Spain took a while to develop any kind of appreciation for the horror genre. Jess Franco made the first tentative inroads into the public consciousness with his "The Awful Dr. Orlof" in the early sixties; but due to a certain intolerance for films of a fantastical nature in Spanish culture and a lack of folklore that could be suitably adapted, it wasn't until 1971 that a real boom for horror kicked off in Spain, when "The Werewolf Versus The Vampire Woman" was released and became a big hit both at home and abroad. This film was actually the fourth in a series of werewolf films (that continue to the present day) featuring the character Waldermar Daninsky -- the creation of Spanish horror icon Jacinto Molina Alvarez, better known to international horror fans as Paul Naschy. Naschy, like Jess Franco, grew up admiring the old Universal horror films of the 1930s; unlike Franco though, for whom these films formed merely one element in a whole host of influences, Naschy remained resolutely focused on creating his own Spanish flavoured monster movies. During his career he has played nearly all the stars of Universal horrors including Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. But the one character he has returned to repeatedly throughout is his Polish Werewolf creation, Waldermar Daninsky: a character he has played no less than twelve times so far! Often writing his own scripts as well as acting in his movies, Naschy has earned the nickname the Spanish Lon Chaney among fans of euro-horror. For years only available on grey market video dupes, his films are now starting to gather an even wider cult following thanks to several high-profile DVD releases, one of the best of which is this fantastic disc by the UK division of Mondo Macabro featuring the fifth Daninsky outing, "Dr. Jekyll Versus The Werewolf"!
This was the second Daninsky film to be helmed by the Argentinean born director Leon Kilmovsky. Despite not really being committed to the horror genre, Kilmovsky is regarded as a competent craftsman and capable of turning his hand to anything including westerns and thrillers. "Dr. Jekyll Versus The Wolfman" is probably a good starting point for those new to the peculiarities of Kilmovsky and Naschy's style of monster movie making, containing as it does, most of the quirks that these early seventies Spanish horror films depended on. Whether one considers this a plus or a minus point will depend largely on the tolerance of the viewer. The first thing to be noted of course is the total reliance on the American horror icons of the Universal cycle from the 30s and the rather bizarre combinations they tend to appear in. Vampires, zombies, mummies and even aliens frequently turn up together in story lines which rarely display any kind of regard for coherence, logic or common sense while the acting is probably best described as variable and the special effects primitive. Basically, if you're the kind of person who secretly has rather a soft spot for the kind of euro-trash horror ("The House By The Cemetery", "Tombs Of The Blind Dead") that usually finds it's self relegated to this Particular site's Hall Of Shame section, then your gonna need to see these films and you can't fail to fall in love with this particular item of deliriously daft monster mayhem!
Our story begins with Imre and his new wife Justine taking their honeymoon in Hungary (actually its rural Spain standing in for Hungary!). On a visit to a cemetery to visit Imre's parents' graves, the two are attacked by bandits and Imre is killed. The bandits are just about to have their evil way with the helpless Justine when a mysterious stranger appears and sees them all off. Obviously, this is our hero Waldermar Daninsky! He takes her to his Gothic Castle to look after her while she recovers, and it's not long before her dead husband miraculously slips her mind and she falls head over heels for our handsome hero instead! Meanwhile, it appears that the locals are not too keen on Waldermar and believe him to be a werewolf. Of course, like ignorant peasants always are in these kind of films, they're absolutely spot on! It's not long before Justine witnesses one of his transformations (while safely locked away in a tower so he can't get his mangy paws on her) and resolves to do everything in her power to help him. When the locals finally storm the castle, having had enough of putting up with throat gougings every full moon, Justine and Waldermar flee to London where Justine contacts a family friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll (Grandson of THE Dr. Jekyll), hoping he can help Waldermar find a cure for his "condition". Dr. Jekyll comes up with a completely potty idea - but everybody else in the film seems to think it makes perfect sense: he decides to inject poor Waldermar with his grandfather's serum to change him into that embodiment of pure evil - Mr Hyde. Brilliant eh? The somewhat ropey reasoning behind this seemingly suicidal course of action runs along the lines that Waldermar's evil side (in the form of Hyde) will vanquish his bestial side (in the form of the werewolf). Once this is accomplished, Jekyll will administer an antidote he has developed to counter Hyde's influence - thereby leaving Daninsky cured. Got all that? Doesn't that sound like the craziest plan you've ever heard? Isn't the whole scheme bound to go quite catastrophically wrong? Well, yes ... actually it does! Soon Hyde is cruising strip joints in London's Soho district ("I need women! Lots and lots of women!") and Daninsky's werewolf incarnation goes stir-crazy in a London nightclub. All to extremely camp but very entertaining effect!
You can probably tell from the above synopsis that we're not exactly dealing with high art; but the film is in fact made very competently - and Kilmovsky's direction, although not show stopping, is perfectly solid. Some of the areas where these low budget euro-horror b-movies are usually let down, such as inappropriate library music and poor dubbing, are largely avoided; in fact the score from Anton Garcia Abril is actually rather wonderful! And Mondo Macabro's disc presents the film with it's proper Spanish audio track with clear, removable English subtitles. Naschy obviously has a very real affection for his material; this is actually rather endearing especially when one compares it to the all too insipid offerings we're usually fobbed off with at the local multiplex these days. Naschy's passion for the role of Daninsky really comes across convincingly on screen - at least in his portrayal of the werewolf (he can be rather wooden when he's playing the romantic hero - and he manages to transcend the limitations of his rather basic werewolf make-up and the creaky transformation special effects, to give a very committed performance as the crazed monster. The contrast between the placid and heroic nature of Waldermar in human form and his demented, drooling wolfman incarnation is very effectively rendered. The carpet-faced creature is constantly drooling gallons of saliva and after his attacks, usually comes away with large chunks of bloody flesh wedged between his plastic fangs! There is a particularly tense scene in the film where Daninisky gets trapped in a lift with an unsuspecting nurse knowing a full moon is due very soon!
The film also stars the redoubtable Jack Taylor as Dr. Jekyll, who seems to have appeared in quite a few Spanish horror films during the seventies. Here though, his role is reduced to little more than a cameo despite his character's name appearing in the title of the film! It is Naschy, playing the werewolf, Daninsky and Mr Hyde, who is the heart and soul of the film. The scenes where Hyde, dressed in 19th century hat and cloak goes cruising for prostitutes amid the seedy strip-joints of seventies Soho are hilarious, but it is typical for classic Spanish horror to place more emphasis on sex than we're normally used to in monster movies of this kind and this is one of the elements that distinguishes them from their somewhat coy British and American counterparts.
Mondo Macabro have given us a fine looking anamorphic widescreen print of this enjoyable cult classic. The image quality is absolutely stunning with beautiful vibrant colours and only a little grain visible in a few outdoor scenes. The Spanish stereo audio track is crystal clear, with no background hiss or popping audible.
The extras on the disc include a full set of cast and crew biographies and an interesting text essay by Pete Tombs on Spanish Horror. The most interesting feature though, is a twenty-five minute interview with the B-movie legend himself Mr Paul Naschy! The man's love of horror shines through and one can only sympathise wholeheartedly with his closing soundbite: "Power to the imagination!"
Our dear friends at the BBFC have given the disc a 15 certificate and the film is uncut. This is the "clothed" version of the film which does not contain any nudity. Rather than risk having their films cut by the Spanish censors, directors would shoot alternative scenes for the international market which contained "unclothed" versions of some scenes. This film was no exception but it is the clothed Spanish version that we are presented with here. The film IS uncut though, and, since one of the nude scenes involved whipping, it is probably better that we have an uncut version of the original Spanish clothed version rather than a BBFC approved, but butchered, unclothed version! For what it's worth, Shirley Corrigan's ample charms are still straining to escape from her dress while she is being whipped by the creepy Mr. Hyde -- and the undercurrent of sexual sadism is clearly evident despite the film's 15 certificate!