Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Assignment Naschy: La Marca Del Hombre Lobo (1968)

aka Frankenstein's Bloody Terror

aka The Mark of the Wolfman

aka Hell's Creatures

(This is based on the Spanish version of the movie that differs quite a bit from the US cut, or so the Internet tells me).

After some years in more civilized areas Jassin/Janice (Dyanik Zurakowska) has returned to the village where her father, the Count of Aarenberg (or Alen, played by Jose Nieto), lives. The young woman has fun re-exploring her old digs and has fallen in love with the mayor's son Rudolph (Manuel Manzaneque). Things get rather more interesting when Jassin meets Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy), whose awesome power of having written the scriptpure manliness is enough to make the girl fall for him on first sight.

Things threaten to descend into a lot of manly posturing between Rudolph and Waldemar, but fortunately, two wandering "gypsies" accidentally awaken the local werewolf who at once starts slaughtering people. Only Waldemar realizes the nature of the killer, though, while the rest of the village makes wolves responsible for the deaths. In the ensuing hunt, Waldemar saves Rudolph's life from the werewolf's attentions, even manages to kill the thing - as far as it can be killed, at least -, but is bitten by the creature.

This being the sort of werewolf movie where people have already heard of werewolves, Waldemar understands at once that he is now cursed to transform and kill every full moon night if he can't find a cure for his state. Rudolph, thankful for his life, from now on helps Waldemar as good as he's able. Still, the duo's attempt keeping Waldemar from killing during his first transformation fails, and so the werewolf decides to move into some rather convenient crypts where he can be better controlled during the nights. Of course, this is only a stop gap measure for the problem.

There is hope among the records the first werewolf left behind though. A letter from a scientist suggests that the man knew a cure for lycanthropy. Even better - the scientist's son is more than willing to travel to Waldemar's place and help.

Alas, Dr. Mikhelov (Julian Ugarte) and his wife Wandessa (Aurora de Alba) aren't quite as helpful as they appear to be. The couple prefers to sleep by day and work by night and really enjoys taking care of nice young people like Rudolph and Jassin; one might suspect they aren't drinking…wine.

Among my biggest failures as a cult movie fan has always been that I couldn't get into the films of Paul Naschy at all. There's something about the man's films that has always rubbed me the wrong way. It may be the stiff, melodramatic acting style he prefers, or the monkey on speed way his wolfmen move, or the fact that he writes roles for himself that show him as absolutely irresistible to all women and tragic and super awesome like the worst Mary Sue ever to be found in fan fiction, or just that I don't really care that much for the whiny werewolf archetype, or, in fact, all of these things together. Be that as it may, I've tried to avoid Naschy in the last few years.

But because several people whose opinions about these matters I trust are more than just a little appreciative of Naschy's body of work, I have decided to try and get into the man's work again by watching a bunch of his films during the next few weeks in a project that called "Assignment Naschy". What better place to start than the first of the man's films about the werewolf/wolfman/super stud Waldemar Daninsky?

To my delight (and slight surprise) I did enjoy La Marca quite a bit this time around. It's not that the film doesn't have all the flaws I just mentioned. They are all there and accounted for, and add further problems to a film with a script that leaves out important exposition and transitional scenes, but keeps transitions that are completely superfluous, a script that stops and starts and drags its feet in a peculiar and decidedly unprofessional manner giving the film a ramshackle feeling, as if it were a house just about to be blown over by the big bad wolf.

Ironically, it is this ramshackle feel that is responsible for large parts of the film's charms. Though the La Marca's mood for most of its running time isn't as dreamlike as one is used to from the best European horror films of this era, it feels individual and personal to a degree a film keeping more to the actual rules of filmmaking could only dream of. The film is clearly the result of a personal vision; that said vision seems to be to pulp up the classic Universal horror monsters with everything its writer and lead actor's inner thirteen-year old (obviously never conquered and never tamed) thinks to be awesome may not be in good taste, but is certainly good fun if a viewer is willing to have fun with it.

El Marca is also unabashedly artificial. Director Enrique Lopez Eguiluz (assisted by Naschy, I suspect) has never seen natural light that couldn't be improved with more red, and has certainly never asked an actor to be anything less than stiff and melodramatic. From time to time, El Marca grows a thick fur of mood thanks to Eguiluz' efforts; most of the time, it is just pretty darn strange.

Especially the film's final third - once the vampire couple has arrived - goes from one weird moment to the next: the climactic chase and fight scene between Waldemar, Jassin and the male vampire is a thing improbably awkward to behold yet also as consciously choreographed as any mad piece of ballet you can imagine.

All this results in exactly the sort of film I'm bound to enjoy, not a "good movie" but one so full of personality and plain weirdness that the question of "good movie" or "bad movie" just seems to be utterly useless to get at its core.

No comments: