Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Night Visions MH12: Werewolves Too

Aroo! It's another full moon tonight. Since during the last one I wrote a little about werewolf cinema through the ages, it comes to reason to use this opportunity to write about the three werewolf movies screened at Night Visions Maximum Halloween Festival this year. Just don't allow my animal instincts to take over or anything.

The Howling (USA, 1981)
Director: Joe Dante

The Howling is probably the most serious horror film in director Joe Dante's career. That doesn't mean the movie would be entirely without Dante's trademarks, such as sly media satire, cartoonish gags and a Dick Miller cameo. It's just that they are less in-your-face in this one than most of his other work. This was his first foray outside the safety of Roger Corman's production facilities, and Dante set out to make a name for himself. By strange coincidence, a kindred spirit in John Landis was also working at the same time to make a loving horror-comedy homage to the scary movies of the olden times. Both were successful, but Dante's film was the one that gained a big string of sequels (that had little to nothing to do with the first film). So that goes to show at least which the audiences dug more.

Ace reporter Karen White (Dee Wallace) is burned out by the hectic nature and ruthless story hunting that comes along with the job. She gains the affections of the brutal, animalistic serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo). Karen attempts to help the police capture him by luring him into a trap, and plans to gain a new story for her trouble. Yet the plot backfires and she has to come face to face with evil. Luckily Eddie is shot by the cops before he has a chance to hurt Karen. The reportress finally has enough of everything and takes off with her boyfriend Bill (Christopher Stone) to a couples' resort in the middle of a dark forest. Yet even the hard-nosed journalist has little idea of what she's in for, when the odd stalker hasn't really dies, and follows her to the resort. But he may not be the only beast around, either.

As many post-modern horror films would do since then, The Howling rewrites several rules of used by classic horror films. It also makes the characters aware of the previous body of work. The Wolf Man is watched on TV and ancient lycantrophy myths repeated by the characters. Yet the movie also differentiates from the norm in that werewolves in here are not just psychologically repressed, primal animals. They are highly sexual beasts. The monsters may reveal themselves during sex, and to every one of them is attached a strong sexual urge the conventional white-bread couples can't satisfy with their shallow imaginations.

Dante's satire's main target are modern people, who have little room for superstition and legends and has thus turned into cynical, boring yuppies, husks of people. The very 80's ideas of thinking psychiatry and self-help could cure deep psychological problems better than old-timey ways, earn Dante's bitter dismissal. He's all for old tales, mysticism and romanitiscm as opposed to a narrow world view. Every person has already seen enough on TV to not take anything seriously any more.

Most of the film relies on old-time moodness, dark shots, misty moors and eloquent set design. As such the ending that's crawling with rubber-suited werewolf monsters feels a bit overblown and even anticlimatic. When dealing with werewolves, the transformation scenes are usually a lot more terrifying than the appear of the actual monster, just growls and bad postures. The climax echoes the ending of David Cronenberg's Shivers a little. Sexually liberated people have overthrown the masses and the regulars are in the minority now, making a hasty escape.

Like his subsequent work would prove, Dante often prefers to take the side of the free-minded monsters rather than white-bread "normal" people. Perhaps there's a liberation coming up after the credits have rolled.
★★★ 1/2

Game of Werewolves (Lobos de Arga, Spain 2011)
Director: Juan Martínez Moreno

This Spanish film movie is known in Japan as Wolfman Village: The Worst Countryside Ever!  As one can guess, this one keeps things quite silly. A lot of the comedy is based on the fact that the film is set on the most backwards and superstitious of Spanish regions. The villagers of the small village of Argahave a lot to hide from the outside world, not limited to the major plot-driving curse. A bastard son of a rich marquis and a gypsy becomes a werewolf that would terrorize the village for hundreds of years. The family of Mariño carries the cursed blood and triggers the horror while present.

The modern-day descendent of Mariño, Tomás (Gorka Otxoa) is a horror writer who is suffering from a writer's block. He grew up in Arga, and has inherited the house he lived in as a child, so after a bitter divorce, he arrives with his dog to reclaim his old possessions and memories. He hits up with his two old friends, Calisto (Carlos Areces) and Mario (Secun de la Rosa). But the anger-ridden and fearful villagers don't take kindly to Tomás's arrival and plan to sacrifice him to the beast in order to finally get rid of the curse. Sure enough, since Tomás wants to live, and the misfortune of the villagers, the plan backfires and soon the whole village is infested with furry beasts.

The Howling and several other classic horror comedies are a clear inspiration for the movie in general. It can be seen in the film's humor, that manage to be somewhat cute, a little icky and even quite mean in turn. The most egregious jokes are the gross-out buddy comedy bits, often quite tackily inserted among all the action. If one is running from werewolves, a good main character should not start reminiscing about the time his best childhood buddy fucked a sheep but keep his mind on the point. Also, one fat and dumb sidekick should be enough for one comedy film. This one has two.

A much better comic character is the kick-ass police officer played by Luis Zahera. Logical and quick-witted to the max, he is also used sparingly enough for the audience to want more.

A nice touch to all the action and running around is that the werewolves themselves are made with actual prosthetics and masks rather than CGI-rendered. The Hammer-like set design also works wonders for the mood and the contrasting crass comedy and traditional horror imagery play together quite well for the most part. Props also to director Moreno for not going too easy with his characters. In a true Sam Raimi fashion, they have to suffer severe injuries and humiliations throughout the film to survive, especially in the wickedly mean final scene.


The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman (La noche de Walpurgis, 1971)
Director: Léon Klimovsky

Night Visions also offered a look into the major Spanish horror series about Count Waldemar Daninsky. The Count is better known as The Werewolf, or El Hombre Lobo, and battled with his curse and various other monsters in 12 films through the decades. Thus, he was clearly one of the most popular Spanish movie characters of all time, shadowing even Torrente.

That is even though he looks more like a werespaniel or a were-guinea pig.

The 5th movie of the series boasts the simultaneously odd, dumb and cool tagline: See it with someone you hate. Alas, I didn't have any enemies close by, or even people I was mildly disapproval of. Whether this would have improved on the movie, I couldn't say.

In the beginning Daninsky's (played by Paul Naschy) supposedly dead body is investigated in the morgue by two coroners. Since one is superstitious and the other a hard-nosed man of science, the latter attempts to prove that it's not possible for Daninsky to have actually been a werewolf. So, he removes the silver bullets from his heart, which of course makes the body come alive, turn into a monster, kill the doctors and escape to the woods. The shots of kind-of silly Wolf Man knock-off wandering around the forest growling and drooling are quite amusing for a while.

Meanwhile, two young and beautiful students, Elvira (Gaby Fuchs) and Genevieve (Barbara Capell), spend their summer vacation in a castle in Transylvania. To pass the time, they look for an ancient tomb, where, legend has it, the Vampire Countess Wandessa is buried. Bumbling around, they manage to find the corpse and drop some blood into her mouth, reviving her. But luckily Elvira stumbles upon the human-formed Daninsky, and the pair fall in love. To prove to Elvira that he's not just a murderous, brutal beast, Danisnsky takes it to his heart to protect the girls from the blood-thirsty Countess and her vampiric minions.

I've got to say, I couldn't manage to keep awake through the whole thing (it was 5 in the morning), so actually I missed the part when the monsters actually met and battled. My friend informed me that I didn't miss much, it mostly involved hokey special effects and throwing people around the room. So it sounds a bit like pro wrestling, then. The film had a few gigglesome scenes, due to the odd behavior of various characters. The set design and overall feel wasn't bad, but not that special, either. All together the movie is not something I would go out of my way to find anywhere.

Since I didn't see the whole movie, it's stars could go anywhere between ★ and ★★★★★.

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