of a class project, a couple of female college grad students are seeking the tomb of Countess Wandesa Darvula de Nadasdy (known in real-life as the infamous Elizabeth Bathory, although that might or might not be clear in the subtitles or dubbing, depending on which version of the film you see). Their successful quest brings them in contact with Daninsky, who is seeking the Countess’s final resting place for a reason of his own: he hopes that the magical silver cross-dagger that ended Wandesa’s bloody reign will terminate his own interminable life and grant him eternal peace. (Daninsky has apparently given up on silver bullets – and who can blame him, after being shot twice, only to be resurrected both times!)
Right about now, a thought is probably occurring to you – one so obvious you wonder why the characters did not think of it: if Daninsky removes the dagger from the vampire’s heart, will that not bring her back to life? Sure enough, it does! Confusingly, the first living dead creature we see is a dessicated corpse, which we assume is the the resurrected countess; however, Daninsky quickly dispatches this zombie with a thrust of the magic dagger, killing it pretty quickly and leaving us to wonder: Is the movie over already? Well, it turns out that the wrinkly-crinkly walking-dead thing was not the Vampire Woman after all. So, the Countess is still out there, and it’s not long before she sets her eyes on a few nubile necks.
This being Euro-horror, the Vampire Woman is pretty much exclusively interested in female victims, the first of whom is Genevieve (Barbara Capell), who comes back as a vampire herself and sets her eyes on her former college colleague, Elvira (Gaby Fuchs). Fortunately for Elvira, there is no way that she going to die by a vampire’s fangs; the plot clearly has her slotted as the woman who will fall in love with Daninsky and do him the good service of putting him out of his eternal misery.
In case you hadn’t noticed, continuity has taken a back seat by this point, since the film’s focus shifted from Daninsky’s effort to end his immortal existence to the predations of the revived vampiress. Just to remind us of what’s at stake (no pun intended – seriously), Daninsky kills a victim or two, emphasizing that he really needs to get this werewolf thing under control – even if “under control” means plunging a silver crucifix-dagger into his chest.
I forgot to mention: there is a time-lock plot device involved in all of this. Apparently, on the titular Walpurgis Night, Countess de Nadasdy is going to offer a sacrifice to Satan, and then all hell will break loose – as if things have not been bad enough already!
Eventually, Elvira’s boyfriend, Inspector Marcel shows up – which is rather awkward, as Elvira is in the midst of her brief, tragic love affair with Daninsky, whom she will soon have to kill. Marcel plays such a minor role you almost wonder why he is in the movie at all. The answer to this question is that you see more of him in LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS, the subtitled European version, in which there are a couple of scenes of him investigating the murders committed by Daninsky. After viewing these scenes, you will find yourself still wondering why he was in the movie.
Finally, all the elements come together for the big conclusion; fortunately for the plot, Walpurgis Night falls during the full moon. Also fortuantely, Daninsky is a little bit like The Incredible Hulk, in the sense that, when he really needs to, he seems to be able to control his transformative rampages, attacking the villain instead of his lady love. This leads to a mano-a-mano brawl with the Countess, for which Naschy’s previous career as a professional wrestler probably stood him in good stead.
Not that the result is particularly thrilling. How excited can you get, watching a hairy man attack a whispy woman in a flimsy black diaphanous gown? (Don’t answer that!) The script seems completely unconcerned with the question of what happens when two supernatural beings, each with his or her own particular rules, come to grips: Wouldn’t the werewolf need to use a stake through the heart to kill the vampire woman? Wouldn’t the vampire woman need to use a silver bullet to kill the werewolf?
Apparently not. A simple bite shuffles off De Nadasdy’s mortal coil a second time, leaving the cross-dagger safely in Elvira’s hand, so that she can use it on Daninsky, thus not only granting him eternal peace but also resolving the love triangle, so that she can Marcel can get back together.
THE WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN is confusing at times. How did Daninsky (who was recently dead and presumably not able to do much research) manage to learn the location of – and obtain a villa conveniently close to – the vampire’s tomb? Why doesn’t Daninsky plan for what will happen when he removes the silver dagger from the vampiress’s body? Who or what was the walking corpse that Daninsky dispatches with the dagger? (Sharp-eyed viewers seem to think it was the Countess’s long-dead servant, whom we see in a flashback.)
There is no direct continuity with the previous film in the series: the location seems to be different, and the coroner’s brief dialogue references to “rumors” that Daninsky was a murderous werewolf, do not align with the events of ASSIGNMENT TERROR. Even more confusing, Daninsky suddenly has a sister helping him – where the hell was she during the previous two films?
So why bother watching? Because the horror scenes are done right. There is atmosphere in abundance, thanks to the Leopoldo Villasenor’s location cinematography, and the exploitation elements (sex and violence) hit just the right note of disreputable fun. (Interesting to note that images which would have been deemed shockingly excessive back in 1971 seem rather tame today.)
There is a certain crude exuberance to Daninsky’s lycanthropic rampages (after dispatching one victim, the werewolf drops a big chunk of gory flesh from his jaws – yummy!). Naschy probably plays more scenes in werewolf makeup than Lon Chaney ever did (you can usually recognize him beneath the fur, which is nice), and he seems to enjoy the physicality of acting with his body. He also carries off the requisite sense of romantic tragedy in his human scenes. The werewolf makeup and transformations are old school and sometimes campy, but that’s part of the charm.
Daninsky’s opponent is a bit less memorable. The Vampire Woman’s over-sized head-dress -looking almost like a miniature tent – is comical. Presumably the intent was to put actress Patty Shepard in a costume that would disguise the switch to a stunt double during the tussle with the werewolf.
Fortunately, Leon Klimovsky films the vampire scenes in seductive slow-motion, enhanced by wafting fog (which, as often as not, is seen rolling along the floors of the villa – the absurdity of the imagery only increasing the surreal quality). Capell, as the newly vampirized Genevieve, displays a memorably alarming pair of eyes – both hypnotic and hungry, fueled by her new blood-lust, directed at her old friend. These sequences provide everything a fan could ask of a film like this – good, unpretentious horror that is not ashamed to embrace beloved cliches.
All of this does not add up to great film-making, but it is a good example of fulfilling the genre requirements with a certain gusto – enough to help us overlook, if not forget, the plot deficiencies.
ALTERNATE VERSIONS ON DVD AND THE INTERNET
THE WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN is currently available on DVD-R from Synergy Entertainment and on instant streaming from Amazon. You can find the film for free on public domain outlets, such as Creepster.tv. However, these English-dubbed prints are typically cropped, scratched, and faded – not to mention shorn of eight minutes. If you want better picture quality, a widescreen transfer, and the complete running time, your best bet is Anchor Bay’s 2002 DVD, which presents the film under one of its alternate titles, WEREWOLF SHADOW. This cut of the film is also available for free on YouTube (previously posted here), under the original Spanish title LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS. Unfortunately, on the YouTube version, the English subtitles are thirty seconds out of synch with the Spanish audio track.
THE WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN/LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS is one of those cases in which the edited version is in some ways superior. The deleted scenes of Inspector Marcel are hardly missed; their absence speeds up the pace and removes one distraction from a film that already seems to be losing sight of its main plot thread.
One eccentric element of the original cut (heard in other Daninsky films and, indeed, in other Euro-horror films of the period) is the intrusion of breezy lounge-style background music on the soundtrack, apparently to remind viewers that, despite the Gothic settings, the story has a contemporary setting. This takes place most noticeably during the opening credits, with an upbeat wordless female vocal distinctly at odds with the three brutal deaths (two gashed faces and one ripped throat) that we have just witnessed.
In the English-dubbed version, this music is replaced by a more sinister cue, lifted from elsewhere in the film, and played over a selection of scenes culled from the rest of the movie. (The shorter Spanish-language opening credits play over a freeze frame of the werewolf and a reprise of the dead woman’s blood-drenched chest.) The reprise of the pop theme over the closing credits (where it is hilariously ill-suited to follow the tragic events of the finale) has likewise been replaced in the English-dubbed version, with another sample of the film’s effective, almost ambient background score.
On the downside, the love scene between Daninsky and Elvira is truncated, removing a few seconds of nudity; the bloody breasts from the opening credits are also missing. And as mentioned above, the U.S. distributor saw fit to make some footage serve double-duty, giving away some of the better moments before they appear properly in the narrative.
Like Nashy’s other Daninsky films, THE WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN will probably appeal to a niche audience of fans, either of the actor in particular or of 1970s Euro-horror in general. It is far less convoluted and threadbare than ASSIGNMENT TERROR but not as much outrageous fun as Daninsky’s debut outing, FRANKENSTEIN’S BLOODY TERROR (more properly known by its Spanish title LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE-LOBO [“The Mark of the Wolf-Man”]). Naschy himself apparently liked the the idea enough to recycle it in NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF (1981, a.k.a.: EL RETURNO DEL HOMBRE-LOBO). It’s not an idea I would have resurrected, but in its original form it is worth a good howl at the moon.
THE WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN (1971, a.k.a.: LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS, WEREWOLF SHADOW). Directed by Leon Klimovsky. Written by Jacinto Molina, Hans Munkel. 82 minutes. Rated R. Cast: Paul Naschy, Gaby Fuchs, Barbara Capell, Andress Resino, Yelena Samarina, Jose Marco, Barta Barri, Maria Luisa Tovar, Julio Pena, Patty Shepard.