Thursday, November 10, 2005

WOLFSTEIN!


"Now! The most fright-en-ing Frankenstein story of all, as the ancient werewolf curse brands the family of monster-makers as Wolfstein... Wolfstein! The inhuman clan of blood-hungry wolf monsters!"

Under a crudely animated main title, a narrator uses these feverish words to feebly explain why the movie we are about to see -- FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR -- offers two werewolves and two vampires but no man-made monsters. It's the sort of inane drivel that separates the real, dyed-in-the-wool horror fans from the poseurs. You've got to admire the sheer balls of this kind of salesmanship, the kind that tells you right up front -- even before the story starts -- that you can consider yourself screwed if you came to this movie expecting to see Frankenstein. Of course, with a company like Independent-International, audiences were screwed even when they did see Frankenstein, as in Al Adamson's incoherent DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1973), a movie which played an important role in the story of why this movie is called what it's called. But FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR is so stylish, and has such a great werewolf, and is so utterly not to blame for what its US distributor did to it, that all is quickly forgiven. A lot of fans worship at its altar.

Before Independent-International got their mitts on it, FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR was a Spanish-German import called LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO ("The Mark of the Werewolf," 1967), the first of numerous horror films starring Paul Naschy, one of the great continental horror stars of the era, who created his own makeup, staged the film's effects sequences, and also wrote the picture under his real name, Jacinto Molina. It was also the first of numerous films Naschy would make about the Polish werewolf Waldemar Daninsky, his most popular character, who would return in such movies as ASSIGNMENT TERROR, THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN (aka WEREWOLF SHADOW), FURY OF THE WOLFMAN, DR. JEKYLL AND THE WEREWOLF, NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST, CURSE OF THE DEVIL, THE BEAST AND THE MAGIC SWORD, HOWL OF THE DEVIL, LYCANTHROPUS and the recent TOMB OF THE WEREWOLF. Naschy himself is perhaps an unlikely leading man, being short and stocky and with something of a comb-over even in this early role, but he had been a champion weight-lifter and brought a rare robust quality to his performances, that was not without certain intellectual or brooding shadings as well. His werewolf scenes in FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR are arguably the most ferocious and delirious ever filmed, and reason enough to track it down. The film also features an excellent couple of vampires, played by Julián Ugarte (whom you may remember as a vampire in Amando de Ossorio's MALENKA aka FANGS OF THE LIVING DEAD) and his enticing companion Aurora de Alba -- a voluptuous stiff with gloating eyes who does not like to be kissed on the mouth.

Director "Henry L. Egan" was in fact Enrique López Eguiluz, who had no other major works in the genre, but much of the film's stylistic impact is owed to the particolored scope cinematography of Emilio Foriscot, who previously shot Jess Franco's LABIOS ROJOS (1960, his first "Red Lips" movie) and later worked with Sergio Martino on THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL and THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH. There is a lot of moody scenery and lollipop lighting here...


... and the ancient castle locations include the El Cercón Monastery in Madrid as seen in TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD. If the music sounds familiar, that's because the original soundtrack (a downright silly score by Angel Arteaga) was scrapped in the dubbing process and replaced with hypnotic, sitar-driven cues by the great Bruno Nicolai, some of them originally heard in EUGENIE - THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION (1969). I also noticed a stray Gino Marinuzzi, Jr. cue from Mario Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965)!

Media Blasters/Shriek Show have released FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR -- for the first time ever on any video format! -- on DVD, priced at $19.95. If you shop around, you can surely find it cheaper. I want to be enthusiastic; after all, Media Blasters and I-I's Sam Sherman went the extra distance by including the two opening reels originally lopped-off the US release, which are presented here in English for the first time anywhere. Sherman's audio commentary (which runs for 87m 14s of the the 90m 27s feature) is a bit filibustery, but it covers a lot of ground and answers all the questions one might have about the film's title and about the 3-D version of the movie which has long been rumored to exist. (In short, it does... Sherman owns the negative, and he'd love to arrange some screenings of this version, which is composed entirely of unique takes, making it something of an unseen Naschy film.) The extras are superb, including a number of "deleted scenes" (more like deleted shots, indicated by marking excised shots from familiar sequences with an X) which include some samples of the original score, an interview with Naschy, and I-I's superbly lurid trailers and radio spots for the film's theatrical release. There's also a never-before-seen title sequence from HELL'S CREATURES, the original export title of this movie, which is built around a spinning roulette wheel laden with costume jewelry, à la DANGER: DIABOLIK.

So what's not to like? In a word, the transfer. Granted, it's anamorphic, but the framing has been somewhat zoomboxed to omit the spherical bowing at the extreme periphery of the frame, cropping off the tops of some heads in the process. Furthermore, the quality of the source material -- evidently cobbled together from more than one positive print -- varies throughout, sometimes drastically. Waldemar's transformation in chains, as the vampires lure away his beloved (Dianik Zurakowska), is overly dark and coarse-looking, yet followed by material that looks significantly clearer and brighter. Blue regularly seems to disappear from the available palette. Skin tones are often ashen, and brown hair flares orange while Naschy's red shirts and another actor's tweed jacket excite all kinds of chroma-noise. There are individual shots wherein the colors are so intense that it's all the taste you need to know that the rest of the presentation is suffering. Stepping through the disc also evinces regular frame-blurring; even the grab at the top suffers from this, as you'll see by clicking and enlarging the image. There is also a distinct lack of quality control amid the supplements, where the subtitling runs rampant with misspellings, a Spanish print is identified as a German print, and the name of Mirek Lipinski -- a top Naschy fan responsible for contributing and/or arranging many of the disc's extras -- has been carelessly misspelled at least two different ways. (It is spelled correctly on the back cover.) An enclosure includes informative liner notes by George Reis of DVD Drive-In.

It's a fact of life related to business and probable returns that I don't expect a superior domestic release of this title to come along, but I think a more definitive DVD will happen along someday as an import -- perhaps offering the flat and 3-D versions on the same disc. FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR is the sort of title you might be embarrassed to ask for at your favorite video store, but a lot of care and craft went into making this movie and it deserves to be seen and preserved on DVD at its best. I appreciate Media Blasters' release for what it is, and what it accomplishes, and it's acceptable for now. But let's hope it inspires someone overseas with deeper pockets to go the whole distance.

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