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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'.
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'.
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:
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Link to the Mondo Macabro website.