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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Review: Night Of The Werewolf (1981)

aka The Craving

Hopefully you are familiar with the work of Horror legend Paul Naschy.  The Lon Chaney of Spanish cinema (if you will), he is well renowned for his many portrayals of classic horror monsters.  Werewolf 'Waldemar Daninsky' would become Naschy's most popular character, which he'd portray in 11 different films.  They are all stylistically similar in structure and tone, only with Naschy re-tooling the story with each new incarnation.

1981's Night Of The Werewolf is arguably the high-mark of the entire saga, as it serves up the perfect blend of violence and eroticism and contains production values that easily exceed the entries that came before it.  And not only is it a Daninsky high-mark, I'd also consider it a highlight in Spanish Horror cinema as a whole.

The plot centers around legendary Elizabeth Bathory, who in the prologue, is being put to death for "sorcery, vampirism and devil worship".  Her loyal followers are executed (including Daninsky) and the Countess swears a vengeful return.  Centuries later Erica, an archaeologist hellbent on raising the vampiress from slumber, takes two unsuspecting friends to the remote Hungarian countryside as blood offerings.

Meanwhile, Daninsky is inadvertently resurrected by some bumbling graverobbers and takes refuge in the ruins of a castle that the alluring trio eventually stumbles upon.  He falls for the innocent Karen, but matters get predictably complicated as Daninsky struggles to keep his lunar libido at bay and thwart his furry fate.

When Erica finally discovers Bathory's hidden crypt she murders her other friend, Barbara, which resurrects the Countess and consequently all her mummified minion.  Together they begin to wreak considerable havoc in an attempt to draw Daninsky back into the fold and achieve absolute supremacy over the mortal world.

Although made in 1981, Night Of The Werewolf could easily be mistaken for a 70's picture.  Its dense gothic atmosphere and deliberate pacing suit the story perfectly and it offers an admirable attention to detail.  Lensed in darkened castles and crypts, the cinematography is excellent, the score is commendable and it has the look and feel of a classic Hammer release, albeit a little more explicit.

The make-ups are of the latex and spirit-gum variety and the few transformation scenes are done with good ol’ stop-motion photography techniques.  There are several notable sequences that still hold up extremely well (especially Bathory’s "awakening") despite their age.  Viewers raised on faster-paced, more graphic fare may lose interest, but for old school enthusiasts such as myself I find it all highly enjoyable.

Now that's not to say that Night Of The Werewolf doesn’t hold some faults, because it does.  The fight sequences are lumbering, the pacing is admittedly sluggish at points and the relationship between Daninsky and Karen is laughably immediate.  Be that as it may, these few blemishes tend not to distract from the overall polish of the film. It's Naschy at the full strength of his powers; I would definitely recommend it to any curious creature under a bad moon's influence.

Original Spanish Trailer:

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