04 May, 2007


Thanks to Eric Cotenas for the screenshots from the BCI SE DVD
* * * *

I must admit that watching EL RETORNO DEL HOMBRE LOBO (1980) via the excellent new transfer from BCI, mastered in High Definiton from the original negative, adjusted my long standing opinion of the film. I especially found the Castilian language track gave the film a dignity and gravity which the rather hollow English dub lacks. Of course I'm talking about THE CRAVING, the US version, which played here theatrically and later surfaced as a murky looking and sounding VHS.

Rather than just deliver a conventional DVD review here (there are plenty to be found in various corners of cyberspace) I'll phase in and out giving my own impressions of this presentation and reflecting on my own history with this film. I'll also rotate some images from the disc and box artwork. Given my fondness for the films and vision of Paul Naschy I want to give my own perspective in a prismatic format which will be unbound from a normal review structure.

This is Paul Naschy's deluxe remake of Leon Klimovksy's LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS (1970) and a testament to his emotional investment in the role and his epic four decade werewolf cycle. It commands respectful attention. It certainly gets it with this DVD.

I had some difficulty getting my hands on this (along with the new BCI disc of Leon Klimovsky's 1972 programmer VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES). I do hope they will both soon be widely and easily available to Naschy's fanbase and horror/fantasy collectors everywhere who have already discovered or perhaps will be initiated into Naschy's intricately detailed universe.

The official release date is May 8. Some online distributors have already sold out their stock and the set is popping up in scattered Best Buys nationwide. If anyone has any corrections and/or further information on wider release and availablity please feel free to comment below.

I must admit that when I first saw this, as THE CRAVING via the US VHS, I was thrown off by the rather risible English language voice casting. The dubbing of Julia Saly's Countess Bathory seemed especially annoying. It was like somebody in a high school play trying too hard to act the wicked witch. Heard in Castilian Spanish (although the action is set in Hungary) she is far more menacing and the entire film loses any air it had of schlock.

Naschy really worked hard on its viusal style, collaborating with the great DP Alejandro Ulloa (COMPANEROS; MISS MUERTE) to emphasize, as he writes in his autobiography, "...Gothic imagery, blended with both real historical detail and unbridled flight of fancy." They fully succeeded and a true measure of the film is fully available on this DVD. Designed in varying shades of gold and crimson it's a somber looking production with strong undertows of sexual anxiety and looming violence. Naschy looks terrific in black clothing and bearded while his performance is more layered than earlier appearances as Waldemar. He has grown as an actor.

By 1980 Naschy had already directed two masterworks, EL HUERTO DEL FRANCES (1977) and EL CAMINANTE (1979), after his acceptable if uneven directorial debut, INQUISITION (1976).

EL RETORNO DEL HOMBRE LOBO builds on his strengths as a visual storyteller with a highly sophisticated sense of atmosphere and composition. I only hope that EL HUERTO... and EL CAMINANTE can someday find a way to quality DVD presentations like this one. These works move away from the exploitation arena into the realm of poetic fantasy similar to best of Kurosawa and Bunuel. What the film lacks in pace and script originality it compensates with a kind of visionary elaboration. For instance, the deaths of Saly and Aguilar are staged like extended arias in a bloody opera whereas Leon Klimovsky's handling of the climax in the 1970 template LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS seems rather perfunctory in comparison. Unlike so many of today's one dimensional, dumbed down, CGI packed gorefests Naschy's film never seems rushed, obvious or intelligence insulting.

Some of the shots evoke Rembrandt, Goya and Bosch with the metaphysical horrors often thrusting themselves out of bottomless blacks. One script improvement over LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS is that this time the beloved of Waldemar doesn't get to walk away from the carnage. She suffers her own grim fate before a last embrace. It's a powerful image which evokes the ending of Leon Klimovsky's DR JEKYLL AND THE WOLFMAN (1971). This was a very personal project for Naschy and the first time he had directed a Waldemar Dananisky saga. It's a densely referential combination of the best of the Universal Classics, Fisher's CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, the Italian Golden Age (a cue from the Rustichelli score of Bava's KILL, BABY, KILL! is used again and again at pivotal moments), his aforementioned earlier werewolf films and is as impressively lit as Kubrick's BARRY LYNDON while ending up as nihilistically downbeat as Fulci's THE BEYOND, which was made the same year.

The anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer allows all these elements to be seen and heard as if for the first time with the added advantage of restoring footage missing from the previous US video release, THE CRAVING. I don't think I'll ever be able to watch it in English language again but it's really nice to have both that and the superior Castilian Spanish tracks available. A passionate introduction by the Great Man himself, deleted scenes, the US theatrical trailer, the Spanish credits sequence (which finally explains the clueless US opening credits), packed photo and still galleries make this as fully loaded as I wanted considering that it's going for well under twenty dollars along with its companion release, VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES.

Mirek Lipinski's excellent liner notes introduce the film for the Naschy newcomer, perceptively evaluate the film itself, place it in a historical perspective and detail the careers of key cast and crew members. I've debated this particular film with him before and know that he combines the passion of a fan with the skills of a film historian, translator, author and webmaster of his essential site, THE MARK OF NASCHY. The fact that he takes time to speculate on the mysterious fate of Julia Saly and the tragic one of Azucena Hernandez is very much appreciated and proof that his interest in the film is much deeper than in just rattling off a list of facts. I was also very taken with the rather witty and appropriate menu design in which we are thrust toward a Necronomicon style book which blows open to reveal the menu options in Gothic lettering.

(C) Robert Monell, 2007


Anonymous said...

It is a remake of WEREWOLF SHADOW but it integrates elements from DR. JEKYLL AND THE WEREWOLF (i.e. the caring "witch," the final death scene).

Robert Monell said...

Good observations. That final scene is indeed very similar in terms of physical staging. I really like the scene in this where Bathory hurls the coffin at the wolfman and it shatters when it hits him. It's a better final fight scene than the one in WS, I appreciated it more seeing it in this Hi Def transfer.

Anonymous said...

If the transfer is a little lacking in definition compared to the fullscreen VENGENACE OF THE ZOMBIES, keep in mind that Ulloa shot the film in soft focus and in low lighting (lens flare suggests a wide open aperture and beams of light aimed at the camera scatter).

VENGEANCE'S cinematography by Francisco Sanchez Munoz is typical of his style. The lighting is flatter - though not unattractice - and there was likely nothing done to soften the image (even his photography of the period films DEVIL'S POSSESSED and CURSE OF THE DEVIL have this sharper, flatter look).

Robert Monell said...

Ulloa references Rembrandt and Bosch in the imagery of NIGHT. It looks more like a medieval grimoire than most other 1980 horror films and that's unique. The DVD captures this look very well.

Anonymous said...

Also note the Boschian painting in Waldemar's bedroom which serves as the credits background for CARNIVAL OF THE BEASTS (also photographed by Ulloa and featuring much of the same cast).

Robert Monell said...

Yes, that Bosch, Breughel texture, with Rembrandt style Golden Brown light is also in the crucial EL CAMINANTE, another Ulloa lensed title. Naschy's greatest film, imo, and still maddeningly unavailable in a quality video presentation in the US.

Anonymous said...

I was at Best Buy last night and they have what they're calling an exclusive bundling of both of these films for a mere $19.95. It's both keepcases, but shrinkwrapped together---exclusively, I guess.... I snagged a set and look forward to checking it out.

---Mark Zimmer

Robert Monell said...

Considering the quality of these and all you get on both discs, this is a great price. I hope they sell well.