Thursday, May 12, 2016

LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO aka THE MARK OF THE WOLFMAN aka FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR 1968/1971

 




"See the wolf monster attack - lusting, slashing ripping 
in gory, flesh hungry, blood mad massacre !"


 The American release was shown in "Super 70mm Chill-O-Rama" ! 
(which I'm sure is a whole creepier then regular 70mm !)

  
      Although not the first Spanish horror film, 1968's LA MARCHA DEL HOMBRE LOBO (MARK OF THE WOLFMAN) was arguably one of the films that kick started that genre's golden age in the coming decade. In addition to being his initial foray into horror, this was Paul Naschy's first portrayal of the tortured nobleman/werewolf Waldemar Danisky. Backed by some healthy German financing it was shot in 70mm along with 4 track stereo, with even a 3D version being produced. Like many of his future films this was scripted by Naschy under his given name of Jacinto Molina.
     At first glance Naschy would seem to be an odd choice for a leading man in a Gothic horror, as the former championship weightlifter was short, stocky and barrel chested with an obvious comb over (that's even more apparent as his films make the transition to HD). He did however have a magnificent screen persona as with his dark brooding looks and piercing eyes he was able to project both an aura of sinister evil along with a melancholy sadness in his characters.
     Released in Europe in 1967, this was picked up in 1971 by producer Sam Sherman for release in the U.S. as a co- feature to Al Adamson's woeful DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN. Sherman had promised his distributors a "Frankenstein" film for the double bill and as his production of a proposed 2nd feature fell through he looked to acquire an overseas production that he could re-tile. All of which makes it odd that he chose a movie with no Frankenstein monster in it - and even more bizarrely he passed on Tuilo Demicheli's 1970 "monster rally" type feature ASSIGNMENT TERROR which included a Frankenstein type monster, along with Naschy's werewolf (plus Dracula and a mummy !).




     MARK OF THE WEREWOLF serves up two werewolves along with a male and female vampire, but Sherman was bound and determined to give the audiences a Frankenstein monster in some form. In a great piece of showmanship he tacked on a crudely animated prologue which explains that the Frankenstein family was cursed and branded as "Wolfsteins"(!) and in addition lopped-off the two opening reels to get it down to a more double feature friendly length, along with tacking on an appropriately lurid title in FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR. All this means that the film contained no Frankenstein monster, which must have left some patrons feeling a bit gypped (but with that being said, they might have also felt a bit gypped after seeing the co-feature DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN).
     Although taking place in contemporary times MARK OF THE WOLFMAN, like many a Euro horror film, seems to exist in a strange nether-world where jet setting rich folk dash about in sports cars and live in richly appointed Gothic estates while gypsies in period costumes trod about in horse drawn wagons and everybody speaks about ancient curses, vampirism and lycanthropy matter-of-factly with no doubt to their existence.




Some nice candelabra action here !

     Directed by Enrique López Eguiluz (this being his only genre film) and beautifully shot by Emilio Foriscot (who was later cinematographer on Sergio Martino's THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL and THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH) this is one of the more gorgeous looking Spanish horror films of the period. Shot in some of the same locations as TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (the El Cercón Monastery in Madrid) characters are often framed in medium and long shots in order to show the fantastically designed & lite Gothic ruins and opulent rooms.
     The film opens with a masquerade ball in the home of the young Countess Janice von Aarenberg (Dyanik Zurakowska THE VAMPIRES' NIGHT ORGY and THE HANGING WOMAN) who's dancing with her just returned from school boyfriend Rudolph. Naschy's Waldemar Danisky bursts into the party (dressed like a satanic Robin Hood) and immediately sets his eyes on the young Countess which causes concern for Rudolph. The fathers of Rudolph and Janice also look on with disdain as Danisky has a reputation locally as shady character (it's these sequences that were exercised by Sherman).
     Over the course of the next few days Danisky continues to coincidentally "run into" Janice and shows both her and Rudolph around his ancient family estate where he relates the legend of a cursed ancestor whose buried in the family crypt. Later a very colorful and over the top gypsy couple take refuge in the castle and looking to steal some treasure, they open up the tomb of the cursed relative and upon removing a silver dagger from his chest they allow him to be reborn as a werewolf.
      As the werewolf begins to bloodily ravage the countryside the villagers gather together for a wolf hunt with Danisky being wounded by the werewolf while saving Rudolph's life. Now cursed with being a werewolf Danisky starts his bloody rampage, while Rudolph feeling indebted to Danisky, attempts to help him find a cure. Added by Janice they locate a document which references a Dr. Mikhelov who may have a cure. Realizing the doctor is now dead they write to the address and soon the a mysterious Dr. Janos Mikhelov (Julián Ugarte from ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK) and his "assistant" Wandessa (the very beautiful Aurora de Alba who also appeared with Naschy in THE HANGING WOMAN and VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES) show up. All of which sets up vampirism, satanic rituals and a one-on-one werewolf fight to the death.




      Even though this is Naschy's first outing as his famous alter ego it's pretty amazing to watch him here as hurls himself from the screen full force. Like Christopher Lee ten years before who had burst from Hammer's HORROR OF DRACULA with his highly athletic and sensually sadistic portrayal of the title character, here Naschy brings a highly charged ferocity to his werewolf. He leaps through windows, hurls himself full force at his victims and bloodily mauls them all the while growling and snarling (although the patented Naschy werewolf drool is not yet in play here).
     As mentioned, this is one of the most beautifully shot films from the golden age of Spanish horror. Filled with weird Mario Bava like lighting with the camera seemingly to literally drink up the Gothic atmosphere (there's several time you want to hit pause, just to study the set design). There's also several instances of quiet poetic like beauty such as Wandessa's seduction of Rudolph as a flowing satin veil slowly covers the couple and later as Janice and the vampire waltz through ruined catacombs as they move through various colors and swirling fog.




     The female cast is beautifully filled out by Dyanik Zurakowska and Aurora de Alba with some special attention nedded to be paid to de Alba. A bit more mature then most other horror actresses of the time (she's somewhat reminisce of Helga Liné) and looking absolutely mesmerizing here, she brings a wonderful sinister sensuality to her role. She was also pretty unforgettable in VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES and TERROR OF THE LIVING DEAD (aka THE HANGING WOMAN - which also co starred Dyanik Zurakowska).
      Some years ago Shriek Show released FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR on DVD which contained the long European cut (with English dub) along with Sam's animated prologue. Hampered by some uneven coloring and obviously coming from different film sources, it does contain an informative & fun commentary by Sherman as he relates the convoluted distribution of the film and says that he's still in possession of a 70mm 3D print. It's also been released in Germany by SubKultur (under the title DIE VAMPIRE DES DR. DRACULA) on Blu-Ray as part of their ongoing Naschy series.
     This was my (as I'm sure it was many a "monster kids") first exposure to Naschy as it seemed to run almost continuously on my local late night 70's TV. The original ad campaign promised a free burial to anyone who died of fright while watching the film !








*With the exception of the two title cards from the American release which were taken from the Shriek Show DVD all the above screen caps are from the SubKultur Region B Blu-Ray*






Thursday, May 5, 2016

SUNDAY IN THE COUNTRY 1974

 AKA VENGEANCE IS MINE or BLOOD FOR BLOOD 

Farmer Ernie Borgnine breaks out the trusty ol' double barrel shotgun to square off against a trio of on the lam bank robbers including an off the rails & psychotic Michael J. Pollard !! 

  
  

      During the 70's and 80's Canada was a pretty fertile breeding ground for low budget horror/exploitation films. Tracing their linage back to 1961's THE MASK  films such as CANNIBAL GIRLS (1973), DEATHDREAM (1974), HUMONGOUS (1982), THE CREEPER aka RITUALS (1977) and MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981) (along with David Cronenberg's early work) among many others were all products of the "Great White North" film industry. With the exception of Cronenberg's films and 1973's THE PYX (which seemed to revel in it's nationality), many of them tried to disguise the fact that they were Canadian in origin as they did their best to portray a nameless North American location.
      Filmed in Ontario, but portraying a non-specific rural Midwest America, Borgnine here plays Adam Smith a no nonsense humorless farmer who lives alone with his granddaughter Lucy (Hollis McLaren WELCOME TO BLOOD CITY ). College age Lucy is home for the summer and comes across as a bit of a hippie while her stern Grandfather represents a more straight laced conservative way of life as he always reminisces about the "good old days". At one point he even berates Lucy for using a recipe out of a book to cook their meal. It's never explained exactly why Lucy is living with her grandfather and what the family dynamics are at play here, but it's hinted that Borgnine's wife left him because of mental and/or physical abuse.




     On their way to church early Sunday morning they hear radio reports concerning a trio of bank robbers who are on the run in the area after a robbery in which a teller was shot and killed. The trio includes the older men Dinelli (Louis Zorich) and Ackerman (Cec Linder GOLDFINGER) and the younger Leroy (Michael J. Pollard LITTLE FAUSS AND BIG HALSEY). While looking to switch cars they come across a young couple changing a tire and Leroy viciously shots the man and attempts to rape the girl before being stopped by his cohorts (after which she is brutally shoot point blank). It's also reveled that the psychotic Leroy shot the teller at bank and is looked at with a combination of contempt and fear by his two older partners.
     Stealing the car they attempt an escape but because of police roadblocks they're forced to head off cross country and end up on the Smith farm. The film up to this point would seem to be setting up a standard home invasion plot, but this is where things take a bizarre turn. Posing as stranded motorists, the trio approach the farmhouse, with Borgnine inviting Ackerman in to use the phone and then blows the bank robber out of the kitchen and through the door with a shotgun blast. Taking the other two hostage (aided by his hulking mute farmhand Luke played by Vladimir Valenta) he forces them to remove their pants and chains them up atop a manure pile !




     Later moving them to a basement and tying them to the rafters, Borgnine doesn't seem to be in any hurry to call the police and at this point we still don't know what he has in mind for the hoatages as his seemingly calm exterior along with our wondering what's going on behind that grin and penetrating stare all make for some slowly ratcheting tension. Meanwhile Lucy becomes highly uncomfortable with the situation, prodding her grandfather to call the police while he calmly maintains he's going to the handle things "in due time...". Lucy had shown a bit of rebellion earlier in the movie in regards to romantic relationship with a local suitor and with her ever escalating friction with her father over the fate of his captives she begins to realize that she's just as much of a prisoner as they are.



     In one of his best post WILD BUNCH role Borgnine alternately terrorizes and dishes out folksy wisdom to his prisoners while never letting them (or us) in on what his actual intentions are, although as mentioned before, there's something lurking behind that unsettling grin and calm personality. His name "Adam" even seems to invoke some sort of Biblical retribution. Playing out in pretty much real time, an unsettling anxiety slowly builds up with an arbitrary coin toss that seals the fate of one character and a bloody contest featuring a couple of attack dogs.
    With his pudgy face and goofy grin Pollard built an entire career playing seeming simple minded characters who often have an undercurrent of something creepy lurking in their personalities. He also had the rather unique quality of quietly stealing whatever movie he's in (just watch him in BONNIE AND CLYDE for a superb example of this). Here he plays an obviously evil psychotic killer but still with a certain child-like quality about him.
     The ending twists through to something quite unexpected and leaves us conflicted about Borgnine's character and his motives. Although the film's end seems to justify his actions and perhaps speak of a stronger past history before the encroachment of looser values of the younger generation (as represented by Lucy and to some extant Pollard) by keeping Borgnine's character not wholly sympathetic helps raise this above the expected story line.
     Director John Trent also helmed the very good 1971 made for TV thriller ONLY WAY OUT IS DEAD and the score feature some ominous country music by Paul Hoffert & William McCauley.
     I found this recently on a DVD (with the video generated title VENGEANCE IS MINE) in a $3.00 bin at a truck stop where it's paired up with Terence Young's infamous THE KLANSMAN (also from 1974) - both of which make for a pretty bizarre dbl. feature. Seeming to be the only option out there currently, sadly the pan & scan transfer destroys the film's widescreen Panavision compositions and looks to be from a home video tape source.