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DVD SAVANT
PAL Region 2 Guest Reviews:

Dr Jekyll Versus the Werewolf
&
Alucarda

Separate releases reviewed by Lee Broughton

Boum Productions' Eurotika documentary series remains one of the most impressive British television offerings of recent years. Impeccably researched, the series was a comprehensive but fun expose of the obscure and often bizarre world of European cult cinema. Each week the show focused on a particular Euro-cult director, studio or sub-genre, mixing exclusive interview footage with tantalizing film clips in order to present career overviews of maverick filmmakers like Jess Franco and Jean Rollin. The excellent Eurotika episode dedicated to England's Michael Reeves is present as an extra feature on Metrodome Distribution's Witchfinder General DVD. Eurotika's companion series, Mondo Macabro, cast its net even wider, stretching far beyond the confines of Europe in its search for the low down on the weirdest of world cinema. Now Boum Productions have adopted Mondo Macabro as the moniker for their new DVD label and are promising to deliver a selection of intriguing titles that are reputed to represent "the wild side of world cinema."


Dr Jekyll Versus the Werewolf
Mondo Macabro
1972 / Colour / 1.77 anamorphic 16:9 / 83m./ Dr Jekyll y el Hombre Lobo
Starring Paul Naschy, Jack Taylor, Mirtha Miller, Shirley Corrigan, Jose Marco, Luis Induni, Barta Barry, Luis Gaspar, Elsa Zabala, Lucy Tiller, Jorge Vico, Adolfo Tohus
Cinematography Francisco Fraile
Production Designer Jose Aleguero
Film Editor Petrita de Nieva
Original Music Anton Garcia Abril
Written by Jacinto Molina
Produced by Arturo Gonzalez
Directed by Leon Klimovsky

Synopsis:

Imre (Jose Marco) and Justine (Shirley Corrigan) are honeymooning in Transylvania when they are attacked by bandits. Imre is killed but Justine is rescued by Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy), a Polish nobleman who is also a werewolf. When the bandits' vengeful boss leads the local villagers in an attack on Daninsky's castle, Daninsky and Justine flee to London. Now in love with Daninsky, and fully aware of his lycanthropic condition, Justine asks her friend Dr Henry Jekyll (Jack Taylor) if he can help in any way. Jekyll figures the solution should be relatively simple: injecting Daninsky with his grandfather's infamous experimental serum, just before the full moon rises, will allow the emerging Mr Hyde persona to overcome and vanquish Daninsky's werewolf persona forever. Once this has been achieved, the Mr Hyde persona will itself be eliminated by the administration of a new antidote that Jekyll has recently perfected. Unfortunately, the actions of Jekyll's duplicitous assistant, Sandra (Mirtha Miller), result in Mr Hyde breaking free and roaming the streets of London once more.

At the tender age of eight, Spaniard Paul Naschy (Jacinto Molina) caught a rare screening of Universal's Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and his life was changed forever. Falling in love with Lon Chaney Jr's Wolf Man character, Naschy grew up to create his very own celluloid werewolf persona, Waldemar Daninsky, a romantic European nobleman who turns into a furry-faced lycanthrope whenever a full moon graces the night sky. Daninsky's debut feature, The Mark of the Werewolf, is generally recognized as being Spain's first real horror film. Naschy's love of Monster-fests like The House of Frankenstein ensured that his long running Daninsky series included guest appearances by a whole host of popular monsters.

Dr Jekyll Versus the Werewolf was Naschy's fifth outing as Daninsky and the second in the series to be directed by Leon Klimovsky. An Argentinean who relocated to Spain, Klimovsky helmed a number of lower division Spaghetti Westerns before finding his feet in the horror genre. Naschy affectionately remembers Klimovsky as being a fast and efficient director but concedes that his films could be a bit uneven. It's a fair assessment. Every so often there's a scene here where some technical element (usually the framing) is way off mark but these sequences are offset by others which are, by comparison, particularly effective: the requisite Transylvanian innkeeper's cautionary warning about the local supernatural threats, Justine exploring Daninsky's castle by candlelight and subsequently being chased around the dungeons by Daninsky, Daninsky finding himself stuck in a lift with a pretty nurse while the full moon rises outside, etc. To be fair, much of this film was probably shot against the clock: Naschy recalls that some location work in London's Soho was done using a camera hidden in a car. That said, the film is quite evenly paced and the action moves along in a fairly fluid way. The location establishing shots of the bright lights of Swinging London are fun, bringing to mind the footage regularly used in ITC shows like Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). In keeping with the Swinging London vibe, the soundtrack features some great 'swinging sounds' but there is the odd sequence where the music employed is either somewhat incongruous or just plain cheesy.

Naschy's enthusiastic approach has resulted in him being likened to William Shatner but such observations are surely intended in a complimentary way. Naschy is having so much fun and projects such infectious enthusiasm that it is simply impossible to be overly critical of his endeavours here. And Naschy is actually very effective in parts, particularly when he transforms into the heinous Mr Hyde. And, as the werewolf, he pulls off a good crowd scene in a groovy night-club where his transformation is enhanced by the disco's strobe lighting and optical freeze-frame effects. Euro-cult stalwart Jack Taylor is perfectly cast as the distracted and aloof Dr Jekyll. A regular in the films of Jess Franco (notably The Female Vampire and Bram Stoker's Count Dracula), he possesses a distinctive look and an acting ability that has brought a touch of class to many a low budget Euro-feature. He regularly bags the odd part in mainstream features too, Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate being his most recent big title. Shirley Corrigan and Mirtha Miller both turn in good performances as the female leads: Corrigan has no trouble fitting the bill as the (typically seventies') classy blonde love interest while the particularly attractive Miller is feisty enough to be convincing as Jekyll's insanely jealous assistant. A former model, Miller possesses an exquisite pair of eyebrows and delivers many of her lines in an intensely sensual manner.

It takes a special kind of imagination to dream up a story like Dr Jekyll Versus the Werewolf and a special kind of determination to ultimately see such a project committed to film. You can't really avoid odd touches of unpleasantness in a story that features vicious bandits, a baying mob of angry townsfolk, Mr Hyde and a werewolf but it's clear that Naschy and Klimovsky's prime objective here was to provide entertainment by delivering a traditional Monster mash-cum-horror yarn: any temptation to overtly shock or outrage their audience was either resisted or has been deleted by the censor. Screen International's Marjorie Bilbow seems to have approached the film with the right attitude, describing it as being "deliciously daft." If you've got the imagination to meet Naschy and company half way, it shouldn't be too hard for you to find something of worth in this feature.


The picture quality of this anamorphic presentation is stunning. The colours are strong and the image is clear and sharp. The quality dips just a little during some of the London based exterior shots but it's hardly worth mentioning. The sound is great, too. The film itself is presented in Spanish with removable English subtitles. The twenty minute interview with Naschy is relaxed but informative. He recognizes the inevitable shortcomings of some of his work but he remains proud and passionate about his continued contributions to Spanish horror. The interview, Pete Tombs's article and the cast and crew biographies all feature a fine selection of stills and posters. This is a PAL disc but it is encoded for 'All Regions'.


Alucarda
Mondo Macabro
1975 / Colour / 1:37 flat / 74m. / Alucarda, la hija de las tinieblas
Starring Claudio Brook, David Silva, Tina Romero, Susana Kamini, Lily Garza, Tina French, Birgitta Segerskog, Adrianna Roel, Antonia Guerrero, Martin Lasalle
Cinematography Xavier Cruz
Art Direction Kleomenes Stamatiades
Film Editor Max Sanchez
Original Music Tony Guefen
Written by Alexis Arroyo, Tita Arroyo, Yolanda Lopez Moctezuma and Juan Lopez Moctezuma
Produced by Max Guefen & Eduardo Moreno
Directed by Directed by Juan Lopez Moctezuma

Synopsis:

When Justine (Susana Kamini) arrives at the local convent, she shares a room with another teenage girl, the strange and mysterious Alucarda (Tina Romero). The two become close friends and take to skipping off into the surrounding countryside alone. One day they meet a sinister gypsy (Claudio Brook) who warns Alucarda about strange creatures who dwell in the forest. When the girls discover and enter an imposing tomb, a supernatural presence envelopes them but they manage to escape. Later that night, Alucarda becomes possessed and the gypsy materializes and spirits the pair off to a ritualistic orgy. The girls' advocate at the convent, Sister Angelica (Tina French), intuitively suspects the worst and engages in a kind of psychic battle to win the girls back. The pair return to the convent but increasingly severe bouts of possession, and other bizarre behaviour, escalate into a series of powerful supernatural happenings that threaten to endanger everybody who comes into contact with the girls.

There's an indefinably strange and intense quality to this period film that makes parts of it genuinely frightening and unsettling. While the action is set in a convent and features nudity, lesbianism, a fair amount of blood-letting and all manner of supernatural mayhem, it doesn't really carry the smack of exploitation cinema that you might initially suspect. And while it contains some fairly disturbing and unpleasant elements and scenarios, these all seem to sit quite naturally within the story that unfolds. The Mexican setting and ambience seem to make it all the more authentic and believable. "Wild world cinema" would indeed appear to be the most appropriate description for this feature.

The film seems to be a meditation about faith and the individual. When supernatural evil invades the convent, the nuns and their brothers are immediately caught up in a hysterical panic. They choose self-flagellation and torturous exorcism techniques as their defence and counter attack. Both have little effect and when the local physician Dr Oszek (Claudio Brook, again), a self-confessed man of science and reason, discovers what they are doing he is appalled. He goes on to dismiss the power of both religion and the supernatural. Alas, he is soon revising his hastily declared opinions. Only the devout but genuinely caring and understanding Sister Angelica, a really great and unforced character, can truly see beyond the immediate hysteria and she calmly summons up the inner faith needed to make a really positive stand....(spoiler begins)....even after her death, it's a symbol of Angelica's intense faith and real understanding that holds the spiritual power and strength needed to finally expel the invading evil....(spoiler ends).

Intelligent and atmospheric, if slightly bizarre, the film plays like a cross between Ken Russell's The Devils and Piers Haggard's Blood on Satan's Claw (aka Satan's Skin). Anybody would be hard pushed to beat the stylish flair displayed by Russell in The Devils but Moctezuma, Stamatiades and Cruz throw caution, and any restraint demanded by their presumably quite small budget, to the wind and have a go anyhow. The nuns gowns, and other characters' costumes, are really quite striking while the convent's interior, which appears to be a modified cavernous maze, is particularly impressive. There are some interesting camera moves on show and the acting is generally very good but, although the film was shot in English, it appears that some of the dialogue was rather loosely post-synced by the usual dubbing suspects and this, inevitably, takes away just a little of the film's edge. Much of the supernatural presence here is simply suggested but the inherent spookiness is amplified by the clever use of particularly eerie music, choice sound effects and good editing. The special effects that are employed are pretty convincing. Although the film has a relatively short run time it is perfectly well paced and edited. All in all, an unusual but interesting find by Mondo Macabro.


The film was shot and is presented here full-frame. However, it plays pretty comfortably when the image is cropped down to 1.77:1 on a widescreen TV. Given its obscurity, the print used is in very good condition: colourful and reasonably sharp and only really suffering from some very small and very fine scratches. The sound isn't too bad, either. The documentary on Mexican horror films is particularly interesting and contains some intriguing film clips. This is a PAL disc but it is encoded for 'All Regions'.


Both discs are PAL Region 2,
and are not intended for playback in the U.S.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Dr Jekyll Versus the Werewolf rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Paul Naschy interview (20 mins), 'A brief history of Spanish horror' (text article) by Pete Tombs, Cast and Crew biographies for Paul Naschy, Jack Taylor, Mirtha Miller, Shirley Corrigan, Leon Klimovsky & Anton Garcia Abril
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 27, 2002


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Alucarda rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: Mondo Macabro episode covering Mexican Horror Movies (22 mins), Juan Lopez Moctezuma biography and filmography, text interview with Juan Lopez Moctezuma, stills/poster gallery
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 27, 2002

Link to the Mondo Macabro website.


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Text © Copyright 2007 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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