Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Assignment Naschy: La Maldicion De La Bestia (1975)

aka Night of the Howling Beast

aka Hall of the Mountain King

aka Horror of the Werewolf

aka The Werewolf and the Yeti

In this edition of the long and continuity-challenged cycle of movies about poor beleaguered Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy), our hero is a famous psychologist, anthropologist and adventurer. Because of his manifold talents, a certain Professor Lacombe (Josep Castillo Escalona) - coming with the mandatory young, pretty, and soon Wally-adoring daughter (Mercedes Molina) - asks for Waldemar's help mounting an expedition to continue the life's work of a now deceased colleague who was travelling Nepal looking for the Yeti. In fact, the dead scientist managed to find the animal, but making a photo of a yeti and then getting mauled to death by one is no proof for it's existence. Or something.

Anyway, Waldemar does of course agree to help out with the expedition. Once they have arrived in CataloniaNepal, the main body of the expedition stays behind while Waldemar strides forth heroically to find a pass to Yeti Central, an attempt that is the death of his only companion on this part of the journey, and nearly Waldemar's as well.

After some exhausted stumbling through Catanepalia, Waldemar comes upon an inhabited cave, where two women pray to Black Kali and a stone sarcophagus with an arrow in it. Despite saving Waldemar's life and starting a freaky threesome, the two don't have his best interests at heart, for they are cannibalistic witches with lycanthropic tendencies (or something of the sort), and they are planning to turn Waldemar into their companion (he will be an avid lover, or so they say). That arrow sticking out of the sarcophagus comes in handy once Waldemar has found out that his hosts aren't exactly human, but even though he manages to kill the women, one of them gives him a good and proper bite that of course infects our hero with the curse of the wolfman.

While all this has been happening to Waldemar, the rest of the expedition has decided to follow their disappeared friend, but soon find themselves under attack by bandits working for the local potentate, Sekkar Khan (Luis Induni). These bandits are of the "torture the young men, rape and kidnap the women and just kidnap the wise old men" persuasion, so it's no surprise that soon enough not many members of the expedition are left. The Professor, Waldemar's buddy Larry Talbot(!) (Gil Vidal), and Talbot's girlfriend Melody (Veronica Miriel) are captured and brought to the Khan's palace. Sylvia manages to escape only to run straight into the arms of another rape-y group of the bad guys.

Fortunately, it is then that Waldemar re-appears. Even though it is daylight, he's walking around in wolfman form and he's not at all in the mood for rapists. Soon after taking care of Sylvia's attackers, our hero loses his fur again, so it's time for him and Sylvia to try and rescue their kidnapped friends. There are also still a wise monk, more kidnappings, an evil witch/mad scientist named Wandessa (Silvia Solar), some Naschy-style swashbuckling, a short Wolfman versus Yeti fight and a surprise ending waiting in the couple's future.

After the rather boring gothic horror of El Retorno de Walpurgis, actor/scriptwriter and professional wolfman Paul Naschy brought his series of Waldemar Daninsky movies back to their roots, that is to say, into the realm of pulp craziness where he - as I now realize - ruled supreme.

This time around, Naschy has decided to spice up his stew of supernatural silliness with a dollop of adventure movie tropes, and cut down on Waldemar's self-pity. Even though Naschy possibly made the latter decision only because there was no space for the usual whining scenes in his film's allotted running time, it turns Waldemar into a more sympathetic character than he usually is for me; there is a time and place for whining about being a werewolf, but it's pretty difficult to see Waldemar as a tragic figure when he never seems to spend a single thought on the people he killed.

Watching Maldicion, I was also pretty surprised by the film's ending, or rather, I was surprised that Naschy didn't hold to his established formula for the ending this time around, but actually went for something a bit more friendly for this more deserving Waldemar. I don't know if Naschy had an especially optimistic year in '75, if he just wanted to shake things up a little, or if the film's ending was producer mandated; I do know that I like this change, even though I'm a pessimist at heart.

As a writer, Naschy had become quite a bit more proficient at this point in the Daninsky cycle. Sure, especially the film's beginning still features scenes of people telling each other parts of the plot, but generally, Naschy now prefers to show us potentially awesome things instead of just telling us about them. Structurally, Maldicion is still a bit of a mess, but it's one because Naschy has stuffed it full of, well, everything.

While this grab-bag approach to plot (or "plot") construction may be rather problematic if you believe only in the tight, the clear, and the coherent, I can't help but admire it, for I think this approach is based on Naschy's unwillingness to just repeat his favourite elements of a certain Universal movie. It's an attempt to liven things up, even if the narrative has to get crazier with each film and Naschy has to go to more ridiculous lengths with each film, this time around ending up with a film containing witches, werewolves, warlords, yetis, kindly monks and everything else that's wonderful and cheap.

All of this is of course very very silly, a silliness that is further emphasised by the film's brazen attempt to sell late-autumnal/early winter Catalonia as Nepal without even trying a bit of movie magic to make it look that way. The whole adventure movie element, with its bizarre ideas about local dress and culture, is a lot like little kids pretending to be Cowboys and Indians, which of course means that it's much more enjoyable than more earnest attempts would be, at least in the context of a Dansinky movie. Plus, the parts of Catalonia this was filmed in are very picturesque places for a wolfman to wander through, Nepal or not.

But even if you don't like to look at the pretty landscape or to laugh about not-Nepal, Naschy is trying his hardest to find something that might entertain you, so there's his wolfman, a bit of swashbuckling, some near-nudity, somewhat freaky sexiness, utter confusion, some curious Buddhism, a handful of moments of a certain ickiness, romance, a yeti, various witches and half-witches, multi-coloured fluids, a real deus ex machina, a very colourful (remember when movies weren't avoiding colours?) cave, "native" dancing, etc. and so on and so forth, all held together with a shoe-string budget (I suspect) and a clear and wonderful feeling of enthusiasm. Whatever you like in your pulp entertainment, Paul Naschy, director Miguel Iglesias, and La Maldicion de la Bestia have your back, and they have it gladly.


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