El Retorno del Hombre Lobo (Return of the Wolfman) is a 1981 Spanish horror film that is the ninth in a long series about the werewolf Count Waldemar Daninsky, played by Paul Naschy.
It was briefly released theatrically in the US in 1985 by The Film Concept Group as The Craving, and more recently on DVD and Blu-ray as Night of the Werewolf.
At an outdoor trial in the 16th century, Elizabeth Bathory and a number of witches are being sentenced – Bathory to spend her remaining days entombed, most of her followers beheaded or hanged.
The brawn of her operation, Waldemar Daninsky, the celebrated nobleman-lycanthrope, is sentenced to be left in a state of living death, with a silver dagger through his heart and an iron mask (the mask of shame, no less) to keep him from biting.
Centuries later, the dagger is removed by grave-robbers and Daninsky returns to activity, fighting against a revived Elizabeth Bathory and her demonic manservant, courtesy of some attractive modern-day witchery.
Aside from Italian gialli, there is little more confusing a purchase than a Naschy film – it is an essential rite of passage as a serious fan of horror films that at some point you may mistakenly end up with two copies of this under differing titles in error. Fortunately, The Night of the Werewolf is a cracker, not only the crystalisation of everything Naschy had attempted up to this point but also one of the peaks of Spanish horror.
Paul Naschy had been successful enough by this stage that he was afforded a budget that matched his ambition – wobbly sets were replaced by actual castle ruins and sumptuous gothic decoration, the scope of the film covering vampires, werewolves and that old Spanish stand-by, the skeletal Knights Templar.
The cast sees Naschy regular Julia Saly (Panic Beats, Night of the Seagulls) as Bathory, pale-faced and clearly relishing the role, without ever attempting to overshadow Naschy. Naschy seems positively weepy, surrounded as he is in fog, thrilling coloured lighting and decked out in ancient finery.
The other three main female characters, played by Pilar Alcón, Silvia Aguilar and Azucena Hernández had varied careers in Spanish genre cinema, all of them supplementing their incomes with ‘daring’ magazine photo-shoots – although nudity is scarce in the film, the three of them continually seem on the cusp of disrobing.
The pace is particularly brisk for a Naschy film, perhaps aided by him taking the director’s chair himself, instead of his usual muse, León Klimovsky. That said, the film makes little sense in the chronology of Daninsky werewolf films (this being the ninth of twelve), neither does the lenient sentence given to Bathory at the beginning of the film, nor her loyal servant suddenly being Hell-bent on revenge. No matter, the characters are interesting and straight-faced enough to carry what is lower rank Hammer fodder in theory.
Alas, 1981 was not the right time to suddenly nail your Gothic fetishes – horror cinema had long abandoned candle-lit castles and fangy nymphs and the box office was most unforgiving, leaving Naschy to film several films in Japan to try to rebuild not only his reputation but his finances. Time still doesn’t really seem to have caught up with Naschy, his films still polarising opinion amongst genre fans and almost completely ignored by the mainstream both in terms of interest and influence.
The soundtrack, though perfectly suited, is an outrageous plagiarism of both Ennio Morricone (the wailing harmonica of Once Upon a Time in the West) and Stelvio Cipriani (What Have They Done to Your Daughters? – in fairness, regularly re-used by himself on the likes of Tentacles).
The stunning cinematography is courtesy of Alejandro Ulloa, who also shot the likes of Horror Express, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion and The House by the Edge of the Lake.
The special effects largely stay away from the time-lapse transformation from human to beast and the film doesn’t suffer in the slightest – Naschy’s writhing at the sight of the moon being entertaining enough. Naschy remained proud of the film up to his death in 2009 and rightly so.
Daz Lawrence, HORRORPEDIA