I was avoiding Retromedia discs on the basis of some bad experiences, but Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory is a reasonably good presentation.
The original film Lycanthropus was retitled by MGM for release with Corridors of Blood in 1962. It's an okay horror thriller with a ferocious title monster and some good scenes; and if it's fondly remembered, it must be for the terrific stills that showed up again and again in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. It's also known for a silly song called The Ghoul in School that's still billed in the titles, but doesn't show up in this print. Since I've never heard it myself, I don't know if it's missing or not.
While Mario Bava and Riccardo Freda's horror films were accepted as art in some quarters, other Italian directors labored in the lower commercial trenches. Lycanthropus is a carefully contrived entertainment that puts its monster in a German-style murder mystery combined with a girl's prison movie. The clever American title has a camp value that was rare back in the early 60s - the film's self-awareness keeps it from succumbing to its occasional boring scene. 2
Paolo Heusch (note the pervasive Anglicizing in the credits) directs reasonably well and is greatly aided by decent lighting, especially in night exteriors. Every once in a while a striking shot appears, and attractive leading lady Barbara Lass is given careful glamour treatment.
Polish actress Lass was Roman Polanski's first wife, appearing to good effect in his shorts Two Men and a Wardrobe and When Angels Fall. 1 She has enormous eyes and a cautious attitude, and makes an excellent central character. In her trench coat and short hairstyle she's reminiscent of Juliet Mayniel in Eyes Without a Face, which had a big influence on European horror movies - this film also has a dog being dissected in a mad-lab scene, just as in the Franju classic.
Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory can boast a pretty good monster - Curt Lowens is a more frenzied version of the man-wolf from the old Werewolf of London, but with larger fangs that he bares in grotesque snarls. The makeup looked particularly good in photos - and is an interesting contrast to Oliver Reed's silver-haired monster in the previous year's Curse of the Werewolf from Hammer.
It's difficult to tell exactly, but Lycanthropus appears to have been acted in several languages. Some actors are definitely speaking English, and others not. The dubbing is good for matching but not for script; most of the English dialogue we hear is awkward and ill-chosen, as if written by a clever non-native speaker who makes continual syntax errors. The movie takes place in the United States (Dr. Olcott's record mentions having worked in Vermont), looks like Italy (the castle is familiar from Renato Polselli's L'Amante del vampiro) and unfortunately sounds like amateur hour. The good acting doesn't connect with the foolish script, and the best parts of the film are the more visual scenes.
Retromedia's DVD of Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory looks pretty good on a 20-inch monitor but the compression falls apart on a large projection television. On my 65" Mitsubishi the picture broke up like a lower-quality Avid resolution. There's a disclaimer blaming the source materials, but except for a few bothersome splices this is obviously a good 35mm print of the MGM release, letterboxed in 1:66, and the sound is quite clear, so I blame Retromedia's cheap encoding. DVDs should resolve better than this on a large monitor.
Professional fan and sometime talent agent David Del Valle provides a friendly commentary with the film's star Curt Lowens. He's there with the facts and Lowens contributes some insights of his own, including a detailed description of the complicated makeup he wore. Del Valle pegs most of the relevant ideas behind the film and does his best to align this popular programmer with the more prestigious Italian horror films. Later in the commentary the discussion drifts far afield, with Lowens talking about roles he didn't get, but unless you've read every issue of Video Watchdog there'll be some new information here. The only objection I had to Mr. Del Valle's pleasant contribution were a couple of unnecessary verbal slights directed at Roman Polanski.
All of those unforgettable Famous Monsters photos are here to be enjoyed in a still gallery. A welcome insert is a clever original release card explaining how to become a werewolf. Christopher Dietrich's liner notes generously cite Del Valle's interesting interview disc Vincent Price: The Sinister Image, but then insult the memory of Reggie Nalder and Ferdy Mayne by saying that they'll be remembered only for their horror roles.
Does anybody have the answer about The Ghoul in School? Is we supposed to hear it in the film, or not? 3
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
2. The makers probably weren't aware of it, but the campy title keeps reminding
me of Billy Wilder's sleazy retitled pocketbook version of Little Women seen in
The Seven Year Itch: Confessions of a Girl's Dormitory.
3. Song Help from Charles Lindsay, 12/04/03: Hello Glenn,
I asked Fred Olen Ray about the song at the
Chiller Theatre convention this past Halloween. He said Turner owns the rights to the song but
not the movie and they wouldn't let him use it. If not for his new distribution deal with
Image, he might have gone ahead and used it anyway, as someone else already had. I believe he
was referring to Madacy's BLOOD CREATURE/WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS' DORMITORY dvd., which I don't
have, but I believe the title song is on it. However, he didn't want to create any problems
for Image, so he didn't use the song. That's what he told me. Best regards, Chas Lindsay