Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Assignment Naschy: La Noche De Walpurgis (1971)

aka The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman

aka Werewolf Shadow

Students Elvira (Gaby Fuchs) and Genevieve (Barbara Capell) are travelling rural France in search of traces of Countess Wandessa de Nadasdy (Patty Shepard), of whom legend tells she was a vampire keeping herself young with the blood of female victims until one of her lovers staked her with a very special silver cross.

Near the rumoured resting place of Wandessa, the girls' car runs out of fuel. Fortunately, dapper wolfman Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy) has been revived at the beginning of the movie and is now at just the right place to play helpful gentleman for our heroines. Waldemar is inviting the ladies to spend the weekend at his place, where he lives alone with the mad sister (Yelena Samarina) he fails to mention. What woman can resist the barrel-chested charmer?

The weekend at casa Daninsky is pretty interesting. Though Daninsky's sister repeatedly tries to throttle the girls or just warn them away (she's not very consistent), Elvira falls for the irresistible piece of manliness known as Wally to his friends (a fact I may or may not have made up) even though she has her own piece of manliness, policeman Marcel (Andres Resino), waiting for her at home. But oh well.

Waldemar has been searching for Wandessa, or rather the cross she was killed with, himself, for it is the only weapon that can kill him for good, an ending he very much craves. With the girls' help, he is finally able to locate Wandessa's grave. Including a body with a silver cross poked into her chest and all. Would you believe that pulling out the cross is a rather bad idea, especially when Genevieve then proceeds to accidentally bleed on the corpse?

Before you can say "uh-oh", Genevieve gets vamped up herself. Even worse, soon will be Walpurgis Night and terrible things™ will happen then. Looks like Waldemar has to add the "fearless vampire killer" title to that of werewolf and stud.

After I successfully enjoyed Paul Naschy's first Waldemar Daninsky movie, I turned towards La Noche De Walpurgis, which is supposed to be one of the best of the Daninsky films and definitely was the most commercially successful in the series.

The film is directed by Naschy's long time collaborator Leon Klimovsky, who made quite a few genre films with and without Naschy, some of them pretty great, some of them pretty horrible. On which side of that divide La Noche falls will depend largely on a given viewer's tolerance for a script that is weirdly paced even for a European horror movie from the 70s.

Naschy and/or his co-writer Hans Munkel don't seem to have much of a clue how to pace a narrative properly at all. Scenes without much of a function in the narrative go on way too long, other scenes that would actually be helpful to build a proper narrative are left out completely and are later related in static dialogue scenes (suggesting some budget trouble, too), stuff happens in stops and starts without any sense of rhythm, and often with complete randomness. Time, too, seems to run quite differently in Naschy-land, the full moon seemingly shining whenever it is convenient. Seen in the wrong state of mind, all this could be enough to make one despair.

But between the tedious, the boring, and the draggy, the film sandwiches pearls of wrong-headed beauty and peculiar ideas no director or writer in his right mind would attempt to put on screen, presenting them with an earnestness that is at once utterly silly and admirable. The film's interpretation of the female (slightly lesbian) vampires alone would be worth the time spent watching. Vampires in this film, you see, have some of the powers movie vampires usually don't take from Stoker's Dracula, like the ability to just squeeze themselves through the slightest openings (never shown here, but clearly happening), but they are also fit with ridiculously fake fangs that permanently dig into their lower lips (must become pretty uncomfortable over the years), and only move in slow-motion. The latter is an idea demonstrating the genius and horror of La Noche at its most typical. Slow motion is certainly a way to make one's vampires look and feel more otherworldly and dream-like than the more animalesque or glittering versions most filmmakers seem to prefer do, but as it is realized here, it's also - and at the same time - just a very silly thing to watch.

"Just a very silly thing to watch" is a description that fits large swathes of the movie, at least those parts of it that aren't painfully boring. However, it is a silliness that carries with it moments of great artistic success when Klimovsky suddenly manages to stage a scene that's just as atmospheric as it is silly (for example Waldemar's fight against the undead Genevieve, gravity be damned). Furthermore, as confused and technically problematic as Naschy's script is, it is confused and technically problematic in a very individual way, as if Naschy had decided to give his audience a look into his unfiltered unconscious, logic, structure and narrative technique be damned. If there's another explanation for a film that is supposed to be a pulp horror movie about a werewolf squaring off against a female vampire turning out as strange as La Noche De Walpurgis does, I don't have it. In any case, I did enjoy this second film in my reacquaintance with Naschy's body of work a lot, at least when I wasn't bored by it.


1 comment:

dfordoom said...

I saw that one quite a while back and thoroughly enjoyed it.