Sunday, November 6, 2011

Assignment Naschy: Dr. Jekyll Y El Hombre Lobo (1972)

aka Dr. Jekyll versus The Werewolf (and variations thereof)

After having a little party with their friends, including a certain Doctor Jekyll (Jack Taylor) who doesn't like to be reminded of his grandfather, aging industrialist Imre Kosta (José Marco) and his freshly married wife Justine (Shirley Corrigan) are off to a most romantic honeymoon. The loving couple visits rural Hungary to let Imre breathe the air of the land of his birth and give him an opportunity to visit the graves of his parents - that's what all people do on their honeymoon, right?

The local villagers warn Imre off from going to the old graveyard where his parents lie buried, for the area is infested with murderous bandits and opportunity rapists, and the castle next door is supposed to be inhabited by a monster, but the industrialist, being a man of the world, takes it all for superstition and nonsense. It turns out that we're witnessing darwinistic principles at work here. After visiting the graveyard, Imre is knifed to death by a trio of the non-existent bandits, and Justine's life is only saved with the help of a barrel-chested man dressing like a French existentialist novelist. Hello again, Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy), the world's most frequent werewolf. Waldemar - no slouch even when he's not wearing a face full of fur - kills two of Justine's attackers and takes the - by now fainted - woman to his castle where he lives with the local leper and an elderly woman the villagers take for a witch.

After the expected hysterics, Justine just as expectedly falls for the irresistible manly and tragic charms of Waldemar (yes, of course this was scripted by Naschy), even when she learns of his curse; things seem to go well.

Alas, the last surviving bandit is a very bad loser with highly dubious ideas of right and wrong, and begins to obsessively plan Waldemar's demise. The jerk's first plan of attack only costs the lives of some more bandits when he happens to learn that trying to kill a guy you know to be a werewolf on the night of the full moon is a pretty stupid idea. The jerk's second plan is a bit better - not attacking on the night of the full moon, beheading the old woman, and exciting the whole village into a state of torch-wielding mob-dom to do his dirty work for him.

Despite these dangers (and thanks to the modern commodity we know and love as the motorcar), Waldemar and Justine escape to London. There, Justine tells her friend Jekyll all about Waldemar's little werewolf problem, hoping for help.

Although Jekyll is pining for Justine himself, he's putting an honest attempt into helping Waldemar, quite to the disgust of his assistant Sandra (Mirta Miller), who for her part is a) pretty mad and b) pining for Jekyll. The doctor has a fantastic plan to cure Waldemar, too. Just wait for the night of the full moon, pump the man full of the serum that turned Jekyll's grandfather into Mister Hyde, wait until "the absolute evil kills the wolfman", and inject Waldemar with the antidote to the serum Jekyll invented killing off (off-screen, in the past) dozens of guinea pig patients. I can't imagine what could go wrong.

As you will have realized by now, Dr. Jekyll Y El Hombre Lobo is - in a different version of the usual structural eccentricity all scripts written by Paul Naschy I've encountered thus far feature - a film of two very different halves that do suggest an interesting production history to me, what with them being of so very different style and content. The first one is a slightly silly, yet very atmospheric piece of neo-gothic filmmaking that shows off director Leon Klimovsky's talents at more than just racking the zoom lens.

This part of the film is dominated by moody shots of an atmospheric winter landscape (with only a little snow), and is blessed with a modernized version of the play of light and shadow that's so important for everything gothic even in a film that doesn't take place in the olden times. There's also a surprising narrative consistency to the film's first forty minutes. Scenes flow into each other in a manner that makes logical and narrative sense, all important scenes are actually happening on screen, and for once, Naschy's script even manages to convince me that Waldemar is a somewhat tragic figure. The latter may very well have something to do with the simple fact that Waldemar's attempts at not killing random people when he wolfs out seem less half-hearted this time around.

Then, quite abruptly, the film's style and content change. Neo-gothic turns into mock-psychedelic, Spain in winter standing in for Hungary turns into some classical "look, we actually carted Paul Naschy to London for two days" scenes and some not very interesting looking sets, while the not exactly clever, but up to this point at least coherent, plot turns into raving lunacy of the sort that may be inspired by late period Universal movies or poached from the scribbling of an overexcited twelve year old boy. I'm not complaining about it, mind you. As much as I would have liked to watch a Naschy wolfman movie that is coherent yet still good, I won't ever complain about a film turning this delightfully strange.

I can't help but admire the absolute, beautiful wrong-headedness that leads to Paul Naschy playing a wolfman and Mister Hyde - for no good reason but tradition dressed like the Fredric March version - in the same film, as if these figures weren't different sides of the same archetype anyway. As nobody who has ever witnessed Naschy's werewolf performances will doubt, the man plays his Hyde scenes with great relish and enthusiasm.

Our man's script for its part attempts to cram variations on all of Hyde's traditional misdeeds into about fifteen minutes of misdeed time, with a high degree of success. It's as if Naschy and Klimovsky had decided to not just give their audience two films for the price of one but to also cram both films as full with fun stuff™ as they could in a technique that reminds me a bit of the wild abandon of 90s Hong Kong cinema. Sure, this way the pair had to leave sense and coherence behind in the end, but who wants coherence when she can have scenes of Paul Naschy with grey make-up and yellow eyes strolling through early 70s London dressed like a Hollywood Victorian, and nobody around him caring?

If my explorations of Naschy's work have taught me anything, then I surely don't


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