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 Daninsky).
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
REVIEW OF SUBKULTUR'S DER WERWOLF
DER WERWOLF, the German version of EL RETORNO DEL HOMBRE LOBO/NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF, is the second release from Germany's Subkultur Entertainment in its Naschy series, "Legacy of a Wolfman," but it presents the first Naschy film in the series as the initial release was the Angel Agudo documentary on Naschy, THE MAN WHO SAW FRANKENSTEIN CRY. When completed, the series will fit nicely into a fold-out box and present some of Naschy's best films, though none that haven't yet seen a digital release somewhere in the world. As these are German releases, in the Pal format, Americans will have to not only have a region free DVD or Blu-Ray player, but also pay for an import anywhere from 40 to 50 dollars per release, costing close to half a thousand dollars when all the releases for the box set are done. This hefty financial outlay from fans worldwide is certainly matched by a hefty financial risk from Subkultur, particularly when the costs demanded by rights owners of Naschy's films remain relatively high. When finished, "Legacy of a Wolfman" will rival the American BCI Naschy series and Spain's VellaVision Naschy releases as an important testament to the range and talents of Paul Naschy, Spain's unique horror man.
Language options for this combo DVD/Blu-Ray release are in German and Spanish (no English dubbing or subtitling, but future releases promise different options if contractually possible). The picture is sharper than the BCI Blu-Ray and many scenes "pop" with color and vibrancy. The extra sharpness has the effect, however, of eliciting more grain than would otherwise be evident, though I was only sporadically made aware of its presence and certainly not particularly bothered by it.
A special problem is evident, however, in the culminating battle scenes between Naschy and two vampire women. Depending on one's settings, a few moments are so dark as to be almost unseen. This isn't just a problem with the Subkultur presentation. The BCI DVD contained the same problems, while the older Spanish Tri-Pictures DVD had these moments almost in black-and-white.
After studying the BCI and Tri-Pictures DVD releases of this film, I've come to the conclusion that these visual quirks are inherent to the film, perhaps caused by insufficient lighting. The BCI Blu-Ray (not the DVD) does offer up these darker scenes with more visibility, but it's clear that a problem exists in the film element, at least the one readily available for transfers. (I saw a print of THE CRAVING, the American titled version of EL RETORNO, during the summer and wasn't aware of any such issue, but I wasn't looking for it, either.)
The extras on DER WERWOLF are nicely presented, but, aside from a "retro" German version of the film, they have already been seen on the BCI release. That retro version, btw, is just simply the film without an HD upgrade, a fairly useless extra, unless I'm missing something.
Unfortunately, Subkultur's release is marred by a booklet insert written by Carlos Aguilar, a writer with a long list of credits in Spain, but otherwise almost completely unknown to the international public. The choice of Aguilar is befuddling as Aguilar has gone on record as proclaiming "the irrefutable reality that Naschy's filmography is very bad." His opinion of Naschy, the person, is not much better.
In the booklet Aguilar slams Naschy for a gigantic ego, and mockingly chides Naschy for wearing a hairpiece in EL RETORNO and making his character in films "very attractive" to women. He even accuses the actor of adultery!
Of course, a writer, if he adheres to a standard of professionalism, can stifle his obsessive hatred of his subject and get to the meat of the matter, writing about the making of the movie and its filmmakers in a honest yet respectful manner, but Aguilar drops any pretense at professionalism and let's his disdain for Naschy loose with frequency. For sure, as he was placing his malicious comments, he gloated and smiled over the fact that Naschy fans, whom he especially despises, would be put off and angered by the text.
One can certainly look at a human being from various perspectives. In Naschy's case his ego (yes, he had one, as most everyone, including, Aguilar, does) was a stringent necessity because he was his own promoter, his own mover-and-shaker, the man who wrote the scripts, starred in the films, and later, produced and directed them. Many talented and ambitious people are hampered from even trying to display their talent because of fear of rejection and ridicule. To overcome the natural tendency of doubt and fear, ego enters into the game as a layer of protection, as a way of moving forward instead of remaining at standstill. Had Naschy not had a strong ego, he would never have succeeded in making a single film.
Aguilar's unsympathetic--and dare I say, inhumane--take on Naschy ignores the reasons a self-motivated creator would need to psychologically buttress himself with ego. He ignores, or isn't aware of, the doubts and depressions Naschy had as he was striving for artistic expression and battling to get many of his films made. He ignores or isn't aware of the tears Naschy wept when a couple of his films were sabotaged by inartful directors. Instead, Aguilar superficially and maliciously aims barbs at Naschy's "ego", culminating in the astounding parenthetical insertion at the end of one paragraph: "Naschy's irrational narcissism could well be the subject of a thesis"!
More discomforting are the charges of plagiarism leveled at Naschy by Aguilar. Aguilar states that the mask adhered to Daninsky's face in the pre-credit sequence plagiarizes BLACK SUNDAY and the resurrection of Countress Bathory through the dripping blood of a human sacrifice plagiarizes DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS. I'm using the word "plagiarizes" as intended by Aguilar, not such more accurate expressions as "influenced by," "suggested by," "in honor of," etc. Plagiarizes. Steals from. Even though, if you juxtapose those scenes with the Bava and Hammer film, they are not duplicates, and in the Countess Bathory sequence, the supposed plagiarization far surpasses its original influence, at least in my opinion. In the "mask" case, the mask is not BLACK SUNDAY's "Mask of Satan" with its inward-facing spikes, but the "Mask of Ignominy", with no spikes, that clamps around the head. (Naschy was a passionate researcher in the weird and horrorific and would frequently use historical fact to inform his films.)
In many countries, a charge of plagiarism would be legally actionable, but Naschy, being dead, can't sue, and it would be too much of a burden, financially and time-wise, for anyone in his family to do so, if they could manage to do so in another country.
Carlos Aguilar, this supposed respected writer, gets his facts wrong, too.
He states that LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO premiered in Spain in 1969 at the Bulevar theater in Madrid, when, if we go by the official Spanish Ministry of Culture, it actually premiered in 1968 in Valencia, in Barcelona in 1969, and only in Madrid at the Bulevar in 1970. He informs us that as the wolfman, Naschy always wore a blue shirt! (Though this error could be--I don't know how--a fault of the translation.) Aguilar makes a point of stressing that Morricone's harmonica theme in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST was used in EL RETORNO DEL HOMBRE LOBO, when it wasn't. (Of course, Aguilar considers this another case of plagiarism.) He claims that EL RETORNO is Naschy's swansong, completely forgetting, or purposefully omitting, that Naschy made worthy films after EL RETORNO, to include THE BEAST AND THE MAGIC SWORD, HOWL OF THE DEVIL (on which Aguilar worked as a press agent) and ROJO SANGRE.
Aguilar's non-judgmental opinions even puzzle, particularly when Aguilar makes the point that the film has the look of a Hammer film from the 1960s, when nothing about it, from the camera movements and filters to the sets has the look of a Hammer film.
As justice would have it, the German translation of Aguilar's text is grammatically awkward, if not awful, and presents the writer in an unfavorable light as much as his nasty text does. Good, I say. Couldn't have happened to a nicer fellow.
This leads me to discuss why Subkultur would accept such a disparaging and legally problematic text, one that insults the very subject of a box set supposedly crafted in his honor and meant for his fans? Subkultur head honcho Tino briefly answered this on a German forum, claiming, rather disingenuously, that he didn't want all the booklets to have a laudatory fannish aspect. Since then there's been silence from him as the brouhaha over the booklet increased and increased. Six weeks ago, Tino promised to send Aguilar's original text to Sergio Molina, Naschy's son, but has yet to do so, no doubt due to understandable embarrassment.
Any sensible person in Tino's place would have shown Aguilar the door and thrown his hateful and faulty text after him, but Tino, perhaps because he didn't have a quick back-up or, more likely, felt Aguilar was more important than his self-promotions would lead others to believe, kept the insulting and libelous text, so that it now is tagged with one of Naschy most important and splendid films in this otherwise fine release.
It is strongly assumed that future booklets in the series will not have a similar problem. And, yes, at least the film and Naschy's accomplishment survive. And, yes, that is paramount.