Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975) review


Paul Naschy (Waldemar Daninsky), Grace Mills (Sylvia Lacombe), Silvia Solar (Wandessa), Gil Vidal (Larry Talbot), Luis Induni (Sekkar Khan), Castillo Escalona (Professor Lacombe), Jose Luis Chinchilla (Temujin), Gaspar Gonzalez (Tiger Passan), Victor Israel (Joel), Ana Maria Mauri (Princess Ulka)

Directed by Miguel Iglesias Bonns

***WARNING! This review contains nudity***

The Short Version: Naschy gnashes his teeth as Waldemar the Werewolf for the 8th time (if you include the lost NIGHTS OF THE WOLFMAN from 1968) in this epic euro-trash--cramming werewolves, cannibals, bandits, sex, sorceresses, action, gore, a love story, magic flowers, and book-ended with superfluous appearances by a mangy Yeti. Additionally, there's enough characters and potential side-stories for a three hour movie. If all that weren't enough, the script deviates from the traditional tragedy of previous Daninsky-fests, giving Naschy an opportunity to play a heroic Lycanthrope who only kills villains. A real ladies (wolf)man, Naschy proves Wolfery isn't dead in Spain.

After receiving evidence recovered from a doomed Tibetan expedition that the Yeti exists, professor Lacombe mounts a second trip to Karakorum, an unexplored region of Katmandu in the hopes of capturing the creature. Because of his familiarity with the area and the Nepalese language, anthropologist Waldemar Daninsky accompanies the professor and his crew. Upon their arrival it's learned that bad weather has made the trek to Karakorum impossible. A half-crazed guide named Joel offers to lead them through an alternate route; the oft-avoided "Pass of the Demons of the Red Moon". Due to the dangerous conditions and superstitious warnings, only Waldemar opts to go. Lost in the snow, Joel mysteriously disappears. Exhausted, Waldemar stumbles upon a cave and is nursed back to health by two strange women. Later discovering they're werewolves, Waldemar is bitten in a struggle, becoming a wolfman when the moon is full. 

Meanwhile, professor Lacombe and his team are captured by vicious bandits led by Temujin--who takes them to the mountain stronghold of the bloodthirsty Sekkar Khan where certain death awaits them. Learning of a cure for his Lycanthropy from a Tibetan monk, Waldemar must now save them from both Khan and his sorceress caregiver, a wicked witch named Wandesa.

Naschy's 7th hairy concerto (8th if you count the still unaccounted for NIGHTS OF THE WOLFMAN from 1968) is easily one of the busiest and best in his werewolf series. The low budget is obvious, but the energy that ends up onscreen belies the impoverished means available to make it. Just under 90 minutes, there's an entire mini-series worth of characters that are thrown at us--many of whom we learn nothing about outside of the periphery. The finished product doesn't aspire for much more than quickie exploitation thrills so the limited availability of exposition is a bonus.

Written by Paul Naschy (under his real name of Jacinto Molina), Miguel Iglesias Bonns was a natural choice for director considering his filmography; while varied, was peppered with assorted thrillers and adventure movies. Made in five weeks on location and on studio sound stages, the picture was, according to Bonns, more successful outside of Spain than domestically. On the festival circuit, Paul Naschy was awarded a Silver Carnation Award for Best Actor at Sitges in 1975. It's easily one of the most fast-paced and wildly entertaining of the actor's extensive monster-ography for a variety of reasons.... 

The love story angle between Naschy's Daninsky and the character of Sylvia is stronger than normally afforded these movies. It's given some added weight since Waldemar is actually the hero of the movie--only killing the many villains that populate the plot line, eschewing the usually tragic, sometimes villainous, figure he played in other films.

Starring as the wolfman's lover is Grace Mills (Mercedes Molina; no relation to Jacinto Molina, alias Paul Naschy), a petite, beautiful actress whose debut was the object of possession in Juan Bosch's EXORCISM (1975), a production co-written by and starring Naschy. It was a stunning performance beginning what could have been a notable career. The character of Sylvia is put in the required peril and is also tasked with either saving Waldemar or killing him. For the only time in the Daninsky series, Waldemar is cured and lives. Unfortunately, after a promising debut and followup feature, Ms. Mills' career seemed to fade away.

Most of Naschy's monster flicks bring something unique to the table and this one brings a feast of ideas. Only THE BEAST AND THE MAGIC SWORD (1983) tops it for sheer creativity. There's everything from cannibalistic, nymphomaniacal werewolf women worshiping ancient fang-toothed deities; Mongolian tyrants with horrible skin afflictions requiring freshly flayed skin from enslaved women; a domineering, dominatrix witch woman with power over men; rare, magical flowers with the power to cure werewolfism; the first ever titanic tussle between a Wolfman and an equally hairy Abominable Snowman.

The man himself referred to it as a comic book brought to the Silver Screen, and that's exactly what it is--albeit one filled lots of sex and gory violence. There's barely a moment that some action isn't transpiring resulting in THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI feeling more like an action movie than horror. Even the werewolf sequences are within the action genre paradigm. This version of Waldemar is more acrobatic--often leaping across the screen or from the precipice of a cliff onto his enemies; or dueling with the villains in human form during a few satisfactory fight sequences. The only time this feels like genuine horror is during the beautifully lit, Bavaian cave sequence with the two strange women whose daily diet consists of sex and human flesh.

In it, a weary Waldemar wanders into the demon women's domain, succumbing to their sexual proclivities in the most kinetic humping session seen in any of the actor's monster movies. Both women are on top of Naschy; one appears to have her face awfully close to his southern border while the other feverishly gyrates, doing what looks like a horizontal version of the Lambada. Afterward, a refreshed Waldemar discovers his two hosts prefer human viscera to a cigarette after sex.

In his memoirs, Naschy recounted a story from 1952 when, at age 18, he became sexually entangled with two sensual sisters--daughters of a diplomat. The memory of these weeks long dalliances served as inspiration for the sole ménage à trois in the Daninsky canon.

As for the setting, these flesh-hungry succubi weren't living in a mansion but a spooky cave that was a real cavern found at Sant Quintí de Mediona.

Getting back to the movie, Waldemar finds his horny hostesses praying before a tomb housing what appears to be a warrior werewolf wearing armor and with a silver-bladed arrow jutting from its heart. It's reminiscent of Conan finding Crom in his crypt; only this sanguinary king has fangs. Waldemar is then attacked by the fang-toothed females and manages to kill them both; but not before one of them bites into his chest--successfully placing The Curse of the Beast onto him.

A thoroughly bizarre, well-edited sequence of horror, this established tone of eeriness melds with action movie tropes immediately thereafter. A curious blend that would crop up in American movies a few years later with Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978); and later popularized to an alarming degree with ALIENS (1986) and PREDATOR (1987); FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996) and those awful RESIDENT EVIL movies being other examples.

Additionally, it is during this sequence on the Blu-ray that a stretch of footage has been inserted from an inferior source for purposes of completion (see insert photo above)

Years ago, Naschy stated in an interview that none of the directors he'd worked for wanted to direct horror features, doing them strictly for the paycheck. Bonns's action-centric horror film is a clear example of that. He makes this strange brew work although Naschy would master this mixture directing himself in the aforementioned THE BEAST AND THE MAGIC SWORD (1983); wherein Daninsky's wolfman finds himself in Feudal Japan battling samurai and demons.

One of the memorable characters is Wandesa, played by Silvia Solar. Sekkar Khan may be the head Mongol in charge, but Wandesa the Wicked Warden pulls the strings. There's cursory hints that she may be in the process of usurping Khan's power, but the plot moves too quickly from one set piece to the next; and is too densely populated for an 87 minute running time to allow much of these narrative strands a chance to grow. Basically the Himalayan Ilsa (now that would've been an interesting team-up with Daninsky), Wandesa has a thing for flaying women alive and Waldemar's animal magnetism.

The wolfman makeup is more dog-like than previous incarnations; even less effective if some shots compared with other Daninsky outings. Elsewhere, the gore FX are very well done, though; one shot that is particularly potent is the fate of the Larry Talbot character (yes, a character is named after Chaney, Jr's classic howling man)--left for dead with a sharpened stake thrust into his rectum and exiting his shoulder; this being a popular method of torture and execution in European and Asian territories. Additionally, the realistic cuts and bruises on his face are beneficial to the efficacy of the artists involved.

With all the pluses this exploitation achievement has to offer, arguably the biggest disappointment of THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI is the appearance of the Yeti itself. You see him at the beginning and again at the end; both appearances amounting to maybe 2 minutes of footage. He's briefly mentioned early on, then quickly forgotten about. The movie is crammed full of everything else to the point that the abominable beast isn't missed at all. Once you see the Yeti suit, you wonder why they even bothered. 

According to the director, he was displeased with the finished costume and there wasn't time or money to furnish another. The clash of the title titans isn't much of a fight, anyway. Still, the goofy Yeti just adds to the trashy charm of everything.

Of passing interest is the fact that a Tibetan Yeti bite was the cause of Daninsky's accursed condition in the awful, but awfully entertaining, THE FURY OF THE WOLFMAN (1971). While Tibet was FURY's source of lycanthropic transference seen via a fleeting flashback, it's the primary locale of this movie... well, the Pyrenees subbing for it. Further, while the bite of an Abominable Snowman can turn a man into a wolfman in FURY's world, in the land of this YETI, a werewolf bite has the opposite effect on his shaggy opponent.

Another point of interest worth mentioning is that THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI is the sole Paul Naschy movie to be banned in the UK; making the Video Nasties list in Great Britain as per the Video Recordings Act of 1984. Such scenes as Naschy's three-way and Wandesa relieving a naked woman of the skin off her back being the likely culprits.

There's not a kitchen sink in sight, but there's a little bit of everything in this exotic cornucopia of carnage that is sure to please exploitation fans. The snowy location is unique and a nice change of scenery from the usual fog-enshrouded moors; isolated rural villages; and moldy castles indigenous to these movies. The actor's action-packed opus is a high-point of Spanish genre cinema, and an early example of the sort of action horror that would take hold years later in America. One of Paul Naschy's most kinetic productions, THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI is silly escapism that never fails to entertain.

This review is representative of the 5 disc Shout! Factory THE PAUL NASCHY COLLECTION II. Specs and Extras: 1.33:1 1080p HD master; English dubbed version; Spanish language with English subtitles; still gallery; running time: 01:27:38

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Living Head (1963) review


Ana Luisa Peluffo (Marta), Mauricio Garces (Roberto), German Robles (Professor Mueller), Abel Salazar (Inspector Toledo), Guillermo Cramer (Xiu), Antonio Raxel (Professor Urquizo), Salvador Lozano (Professor Rivas)

Directed by Chano Urueta

***WARNING! This review contains nudity***

The Short Version: Arguably the best (which isn't saying a lot) of Mexico's B/W Mummy movies even if there isn't a traditional cloth-wrapped shambler; everything else is the same, though, just the mythology has been tweaked. German Robles steps out of his vampire cloak and steps into Peter Cushing mode as one of three professors that desecrate an Aztec tomb--successfully setting the obligatory revenge in motion; slow motion, but motion nonetheless. Not as insanely goofy as THE BRAINIAC or even remotely as classy as THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN, glaring plot holes and random stupidity render THE LIVING HEAD dead from the neck up.

A trio of archaeologists uncover the ancient Aztec tomb of Acatl, a great warrior killed by a traitorous priest centuries ago. Once inside, the diggers find Acatl's decapitated head and the mummies of his high priest and priestess, Xiu and Xochiquetzal. The released pressure of the sepulcher disintegrates the beautiful priestess leaving only dust and a strange ring with an eye in the center. Ignoring the warning of the Aztecs that all desecrators will die, the scientists return home with the head of Acatl, the mummy of Xiu and the Ring of Death. It isn't long before Xiu returns to life and, commanded by the head of the Acatl, seeks revenge for the defilement.

Mexican horror movies were often a startlingly unique blend of imitation and originality. Taking their cues from the B/W Univeral horrors of the 30s and 40s, they set themselves apart with Mexican culture, folklore, and a wildly creative sense of the macabre; or, in some cases, all three together. THE LIVING HEAD falls into the latter camp. Sadly, writers Federico Curiel and Adolfo Lopez Portillo aren't entirely successful in melding this trio of elements to create something as memorably absurd as THE BRAINIAC (1961) or the perpetually gothic ambiance of THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN (1963).

Director Chano Urueta has directed some of the most wildly chaotic examples of Mexican cinema such as the aforementioned THE BRAINIAC (1961), THE WITCH'S MIRROR (1961); and several of the Blue Demon entries--notably the hilariously grotesque Lucha Sci-Spy flick BLUE DEMON AGAINST THE INFERNAL BRAINS (1968). The no-holds barred style of those films is mostly absent here. That's not to say THE LIVING HEAD is bereft of entertainment, it simply sacrifices the Ed Woodian level of assertive unreality for the sake of being taken serious... and isn't entirely successful there, either.

Unrelated to the AZTEC MUMMY series, THE LIVING HEAD links itself to them with its backdrop of Aztecan folklore. What it doesn't have are criminal organizations, masked wrestlers, or a monstrous mummy that can transform itself into bats and spiders. Not unlike its genuinely mummified antecedent from 1957, THE AZTEC MUMMY, this one is straight horror. Despite there being actual monsters in those movies, HEAD bests them because its plot is built specifically around the horror of its title character. The AZTEC MUMMY series gives you very little Mummy action--the monster relegated to what amounts to cameo appearances in his own movies.

Sharing the same writing duo from Urueta's THE BRAINIAC (1961), it's essentially the same movie (even borrowing some of its musical cues) from a narrative perspective, but reworking various plot points; as well as trading BRAIN's deliriousness for HEAD's lethargy that takes over in the second half of the movie.

Outside of some intriguing spins on Mummy myths and Aztecan lore, THE LIVING HEAD was thinking clear enough to cast a number of high profile Mexican movie stars whom were well-known in their home country. 

The one most familiar to international fans was the late, great German Robles--famous for, among other things, the classic EL VAMPIRO (1957); and several other vampire roles. Urueta's movie sees him cast in a Peter Cushing type role--akin to Cushing's professor in Hammer's THE MUMMY from 1959. Robles' Professor Mueller is given a bit more to grapple with as he not only must contend with the possible loss of his own life, but that of his daugher and son-in-law. Robles played a similar character in Urueta's THE BRAINIAC, but in a less significant part compared to Abel Salazar's title encephalon sucker. You can read our tribute article to Robles HERE.

The other male lead was popular actor Mauricio Garces. Being something of a ladies man in his movies (offscreen he was said to have been a very lonely man who was dedicated to his mother), this Mexican Clark Gable (whom he favors) will be recognizable to fans of these movies from the likes of Rene Cardona's LA LLORONA (1960); the lead protagonist in Alfonso Carona Blake's THE WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES (1961); and in a smaller capacity in the kooky cult favorite THE BRAINIAC (1961) for Urueta. As for HEAD, Garces plays both the romantic lead and the living melon, belonging to the Aztec chieftain, Acatl. 

The lovely Ana Luisa Peluffo doubles as both Xochiquetzal of ancient times, and her reincarnated form as Marta. She doesn't have a lot to do till the end; remaining in a nightgown throughout much of the movie. She only starred in a few genre pictures like THE INVISIBLE MAN IN MEXICO (1958), THE WOMAN AND THE BEAST (1959), and the Blue Demon Lucha Sci-Spy flick, PASSPORT TO DEATH (1968). 

Ms. Peluffo created quite a stir in 1955 when, in one of her first roles, became the first Mexican actress to appear nude in a movie. The film, called THE FORCE OF DESIRE, saw her playing a model who drives a wedge between two men who desire her attention; one of the men was played by frequent Mexi-horror collaborator, Abel Salazar. Peluffo stirred the pot further in her next feature, THE SEDUCTOR (1955), her first for Chano Urueta. Ms. Peluffo found herself involved in a scandal of another sort ten years later in 1965 when a journalist was found dead in her swimming pool on June 27th of that year. She nonetheless amassed over 200 credits for film and television; making her one of the most prolific actresses of her time. Her first film credit was in the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan flick, TARZAN AND THE MERMAIDS (1948).

There's not a great deal to recommend THE LIVING HEAD, although the fleeting instances of atmosphere and flashes of gore with bloody hearts ripped from chest cavities are among the film's minimal qualities. The opening Aztec temple sequence is engaging as is the opening of the crypt that follows. The disintegration of Xochiquetzal's mummified remains is a nice in-camera effect. And yet, had Urueta's movie been more outrageous in its potential for loopiness, the inadequacies would've worked in the picture's favor. 

The possibilities for another BRAINIAC were all here--a severed head that lives; a walking corpse that carves out human hearts; an accursed ring with a glowing eyeball at its center... instead, crippling lapses in logic derail the serious tone the filmmakers wish to establish. Questions arise like...

After the first murder, why don't the police cordon off professor Mueller's house as a crime scene? After the second killing why don't the police bother to remove the gory evidence in the room with the mummy where, lying on the tray holding Acatl's severed head, sits a freshly removed heart? Why is the mummy and Acatl's noggin kept in Professor Mueller's home anyway--as opposed to a museum? What classy lady would ever want to wear a ring with an eyeball on it? 

During one attack sequence, the victim is right next to an open door. Does he escape? No. He runs over into a corner. Why doesn't the policeman instantly realize something is amiss when he finds Marta brandishing the same knife the Mummy was holding while she stands in a trance-like state in her father's room? These are some of the plentiful, perplexing plotting malfunctions littering the production. Others involve the character of Xiu, the movie's "Mummy".

After he's revived, Xiu lumbers around for a chunk of the flick, gruesomely killing the desecrators of the tomb by cutting out their hearts. Towards the end, though, Xiu becomes more spry, running and leaping around the set--diminishing his otherworldy menace. Additionally, his mission to kill the infidels is inexplicably given to other players for no discernible reason than a late-blooming plot point used as a convenient means to kill off the antagonists.

Guillermo Cramer plays Xiu, the musclebound Mummy who isn't wrapped too tightly; actually, he isn't wrapped at all. Unlike the Aztec Mummy series, this ancient shambler looks the same as the time of his death centuries earlier. In later scenes when Xiu is sleeping in his sarcophagus, you can see him breathing. Guillermo Cramer appeared in dozens of movies, including two others dealing with cranial removal; THE HEAD OF PANCHO VILLA and THE RIDER WITHOUT A HEAD (both 1957).

THE LIVING HEAD was one of the titles to have been released by CasaNegra Entertainment, a label specializing in classic Mexican cinema; all exquisitely restored to a level not normally afforded niche market fare like this. Surfacing in 2006, the company was out of business roughly a year later. Nineteen titles were reported to be under their banner, but only half of them saw release. THE LIVING HEAD, along with the superior THE WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES, were both announced, but never released. Both titles were put out by Bach Films in France. The latter title also received an Italian DVD release from Luigi Cozzi's Sinister Films as LA VENDETTA DEL VAMPIRO. HEAD, however, had its English version previous available via Something Weird video, paired with THE LIVING COFFIN (1959). Creature Feature Video put out an English subbed edition from what is presumably a Spanish language VHS (the source of this review).

HEAD's first 20-30 minutes are very good, yet Urueta is unable to maintain his assured hand for the duration. As the picture nears the finale, it takes forever to finish. Characters move around like molasses dripping from a bottle; it's as if the filmmakers realized they were coming up short on footage and simply had cast members take turns being put under trances to pad the scenes of walking from set to another. Mummy completists and Mexi-horror mavens will want to see it--and likely the best audience to get the most out of this headless horror hokum. In the end, THE LIVING HEAD isn't good enough to stand alongside Mexi-horror's best; nor is it bad enough to share a spot with it's best of the worst.

Feature running time: 01:15:00 

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