A werewolves filmography (II): sagas and TV series
This is the second part of my list of films dedicated to the genre of the werewolves. This one compiles both film productions that has been turned into a saga of several deliveries and television series in which these creatures of the night make appearance, albeit briefly.
Last update: 06/01/2012
Cycle of Waldemar Daninsky
Set of movies connected by Waldemar Daninsky (who is supposed to be based on a medieval nobleman named Gilles de Rais), a character popularized by Paul Naschy (stage name of Spanish actor Jacinto Molina Alvarez), who since then become a benchmark of the horror genre to the point of being considered the Spanish equivalent of Lon Chaney Jr.
Besides the main character himself, any of the films follows continuity, but rather they are self contained stories, to the extent that the curse has different origins on each production. Before the death of Jacinto Molina, 12 films were filmed, one of which remains unreleased as it is rumored that it even remains unfinished.
Frankenstein’s bloody terror
Work that served as a letter of introduction to Paul Naschy, who would be considered a referent in horror films gender since then. In this tale he plays the role of Count Valdemar Daninsky, who having been bitten by an old werewolf awakened from its lethargy, is looking for a cure (doesn’t it sound somehow familiar?). In general terms this is a quite entertaining film despite its considerable flaws. For commenting some of them, the behaviour of the count when changed to a werewolf makes him look more fool than savage (specially during the first conversion), not so when in human form nor when the beast tries to come out. In this time, Naschy is able to perform in a very convincing way.
Script could have been, so to speak, much better too; and as it advances, it merely shows more characters and situations that apparently have something to do with the plot. The same applies to effects and some stages, which look like not well-disguised papier-maché. The best part of the film is the gothic atmosphere that impregnates each minute, obtained due to the typical (and cliché) elements as the stages showing ancient manors, crypts and dungeons full of cobwebs, dark forests, howlings in the night and even a vampire with red cloak. All this accompanied with a wonderfully played gloomy music.
A final curiosity: in spite of the English title (well, one of them), neither doctor Frankenstein nor his creature appears in any moment.
Originally titled Walpurgis Night, this is just one among many other Spanish horror films which were produced between the 60s and at the beginning of the 80s, characterized for their limited budget and emphasize in portraying lightly dressed women (if they’re wearing any clothes at all) and more aimed at showing bloody scenes than to scare. This time it’s a werewolf versus she-vampires crossover, and other than that idea the plot doesn’t have much to offer.
First half of the film is even interesting, though later on it wanes until being just a succession of mostly boring scenes. As already stated at the beginning, the same old stuff. Nonetheless, today is considered a classic film of the gender.
Ginger Snaps started as a Canadian production of not too high budget. It became a cult work short after, extending the original film to form a trilogy was made possible, having both sequels their premiere in the same year. Within the horror gender, we could classify it as personal horror with broad reminiscences from gore (or vice versa).
Is obvious that the plot itself isn’t anything new in the gender, starting from an idea already stated in An American werewolf in London (and its sequel? Parisian remake?), just to mention one of them: a teenager is bitten by what at first sight seems to be a huge dog, and from here on some (very few) brutal murders are committed, at the same time the girl undergoes the changing. To stand out, however, the good use, in the original movie, of the metaphor that associates the werewolf shapeshiftng with regard to the changes in puberty. It seems this kind of allegories works really good in the horror film gender, having been successfully used in other productions such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The first film starts from the social misfit (o rejected) teenager archetype, Ginger and Emily, two sisters who are obsessed with the death and who accidentally become infected with the curse of lycanthropy when they’re planning revenge against a school classmate. Anything really original, as already stated. From here on starts the mentioned metaphor about adolescence and lycanthropy, including some torrid moments that, however, don’t fall in the vulgarism of explicit (and unnecessary) scenes.
In this first installment the plot is needlessly prolonged, being the last half an hour a pile of not really skillfully chained scenes, pretending to delay the ending as much as possible (though it doesn’t become unworthy of watching it). It can be summarized as, after a slowly but continued advance, this passage gathers the scream and chasing scenes that are inherent to the gender and that more than one spectator was already missing.
The second installment (Ginger Snaps 2: unleashed) is an epilogue that I don’t think was really needed to be done. Continuing the intrigue about the slowly but inevitable metamorphosis, one of sisters is finally interned in a rehabilitation hospital after being taken for a drug addict, as she usually injects herself some wolfbane to alleviate the infection. And in case it wasn’t just enough, an old familiar to them makes his appearance…
With an interesting and appealing beginning, the narration however doesn’t lead to be as intriguing (maybe because of what is to come is in outline speaking already known) and later on in the film, they stressed the action more than the characters development. Therefore, not being much more developed than in the previous film, the script is a bit more austere to some extent, despite the ending leaves the way opened to new sequels.
On the positive side, the story is focused in the physical changes more than in the hormonal changes, besides offering a more supernatural (or maybe just schizophrenic?) atmosphere in some scenes.
Despite its subtitle (Ginger Snaps back: the beginning), the third film, is more of an alternative remake than a prelude, some kind of “what if…?”, so to say, of the original film. Giving the impression to be an explanation no one has asked for, the public consider this one the worst of the three films without a doubt.
And I say this is more of a remake because the main characters are the same (at least, in appearance and name), despite the story takes place around the XIX century, one of the sisters is inadvertently bitten and they don’t even explain the origin of the first lycanthropes. Aside from the historical period, secondary school is replaced by a fort where the young girls arrive after their parents pass away during a shipwreck, and this time the residents know and explain them about the existence of the beasts.
Some archetypes associated to that historical period aren’t missed, like the fanatical puritan, the Indian hunter and the Indian she-shaman. The later, by the way, would be the one who triggers the visions so distinctive in the series, though this time they are more of Indian mysticism than of lycanthropic nightmare.
The bigger difference in regard with the style is probably as this one has been filmed as a more “serious” production, in a more formal tone and a lesser teen mood than the former films (this is one of the more criticized aspects in general terms). Though this doesn’t pose a big problem, it do lose some of the essence which was so characteristic in the series. I also stand out, in the negative side, the already usual bad habit of fast and continuous camera moving in these scenes (just two or three, luckily) when they try to capture a feeling of intrigue and strain, but instead of archiving this as expected, they are just able to get the spectator muddled and losing focus in the action. (I particularly think that the only films in which this effect has been successfully used are those in the Evil Dead saga, but I digress).
Coming back to the series as a whole, performances in general terms are right for the gender, standing out the excellent acting of the main actresses, Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins. Especially the latter, who carries out perfectly her role of a introverted and shy teenager. In the technical section is of great appreciation that they’ve decided to use traditional make-up and prosthesis instead of the, quite often, overrated digital effects, showing a pretty meticulous and realist looking that is subtly enhanced in further installments.
In a nutshell, it consists of a not quite original series for its conception but able to tell a story that, despite being a teenager product, is much more enjoyable and pleasantly to be watched than most films of the gender. I also have to emphasize the bittersweet taste (in the original film and its prequel) and the intriguing open ending (in the sequel), all them fortunately being far away from the cloying and more than usual endings they use to present in the films of that kind: either happy characters after the disappearance of the antagonistic or the, by no means, last-minute appearance of the typical monster/murderer who pounces on the survivors.
Though both the first and the fourth movies were film adaptations from a novel, any of the movies closely follows it, and they aren’t related either other than sharing the title. Instead, they tell independent tales. Until now seven issues has been opened, the last one in 1995.
Based on a novel with the same name, it is now considered one of the best classic from the gender, besides having started a long series. Its special effects are better than most similar movies and while not taking all the gore too far it shows a few bloody scenes. Despite lycanthropes in this film seems to be somewhat stupid sometimes, generally speaking it does worth having a look at it.
The plot starts from a quite more original premise than usual for this kind of films. An anchorwoman, being stalked by a serial murderer, helps the police to seize him. After shooting (and killing) the assassin, the woman escapes unharmed but now he suffers amnesia, so the doctor looking after her decides to send both the woman and her husband to a colony at the outskirts. Once there, they will find that the inhabitants of the colony are somehow outrageous and that some strange creatures swarm around. What happens later is obvious.
The howling III: the marsupials
Wasted production that, for explaining some original concepts, could have been a good and interesting tape. Even the ending, different to the usual ones, feels excessively optimistic for a film of the gender. The story begins with a scientific interested in investigate a strange lycanthropic breed in Australia, to be later centered in one of the female lycanthropes. However it hops along, showing one scene after the former, assuming the spectator knows how they’ve reach that point, so it results in an editing that feels confusing sometimes.
Some dialogues are a joke and performances are quite irregular. Though costumes are pretty bad, some other effects (as the puppies and the intermediate state of changing) are very suitable. In the good side, note some interested ideas are offered, as the approach that lycanthropes are a marsupial race and that the shapechanging isn’t related to full moon but to other circumstances.
The howling IV: the original nightmare
Forgettable sort of remake of the original film, with obviously the same plot, though it’s said of this new one to be more faithful to the original tale by Gary Brandner.
It tries to be an enigmatic story by means of the visions the main character views and the strange disappearances that have happened, and it manages to do at first, but due to the slow development of the plot, it finally stays up in the air.
Nothing happens at all during the first hour, beyond the leading couple going to the refuge and that something is told about the background of the place. We’ll have to wait until the last half hour until werewolves appear, turning out the end to be clumsy and hasty, so anticlimactic that it even look as half finished.
Despite the director poor talent, performances are acceptable, Romy Windsor as the main character even stands out in some moments. Though special effects look cheap (such as the make-up used for the hybrid form of the werewolves), the shapeshifting scene isn’t bad at all.
The howling VI: the freaks
A vagrant who transforms himself in a werewolf during full moon nights is captured by the owner of a carnival and added to his freak party, though he finally reveals himself as a supernatural being himself.
In some way, it seems to pay homage to the crossovers of classic cinema, endowed with an interesting atmosphere but sadly not displaying all its potential, as usually happens in almost all the installments of the series.
Special effects feel artificial and the limited use of music along the footage reduces the dramatic strain, though the final fight between the werewolf and the vampire is notable.
The Wolf Man
Sage of the probably most well known lycanthrope in the film world, Larry Talbot, brilliantly personified by Lon Chaney Jr. in five productions. In these, the Wolf Man would meet other creatures of the undying Universal, that is, the monster of Frankenstein and Count Dracula. They would also serve to found some topics clichés in the gender, such as the transfiguration associated with full moon (from the second film on).
The Wolf Man
A Lon Chaney Jr. classic film, with Bela Lugosi playing the role of a gypsy. It’s a traditional story about the tragedy of the man who, after being converted in a monster, is in search of a cure while the enraged villagers chase after him. The silver as a death element for the lycanthrope is already present, though full moon isn’t the trigger for shapeshifting yet, but instead the blooming time of aconite.
At present, special effects seem to be quite cheap and the werewolf appearance looks almost comical (though in the time it meant a great job in designing and makeup) and there isn’t even a shapeshifting scene, as censorship in the time prevented it.
However, the film is provided with a great visual and musical atmosphere, as well as in a personal level, due the actors, even some supporting ones, do a job worthy of admiration.
All them as a whole manage to offer a narration that, despite its little drawbacks (mainly in the plot), has become a must seen classic film for every enthusiast to the gender.
Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man
Despite the title makes it looks like a B-movie (and, to a certain extent, it is), this film is a classic B&W horror film with some stunning interpretations (it is worth highlighting the marvelous expressiveness of Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man). Bela Lugosi performance as the Frankenstein monster is quite worth seeing, in spite of the stiff gait of the monster, near of ridiculous looking.
The weak point in the film is the script, which contains some noticeable inconsistencies. By the way, the plot itself doesn’t consists in just a fight between the two supernatural beings, but rather it starts with the lycanthrope searching for a cure to its curse -which theoretically can be found in the manuscripts of doctor Frankenstein.
Even if special effects are far from being amazing, they are quite effective for the time of the film. Some passages stand out, as they are gloomy but beautiful, as the Frankenstein Castle or the scene inside the crypt that is the beginning of the tale itself. Together with the ghostly music and the characteristic dark tones in that kind of productions, they achieve to present a disturbing and lugubrious atmosphere.