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Paul Naschy (real name: Jacinto Molina) was a horror star in Spain in the 70s. He was originally a weightlifter, but he wrote a werewolf film, and was persuaded to star in it. He went on to make a lot of werewolf films, always playing the same character: Waldemar Daninsky, a man cursed to turn into an unconvincing wolfman at full moon. Naschy also played a vast array of other classic horror characters in his time and tried his hand at gangster movies and gialli. Very few of his films were well known outside of Spain, although in recent years a lot of them have been made available through DVD. He remains under-represented, though, with a lot of choice looking horror morsels still beyond the grasp of the English-speaking world.
This, from 1971, is one of his Waldemar films, although as with most Naschy films, it throws in a lot of other stuff to try to keep us entertained.
The film begins with Waldemar coming back from the dead when a doctor removes some silver bullets from his corpse - I guess this leads on directly from the previous film in the series. Then he vanishes for a while as we follow two intrepid young archaeology students, both female. Genevieve and Elvira are looking for the tomb of a notorious medieval witch/vampire called Wandesa as part of a college assignment. It's somewhere in rural North France (the whole film is set in France, despite being filmed in Spain; at some point someone is seen looking at postcards of Paris landmarks, which is the cheapest ever attempt I've seen at fooling us we're in France).
When they get near the tomb their car breaks down, but happily the owner of a local ruined monastery is at hand and offers to put them up for a few nights. This is none other than Waldemar himself, and soon the less pretty girl (Elvira) is falling for his manly charms. Of course, when they find the vampire's tomb they accidentally bring her back to life by pulling the silver cross out of her chest and dripping blood on her mouth (all by accident!). Genevieve gets vampirised, and Waldemar has his usual trouble when there's a full moon. Elvira's anxious boyfriend, a policeman, tries to find her before it's too late.
Most of Naschy's films are very similar, plot-wise. There's almost always a few city dwellers (often women) who get stranded in a remote, rural area where they encounter the supernatural along with human bandits. It's also fairly usual for an ancient evil sorcerer or vampire to be re-awakened, and to immediately claim one of the female characters as a victim. And Waldemar is forever falling in love with women he's just met (they usually fall in love with him, too, although why is anyone's guess).
Naschy's films always have a faintly amateurish feel about them, and so it is with this one. The biggest problem is the leading man himself. Paul Naschy was not a good actor. He could gibber and snarl quite well when he'd got the wolfman makeup on, but human emoting was quite beyond his abilities. The other issue is that he was really very short - Elvira is comfortably taller than he is. This is a problem in a horror star, as the great horror stars tended to be well over six foot. It's very difficult to take a werewolf seriously when he's shorter than most of the women he's trying to attack. Naschy's weightlifting days left him with a barrel chest and a generally stocky build that make him seem even shorter than he probably was - he likely has the lowest centre of gravity of any of the horror stars, which isn't really a major advantage. The other cast members walk through their stock parts with a certain languor, but no one really lets the side down.
The film isn't badly directed in some respects - there's the odd nicely framed shot, and the poor day-for-night photography does at least lend the film a more interesting, darker colour palette than in the daytime scenes. But the special effects are lousy. A decapitated corpse is one of the most half-arsed, amateur effects I've ever seen, and most of the gore is pretty weak. It's not a very violent film, mainly I suspect because the effects budget wouldn't stretch to much in the way of gore. At one point Waldemar as a werewolf seems to be trying to dry hump a (male) victim to death.
There's quite a lot of nudity, though (although no actual sex), including scenes of blood dripping down naked boobs, something the BBFC used to get quite worked up about. Happily this seems to be uncensored. The most unpleasant thing in the film is probably the way Naschy slobbers when he's in wolfman mode. The werewolf makeup isn't terrible, although his furry hands are very obviously gloves. It looks a lot like Lon Chaney Jr's makeup in the old Universal films; Chaney was Naschy's hero, which makes a lot of sense. Of all the horror stars, Chaney was by far the least accomplished actor.
A good taste of the style of dialogue comes when Waldemar's handyman is driving Elvira to a nearby village. He comes out with an amazing monologue when she asks him to take her to the post office. "Hm. There is no post office. But I would like you to see our nice butcher's shop. There are many other interesting things in our village, like our peaceful little cemetery. I go every Sunday. You know, people are afraid of those who live near the monastery. Ha ha. They think I'm crazy. You don't think I'm crazy do you? I get angry when people think I'm crazy. Well, I have a good reputation. I think all people should have a good reputation. Yes I do. Did you hear all about the woman? She was found murdered last night. Near where you are living. Some say a werewolf tore open her throat. Even I have been under suspicion. You know, I never killed anyone. No. People blab all the time. They say a lot of things about me. It is only lies they are spreading. All lies, and none of them are true. You're very beautiful. I love your long red hair. It's lovely. [Elvira is blonde.] Don't ever cut it. Why do women cut their hair? Maybe they think it makes them look nicer. But it doesn't, not at all. You know, I think I could like you. You know, there are many women I don't like. Not at all. Urgh."
This is great because a) it's delivered in a bland, conversational tone and b) Elvira doesn't react in any way at all, she just sits there blankly. It's presumably meant to mark the guy out as some kind of psycho, but it just comes across as the most banal stream of consciousness ever.
Werewolf Shadow is moderately entertaining, as all Naschy's films are, but probably not worth seeing unless you're an actual fan. The best thing about it is probably the frothy lounge tune that plays over the closing credits (and doesn't seem to fit terribly well with the supposedly tragic events of the film's last few minutes). Naschy is inherently loveable, but the idea of Naschy tends to be slightly more entertaining than the reality.
The picture quality on the DVD is pretty good for such a cheap film of the era. The version here has obviously been pieced together from various sources, as one (rather dull) scene hasn't been dubbed into English, and is presented in Spanish with subtitles. The rest of the film is dubbed, not terribly well.
Aside from various trailers for the film and a pretty decent image gallery, the only real extra is a 15-minute interview with Naschy. He comes across as a likeable guy, although his apparent belief that he can stand shoulder to shoulder with other horror stars like Peter Lorre or Bela Lugosi requires a level of indulgence that's rather beyond me. Good to know that the 'Naschy' and 'Waldemar' were the names of other weightlifters, and there are plenty of clips from other Naschy movies.
This is a pretty good presentation of a largely forgettable horror movie. Naschy may feel like a slightly odd horror footnote (he died a couple of years ago, sadly, but was still making movies until the end). But Naschy (along with the shabby director Jess Franco) kickstarted Spain's horror boom, which was responsible for some genuinely worthwhile films in the 70s. If for nothing else, he deserves to be remembered for that. You still probably don't need to see this, though.