EL RETORNO DEL HOMBRE LOBO/THE RETURN OF THE WOLF
Paul Naschy (Waldemar Daninsky), Julia Saly (Countess Bathory), Narciso
Ibanez (the professor), Silvia Aguilar (Erika), Azucena Hernandez (Karin),
Beatriz Elorrieta (Mircaya), Luis Barboo, Pilar Alcon, Tito Garcia,
Ricardo Palacios, Carlos Bravo, Manuel Pereiro
U.S. theatrical release: as THE CRAVING, on a double-bill; apparently the last Naschy film given theatrical release in this country
Video: U.S. release on Vestron, as THE CRAVING
|Review: Jacinto Molina’s EL RETORNO DEL HOMBRE LOBO (THE
CRAVING) is a beautifully romantic, classically tragic love story. Though
it is a thinly veiled remake of LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS (THE WEREWOLF VS.
THE VAMPIRE WOMAN), EL RETORNO DEL HOMBRE LOBO is a far superior
production and Paul Naschy (Molina) is in top form not only acting, but
writing and directing (his first time directing himself as Waldemar
This production from Naschy’s own Dalmata Films is a perfect blend of the man’s natural brooding intensity combined with a highly stylized interpretation of Daninsky’s character which when served against a familiar Naschy motif of doomed-love/salvation-through-death takes EL RETORNO DEL HOMBRE LOBO beyond categorizing as a simple horror movie. Add Alejandro Ulloa’s candlelit, moodily gothic cinematography and you have a near perfect jewel in the crown of the Daninsky saga.
The final polish comes from the CAM musical library score. Except for inappropriate opening and closing credit music, the various stock tracks might have been originally scored for this specific film. The melancholy "love theme" for Waldemar and Karin is touching and tender yet betrays in its sad lament the tragic end awaiting the entwined lovers. The unholy choir accompanying "the vampires" is a discordant hymn both beautiful and frightening in its religious mockery. These themes never detract from the mood but perfectly accompany it, heightening the viewer’s emotional involvement.
From the first moment we see Daninsky his very presence and bearing speak of his nobility and inherent goodness of soul. Though his deeds may have been black, they were not of his choice. He welcomes death, grateful to his executioners for releasing him from this living hell and the evil influence of Elizabeth Bathory. His last words, a prayer to God, are that his soul might now have eternal peace. This, however, is not to be. Three centuries later two graverobbers open his tomb to loot it. In removing the silver cross of Mayenza from his chest, they set in motion a tragic chain of events beginning with their own immediate demise.
Waldemar’s first on-screen transformation is particularly stunning. As the full moon rises, his nails scratch gratingly against the rough wood table top. He fights for control. His frustration and anger is a tangible thing. He knows he cannot stop the inevitable and he lashes out, slamming into furniture, toppling it in blind rage and pain. He fights desperately to retain his humanity yet it is a hopeless battle. Soon the ravening beast will emerge victorious, if only temporarily. The make-up is yet another variation on a theme with a more exposed forehead which gives greater human expression to Naschy’s eyes, while the various stages of transformation drag the viewer even deeper into Daninsky’s torment and despair.
Waldemar’s seduction by Erika, now under Bathory’s control, is brilliantly subtle. Daninsky wakes to find himself trapped in the vampire’s hypnotic gaze. Like a startled animal hopelessly caught in the high-beams of an oncoming vehicle, he can only wait and feel as his will is slowly vanquished. The bright pinpoints of light in his eyes gradually dim. He makes one desperate struggle to reassert his will, the light flares strong and bright and then ebbs away completely as he falls under Erika’s spell. Only Karin’s timely intervention saves him from again becoming Bathory’s pawn.
Another nice touch is the post-vampire inarticulate and crankily disagreeable whining made by Erika and Barbara. When thwarted by the holy cross or finally staked they emit a shrill frequency even more annoying than fingernails down a blackboard.
Naschy’s physical presence, offset by long hair and beard, gives him a fierce, almost feral appearance while in other scenes he comes across almost benevolent. The look definitely flatters him while making the character seem even more other-worldly and out-of-step with modern day. Ever present is Waldemar’s black attire, though its old-fashioned design of billowy sleeves, calf-high boots and coat-of-arms emblazoned tunic further distances him from the present.
The final scenes are possibly the most poignant. Karin nears Waldemar, the werewolf, knowing her death will come with his. She beckons him closer, and, as he attacks and delivers the mortal bite, she drives the silver cross of Mayenza deep into his heart. Near death and still in wolf form, Waldemar chokes out the name of his beloved before they perish in each others’ arms in a holocaust of purifying flames. This is romantic tragedy at its best--a passionate yet doomed love in this life that leads to redemption and eternal salvation in the life after death.
As usual, Naschy’s leading ladies are stunningly beautiful. Azucena Hernandez (Karin) embodies the youthful innocence and purity Daninsky is drawn to. Julia Saly as Elizabeth Bathory possesses a renaissance beauty that is perfect for the role while still capturing the inherent evil of the character. Silvia Aguilar (Erika) is sultry and seductive, appealing to Daninsky’s lust if not his love. Pilar Alcon (Barbara) is a doe-eyed lovely staked early on in the proceedings by Karin. Even Beatriz Elorieta as the scarred Mircaya, Daninsky’s servant/companion, captures his sympathy in a gentle kiss and caress that clearly indicates he sees past mere physical imperfection to her purer, inner beauty.
By no means, however, is EL RETORNO DEL HOMBRE LOBO flawless. There are two hoary hand-on-the-shoulder shots than can be seen coming a mile away. And, the after-opening-credit sequence is embarrassingly bad, though necessary for plot development.
In the pre-credit sequence, Elizabeth Bathory is accused of being a vampire yet she is executed in daylight! Later, when brought back from the dead she truly is a creature of the night.
The burgeoning romance between Waldemar and Karin is explained in a transition scene between Daninsky and Mircaya, who was disfigured when the local villagers attempted to burn her at the stake as a witch. There is ‘cutting to the chase’ for expediency and budgetary limitations, but this is far too abrupt since the last time Karin was seen she was still unconscious and suffering from a concussion. She and Waldemar hadn’t spoken a word to each other at that point; their only verbal communication, Karin’s scream as she fell into a pit upon first setting eyes on a crossbow-toting Daninsky standing on the castle battlements and aiming directly at her heart. The next time we see them together they are kissing in the castle courtyard! There are whirlwind romances but this one seems to have traveled at the speed of light.
Also, the secondary characters for the most part are vampire or werewolf fodder--a common malady many horror films suffer from. The dubbing as well as English translation of these characters’ dialogue is poorly done and not in keeping with the high caliber of the main characters.
A fault, but not of the film itself, is the Vestron pre-record print. It is frequently dark and obscured and, in particular, viewers may have to strain to figure out who’s doing what to whom in the dramatic battle between Daninsky and Bathory at movie’s end.
And, as previously mentioned, the opening and closing credits music is way wrong!
While this reviewer personally thinks this is one of Naschy’s best films, there are those of his fans who have come to expect nubile young females cavorting in naked abandon and fountains of blood, gore and kinky doings--they may come away somewhat disappointed. There is bloodletting, but lit and shot in a less violent, more stylized way. There is a hint of lesbian eroticism between Bathory, Erika, Barbara and Mircaya—but nothing overt or even mildly salacious. Even Waldemar and Karin’s love scene is shot in discreet shadows and angles.
Still, all things considered, EL RETORNO DEL HOMBRE LOBO is an A+ entry not only to Paul Naschy’s credits, but to the werewolf film genre in general.
The production costs on EL RETORNO DEL HOMBRE LOBO were high and the film did not perform as well as expected at home or in foreign markets. The end result was that Dalmata Films went bankrupt, a true shame with such promising output as this. But Naschy, a survivor by nature, rose like a phoenix from the financial ashes and even into the 90’s continues to write, direct and act.
-- Denetia Arellanes