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Werewolf Woman
(La lupa mannara)
Savant Blu-ray Review

Werewolf Woman
1976 / Color / widescreen / 98 min. / La lupa manera, La lupa mannara, The Legend of the Werewolf Woman / Street Date October 28, 2014 /
Starring Annik Borel, Howard Ross, Dagmar Lassander, Tino Carraro, Frederick Stafford, Felicita Fanny.
Mario Capriotti, Dennis Kull
Original Music Coriolano Gori, Susan Nicoletti
Written by Rino Di Silvestro, Howard Ross
Produced by Diego Alchimede, Mickey Zide
Directed by Rino Di Silvestro

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

At Cannon Films in the late 1980s it often seemed that new video libraries were being added to the company's holdings every week -- including films one would think were owned by other rights holders. I was assigned to make a horror montage from a group of new-arrival 21st Century films, and was given a video reel of ratty trailers for things like Schizoid and Frightmare. One of the most arresting (amusing?) trailers was for a thing called The Legend of the Werewolf Woman. I believe it had been reviewed in Cinefantastique magazine about ten years before. Why might the film get one's attention? Its claim to fame was images of a female werewolf leaping, snarling, drooling and ferociously attacking helpless men. The werewolf had an interesting costume - she's nude, with parts of her body covered with thick reddish wolf hair. I mean fur. Or is it hair?

Rarovideo has uncovered something fairly slimy here. Director Rino Di Silvestro leaped into the no-holds-barred arena of Italian exploitation movies in the early 1970s, when it seemed that all censorship had disappeared and Italo screens were inundated with cheaply made soft (barely) core sex films. Springing forth from more legitimate art movies about touchy topics, the exploitation filmmakers churned out extreme sex fantasies about libidinous nuns, and that old stand-by, sex-starved women in prison. Taking the WIP motif a step further, the enterprising Italians excreted sick fantasies about Nazi prisons and brothels. It was Freedom of the Screen taken to the limit. Di Silvestro directed Women in Cell Block 7 and Deported Women of the SS Special Section. Right in the middle of them came his most remembered picture, Werewolf Woman.

Sexy werewolves are a perfectly good movie idea; in Joe Dante's The Howling Elisabeth Brooks and Dee Wallace transform into ferocious, yet attractive werewolves -- if you ask me, we were cheated out of a decent sequel. Di Silvestro's film hasn't much of a story or characters, just a succession of opportunities to ogle its female star naked, naked and suffering, or naked and covered with the blood of her victims.

Werewolf Woman begins 200 years ago in the Forest of Sales, when terrorized peasants discover that a Countess transforms into a howling, fur-covered shape-shifting monster during the Plenilune (full moon). In the present day, the werewolf's descendant Daniela Neseri (Swiss beauty Annik Borel) has suffered years of mental instability after being raped at age fifteen. When her father the Count (Tino Carraro) moves her to the ancestral country home to recover, Daniela discovers diaries about her ancestor and becomes a dangerous psychotic. Seeing her sister Irene (Dagman Lassander) making love to her boyfriend Fabian, Daniela turns feral (with no physical transformation) and rips his throat out. The Count puts her in a hospital, where she kills the lesbian nympho next door, escapes and seriously wounds a lady doctor (Felicita Fanny). Inspector Modica (star Frederick Stafford) has the ugly job of taking a tally of Daniela's victims. She slaughters one man who picks her up on the highway after he tries to rape her, but finds peace and harmony with another hitchhike prospect, movie stuntman Luca Mondini (co-screenwriter Howard Ross). He conveniently lives in a Wild West movie town. To Daniela's surprise, his non-aggressive affection relieves her lycanthropic reactions and they share idyllic weeks together. But how long can it last?

Somewhere this side of full-on incompetence, Werewolf Woman has all the marks of cheap Italian filmmaking. The lighting is competent, but the show is risible in almost every other department. Exploitation angles aside, the lame and talky script nullifies the earnest performances. Daniela's father, the cops and the doctors discuss her case constantly, letting us know that lycanthropy is real. Daniela doesn't become a furry sex object like her great great great (to the sixth power) grandmother, but rash-like blotches break out on her skin. Actress Annik Borel does indeed work up a fury, attacking men she sees having sex or responding to males trying to rape her. Sex provokes her, see? In Italian exploitation movies all human contact is sexual. Ms. Borel is also suitably uninhibited. While naked she writhes and leaps and bounces and slithers, which of course isn't sexy because we're only concerned for the plight of this poor woman.

The werewolf woman from the 1700s is quite a sight. The costume appears to be a partial body stocking with hair attached, but rest assured that Tempest Storm would approve - there's nothing to prevent the free movement of various body parts. In some shots she appears to have been given large black nipples shaped like giant chess pawns. A black nose and a furry nosepiece actually look okay. The only thing that would make the Borel-wolf unwelcome at Hugh Hefner's Halloween romp is the constant white muck she drools from her lips, which looks highly unsanitary. It reminds us of old Michael "Drooly" Landon in the rights holder-suppressed 1957 I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Can werewolves also be rabid? Gee, not only has my throat been torn out, my doctor says I have to have all these shotsÉ

The unbilled makeup man also comes up with plenty of gore wounds, all soaked in thick crimson blood. One victim is displayed on an autopsy table, naked and sewn up like a mainsail. It's like an episode of C.S.I. but using a live actress with a talent for holding her breath. Ms. Borel also allows a large Tegu lizard to be placed on her bare skin for one curious 'dream image'. I doubt that the lizard was excited by the arrangement, but he probably liked the warm resting place.

That all sounds properly disreputable for a soft-core horror movie, but director De Silvestro apparently had to keep up pace with all the other scummy filmmakers making movies like this one. His cameraman is seemingly under orders to zoom in whenever a crotch is exposed. The zoom is so frequently employed that we often feel like we're riding a yo-yo. Many scenes end with focus pulls to make the screen so soft and fuzzy. Did that gimmick become popular because it suggests a dissolve, without a dissolve? Much of Werewolf Woman is at least visually attractive (especially in this excellent transfer). The gynecological zooms would seem to be imitating the mind-rotting non-cinema of Jesús Franco.

It is possibly quite accurate to say that most Italo exploitation filmmakers of this era were young men eager to get rich and meet sexy actresses. The films cater to the fantasies of the stag audience willing to pay for a sex fantasy, the more bizarre the better. The fantasies served up were almost always grossly conservative. Even though Daniela's problem is given a sympathetic spin, Werewolf Woman stays right in this misogynistic groove. Everything is about sex, and sex invariably leads to terrible violence. In the ancient prologue, an evil woman is the source of all bad things; in the present sexual attraction is to blame for rapes and murders. The film has five rapists in total that attack Daniela, one in the past, the guy in the car and the three thugs in the Wild West Town. By the end of the film she's killing more men out of vengeance for rape, than she is because she thinks she's a werewolf. No matter how much faux-sympathy Daniela is afforded, she's still the monster.

Werewolf Woman is obvious and embarrassing but was apparently a hit on Italian screens jammed with sleazy film fare. Lonely guys looking for exotic thrills will enjoy all the flesh on view, while horror fans may feel cheated that the film footage devoted to a real werewolf amounts to a six or seven- minute prologue. The balance is a sleazy movie about a female psycho killer.

One must admit, though, this film's producers commissioned some really top-rank poster art. I knew I wanted to review Werewolf Woman as soon as that image came up.

Rarovideo's Blu-ray of Werewolf Woman is quite a spectacle, a virtually spotless, perfectly preserved encoding of an Italian exploitation gem known here only in extremely tatty copies. Color is excellent and the detail is such that we can see that the leading men are wearing thick coats of makeup (base?) on their faces -- all freckles, spots or other birthmarks have been erased.

The audio job is fairly good, even if the music selections seem weak. They may be generic cues just dropped into place. Trailers in Italian and English are included, both in flawless condition. The final extra is a 20-minute featurette in which director Rino Di Silvestro carries on a non-stop flow of baloney about the seriousness of his movie and his lofty intentions. It's amusing the way he stumbles over his own words, claiming a high moral tone while simultaneously admitting that the movie is a commercial product (i.e., smut). It's all a conflict between marketability vs. his film's "cultural pathological essence". Di Silvestro helps to substantiate Phil Hardy's contention that most latter-day Italo horror is a misogynistic mire, with the statements that mental weakness leads to Evil, and "the erotic equals Evil." He made Werewolf Woman as a trashy sex show but now sees the need to be defensive about it?

Dr. Frank C. Baxter is more persuasive, and The Amazing Criswell more adept at shoveling the B.S.. That's show biz!

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Werewolf Woman Blu-ray
Movie: Fair -
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: A talk with director Rino Di Silvestro
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 20, 2014

Text © Copyright 2014 Glenn Erickson

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