Sunday, June 6, 2010

Werewolf? There Wolf: Paul Naschy's LICANTROPO (1996)

LICANTROPO opens in 1944 as a gypsy woman is saved from two nasty Nazis by her lover, who is also a Nazi. She is pregnant with triplets and, according to legend, they must be killed because they are afflicted with the Curse of the 5 Pointed Star. Naturally, things don't go down well. Cut to 1996 and surviving triplet Waldemar Daninsky (Naschy) is a famous mystery writer. Daninsky is having chest pains and bad dreams though, so he visits cardiologist Dr. Mina Westenra (Amparo Munoz) who tells him just to take it easy. That is kind of hard on the man as he is working feverishly on his new novel and is dismayed by the killings happening in town on full moons. The two latest victims are friends of his daughter Kinga (Eva Isanta), who is also receiving threatening phone calls. Two inspectors and the coroner - who just happens to be Mina's father - are on the case but, naturally, scoff at the suggestion of a werewolf. Nope, instead they have a theory of a killer using a handheld garden hoe to kill folks. Heh, heh...hoe.

Perhaps I was subconsciously trying to ease my pain by watching FULL MOON (see review below) first because LICANTROPO (1996) has a reputation among Paul Naschy fans as being one of his lesser werewolf entries. I guess it worked as I enjoyed this one for the most part. Amazing how a shot-on-video crapfest can smack your sensibilities around and make you level out. This film has a lot of positives going for it. It is incredibly well shot and makes nice use of blue lighting. Director Francisco Rodriguez Gordillo definitely scores in that department. The acting is also good by everyone. Naschy, as always, gives a committed performance. According to The Mark of Naschy website, however, Naschy has repeatedly said that Gordillo cut out all of the sex and violence from his script. Genius! I bet he is the kind of guy who makes a BLT and leaves out the bacon and lettuce. A perfect example is the first murder of a prostitute. She is just walking down the street, pulled into a dark alley and then blood slowly pours out onto the cobblestones. You ain't Hitchcock, Mr. Gordillo, so give the fans what they want. Interested in seeing the film's gore highlight? Look to your left. Sad, ain't it?

Unfortunately, Gordillo seems to completely undermine his werewolf movie by not featuring much of a werewolf in it. Genius again! Naschy appears as the titular beast only twice in the first hour and each segment lasts roughly a minute. That is a shame as the make up on Naschy, while minimal, is pretty darn cool. He has these green contacts that work really well in the blue hued set ups. A majority of the time is spent on Kinga and her relationship with a priest's son and the two detectives talking about the case and their wild hoe killer theory. The end picks up a bit as Mina is visited by the ghosts of the gypsies, resulting in a great bit where they tell her the solution to Waldemar's problems can be found "In the woods...by the maple tree...by the old well." Cut to her digging a single hole in the woods and finding a gun with silver bullets. Damn, she's good.

Of course, this brings us to the films other big problem - Naschy's screenplay. I'm not going to pretend he had a genius script that was some classic that was torn apart by the director. This thing is cookie cutter stuff and D-U-M-B. You know there is a problem when you can guess the killer from their VERY FIRST line of dialog. SPOILER (run cursor over text): when you have the priest watching a TV report about the murders early on and saying, "It looks like someone is punishing the sinful," I think it is easy to tell who our mystery hoe killer is. END SPOILER Seriously, I've seen more complex SCOOBY DOO plots. And you have to laugh at the priest dad being all concerned about his son because he reads Poe and has horror movie posters on his walls. Oh, wait, is that a DR. GIGGLES poster? Shit, I totally agree with the dad now. That kid needs help! Like psychiatric help ASAP!

So compared to Naschy's earlier turns as El Hombre Lobo, LICANTROPO is a let down. Had it had the sex and violence Naschy had originally written, I think it would have fared a lot better. Of course, Naschy's penultimate turn as Waldemar looks positively like some Oscar winning material compared to his final portrayal of the role. LICANTROPO was supposed to be the final Daninsky entry but somehow B-movie legend Fred Olen Ray convinced Naschy to step into the role one more time for TOMB OF THE WEREWOLF (2004). Now if this was Ray circa late 80s/early 90s, I would have been down with it. Unfortunately, this is new millennium F.O.R.2.0 and that is definitely a bad thing. Running a scant 82 minutes, TOMB is an embarrassment for Naschy, especially being his final turn in the role. That said, Ray definitely dollops on the nudity. If only there were some was to make a Frankenstein's monster of these last two Daninsky flicks. One that uses LICANTROPO's production values with TOMB's exploitation value. Now that would have been a great send off. Eh, I'll just stick with THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN (1971; aka WEREWOLF SHADOW).

Moments of Clarity:

1 Reactions:

  1. I KNOW SOMEONE who was in this film. An Irish actor named Rory Mullan, who was at a writing class. He was living in Spain at the time, and couldn't believe I RECOGNISED HIM or knew who Naschy was. He told me that he was the only one on set who spoke English, and he had to teach him to speak English and to translate lines. However, they didn't listen and couldn't get the syntax right, so the grammar was all wrong.

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