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Plot: Waldemar Daninsky becomes the subject of a mad scientist

The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968) made Paul Naschy the new promise of Spanish horror. Lucrative as the first El Hombre Lobo feature was follow-ups were bound to follow. The first of these was the Universal Monster/science fiction hybrid Assignment Terror (1969) with a cadaverous Michael Rennie and German import/erstwhile Bond girl Karin Dor. The alleged French co-production Nights Of the Werewolf (1968) (with a cast including Peter Beaumont, Monique Brainville, Helene Vatelle, and Beba Novak) is widely believed to be a fabrication on Naschy’s part to bolster his then-nascent career. According to statements by Naschy at the time he spent one week of a five-week production schedule in France shooting his scenes and director René Govar tragically died in car accident shortly after. There were no surviving prints, and historical information is practically non-existent and what little is known is nebulous at best. The history surrounding The Fury Of the Wolfman (1970) is extensively documented and reinstated the Waldemar Daninsky franchise to its gothic horror roots. The Fury Of the Wolfman is indeed infuriating mostly because it should have been a lot better than it ended up being.

The third chapter in the continuing saga of cursed Polish nobleman Waldemar Daninsky proved especially difficult. Once again based upon a screenplay by Paul Naschy (as Jacinto Molina Álvarez) and produced by Maximiliano Pérez-Flores and César Gallego, The Fury Of the Wolfman was fraught with trouble from the beginning. For undisclosed reasons Enrique López Eguiluz, director of the rustic The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968), was fired with only a minimum of footage in the can. Basque director José María Zabalza - whose reputation as a bon vivant bohemian and rank pulp specialist preceded him at that point - was hired. Zabalza spent the production in a state of constant inebriation leaving Naschy to direct the feature. Reportedly the on-set chaos that Zabalza left in his alcoholic state had Nashy bursting in fits of tears seeing how awful the production was turning out. Adding further insult to injury Zabalza’s 14-year old nephew was allowed to rewrite the script. Zabalza’s non-involvement in directing can be traced back to 1969 when he had commenced pre-production on Bullets over Dallas (1970), Twenty Thousand Dollars for a Corpse (1971), and The Arizona Rebels (1972), three spaghetti westerns that pooled the same cast and crew that the Irunés was slated to write/direct. The Fury Of the Wolfman is widely considered to be the worst in the Waldemar Daninsky El Hombre Lobo canon.

"When the heliotrope starts growing among rough rocks and the full moon shines at night,” the narrator booms, “in a certain area in the earth, a man turns into a wolf.” Not that any heliotropes will be seen or mentioned, or that they will have any major or minor significance in the plot, anywhere in the next 90 minutes. At least it’s a cool start. In The Fury Of the Wolfman Waldemar Daninsky (Jacinto Molina Álvarez, as Paul Naschy) is a professor at the university of Kingsburg, California. On an expedition in Himalayas his group is attacked by a Yeti who savages everybody of his party and leaves Daninsky with a gash on his chest. Always the scientist Daninsky discounts the possibility on a whim, despite the visible evidence. "It was a Yeti. But that's impossible. I'm a scientist and these things don't exist. It was a hallucination. That's all." Injured Waldemar wanders the frozen wasteland until he happens upon a Tibetan monastery. A monk takes him in and treats his injuries. “Pentagram, pentagram!” screams the sufficiently frightened monk while Daninsky’s wound is actually pentagonal shaped. Once recovered Daninsky returns to his home in the US. At home he greets his wife Erika Wilson (Pilar Zorrilla, as Diana) and retreats to the bedroom, his sleep haunted by the horrible Tibetan incident. At university he runs into an old colleague, and former lover, of his by the name of Dr. Ilona Ellman (Perla Cristal). Ellman has developed a revolutionary new brainwave theory and is set to test it in her laboratory. As a former associate and lover she inquires after Daninsky’s emotional state, all while harbouring an unspoken and unrequited love for the pint-sized professor.

As he’s leaving the faculty Waldemar is handed a letter that he goes to read in the comfort of his car. From across the street Neville Yates (Fabián Conde, as Fabian Conde) watches on as Daninsky becomes enraged as he reads that his wife was involved in an affair. With the brakes on his vehicle rigged he crashes violently in a nearby tree and struggles, wounded and bleeding, back to his home. Finding nobody there he waggles to Ellman’s opulent castle. He’s patched up by his old flame, and finds that Ilona has a live-in assistant called Karen (Verónica Luján, as Veronica Lujan), whose misplaced loyalty to her tutor almost borders on the fanatic. With his wounds cared for Waldemar returns to his home when a full moon starts to rise. Upon turning into a werewolf Daninsky attacks and graphically kills his duplicitious wife Erika and makes short work of her lover Neville only moments later. Still overcome with rage Waldemar hurries outside into a particularly wild thunderstorm. Somehow he becomes entangled in a severed electric cable and is electrocuted. Police detective Wilhelm Kaufmann (Miguel de la Riva, as Michael Rivers) is the first on the scene and discovers the cut brake line. An investigation is opened and some basic sleuthing leads him to the sudden disappearance and death of esteemed Kingsburg professor Waldemar Daninsky.

Ellman, Karen, and her bevy of white-clad bosomy, mini-skirted science belles (Victoria Hernández and Diana Montes) waste no time in disinterring Daninsky’s remains. As the doctor and her vixens drag the professor’s cadaver to a cellar dungeon a caped, white masked figure (Francisco Amorós, as Francisco Almoros) stalks the shadowed hallways observing what happens in the castle’s bowels. As it turns out the deepest dungeons are filled with subjects of Ellman’s failed past experiments, male and female alike. Karen’s reporter beau Bill Williams (Mark Stevens) takes note of her sudden absence and he and the police detective smell something is afoot with the recent spate of mutilated bodies that seem to turn up everywhere. Ellman entrusts in Karen that her she can bring Waldemar back from the dead with the help of science. According to her most recent findings she’ll be able to mind control the subjects of her experiments. After a wolven Daninsky has slain several more innocent townspeople Karen reveals to Daninsky that Ellman has power over his lycanthropic form thanks to her mind control. After some more back and forth in the castle’s deeper reaches Karen and Waldemar discover that the masked and disfgured figure is Helmut Wolfstein, a neurologist infamous for his experiments on unwilling subjects, and that Ilona is his daughter Eva.

A cursory read through Ilona’s personal journal does indeed confirm these findings. Putting one and one together Daninsky deduces that Erika was a subject in Ellman’s mind control schemes and that the entire thing was just a ruse to have her reunited with her former flame. Ilona returns to the château and with Waldemar and Karen right where she wants them, the doctor unveils her diabolical plans. While the two of them were putting the pieces together Ellman resurrected Erika, now too a lycanthrope due to Daninsky’s earlier savaging, and Ilona forces both werewolves to fight each other. Daninsky slays his former wife and is instructed by Ilona to kill Karen, who she has now bound in chains. Waldemar, finally able to surpass Ilona’s mind control, attacks the doctor gashing her across the face and throat. Ellman is able to reach for her Luger firing two silver bullets into the wolven Waldemar, then crawls on him and kisses him goodbye. By this point Williams and the detective have made their way into the castle and free Karen from her chains. The body of the vertically-challenged Polish nobleman is carted off to the coroner’s office. Supposedly to be examined and be given a final restingplace.

While the existence of French co-production Nights Of the Werewolf (1968) and the veracity of Naschy’s claims surrounding it remain dubious at best, the main plot was deemed good enough for The Fury Of the Wolfman. Compared to the more rustic The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968), The Fury Of the Wolfman suffers from both appalling direction and cinematography from Leopoldo Villaseñor. Under the circumstances Naschy did well enough, but the colourless second unit direction by Rodolfo Medina – whose only other credit of note would be Juan Piquer Simón’s Jules Verne adaptation Journey to the Center of the Earth (1977) – doesn’t help. The castle interior scenes are frequently underlit and the entire colour scheme lacks the vivacity of The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968). Surprisingly Villaseñor would redeem himself with The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman (1971).

The score by Ángel Arteaga and Zabalza’s wife Ana Satrova comprises of recycled stings and cues from The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968) and original new music, all of which are more often than not unsuitable for the scenes in which they appear. The production went overbudget and as a cost-cutting measure stock footage from The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968), along with additional scenes with a wolfman stunt double that didn’t match any of the existing footage, were inserted. It wasn’t clear who was going to edit the production and at one point the master print disappeared. The Fury Of the Wolfman had a hard time finding a distributor and at one pre-release screening for a potential distributor Zabalza was found urinating in a gutter in front of the theater. It was finally picked up for release by AVCO Embassy Pictures in 1973 before gigantic losses nearly bankrupted the company and Robert Rehme took over as president.

Even for Naschy standards the cast were relative nobodies and the most recognizable names were reliable second-tiers at best. Perla Cristal was in The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962) and The Secret Of Dr. Orloff (1964) from back in the days when Jess Franco actually showed some mild promise as a filmmaker and when appearing in one of his productions wasn’t a potential career killer. Cristal had figured in the amiable Arabian Nights adventure 1001 Nights (1968) (with Luciana Paluzzi), and was a regular in spaghetti westerns. Victoria Hernández would play another supporting part in Amando de Ossorio’s The Loreley’s Grasp (1974). The only credits of note for Verónica Luján were León Klimovsky’s Commando Attack (1968) and Feast Of Satan (1971). Javier de Rivera was a regular in Spanish cinema, often playing figures of authority or law enforcement. Mark Stevens was the obligatory faded American star making a living in European exploitation. As always a domestic and international version were shot, with the Spanish version eschewing all the gratuitous nudity and gore of the international version. No wonder Paul Naschy all but denounced The Fury Of the Wolfman as it wasn’t exactly the finest hour for Waldemar Daninsky, his El Hombre Lobo. Thankfully the series would find a second lease on life with The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman (1971).

Plot: French peasant girl encounters mysterious man in the woods

Before becoming a filmmaker Michel Mardore - the nom de plume for Michel Jean Guinamant - worked as a critic for Positif, les Cahiers du Cinéma, Les Lettres Françaises, Lui, Pariscope, Cinéma and Le Nouvel Observateur. For many years he contributed film criticism to the radio station France Inter (Le Masque et la Plume) and he’s regarded as one of the foremost film critics in the country. He also wrote a handful of novels in the sixties and seventies and worked as a photographer. Leading man Horst Buchholz was an actor that primarily worked in German television and cinema. He was a fixture in World War II movies of various stripe. Buchholz appearead in offerings as diverse as The Magnificent Seven (1960), John Sturges western take on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954), Umberto Lenzi’s macaroni war epic From Hell to Victory (1979), and Roberto Benigni’s Academy Award winning historic drama La Vita è Bella (1997).

Receiving an “introducing” (or rather “for the first time on the screen”) credit was Muriel Catalá. Catalá, who played some Lolita roles in French sex comedies and coming-of-age dramas, was often cast for her dashing looks. In Michel Mardore’s World War II drama The Savior (1971) Catalá debuted in a role that Isabelle Adjani auditioned for but didn’t end up playing. Catalá and Adjani did end up working together on Faustine and the Beautiful Summer (1972), the directorial debut for Nina Companeez. The turning point for Catalá came when she appeared in the period drama the Nuns of Saint Archangel (1973) with Anne Heywood, Ornella Muti, Martine Brouchard, and Claudia Gravy. In the decade that she acted she shared the screen with Alain Delon, Brigitte Bardot, Donald Pleasence, and Sophia Loren. A good portion of her earlier roles tended to focus greatly on her physical attributes while she was actually tolerable as a comedic actress. Had Catalá been offered something different than comedies and coming-of-age dramas she probably could have acted long than she did. That isn't to say that she was the French Gloria Guida or a star-in-the-making the way Edwige Fenech, or Barbara Bouchet were. She could probably have carved out a career as a giallo babe or as a supporting actress in Italian and Spanish genre cinema. As limited as an actress as Muriel was not even she deserved to end up in the muck of exploitation quite the way she did. No wonder she quit acting.

In the summer of 1943 somewhere in the South of German occupied France young peasant girl Jeanne Lambert, who everybody simply calls Nanette (Muriel Catalá), finds a slightly injured but strapping soldier named Claude (Horst Buchholz) walking in the woods one day. He claims to be an Englishman looking to get in contact with local forces of la Résistance. Coming from a family of Pétain supporters Nanette is initially reluctant to offer help to the foreigner, but agrees to hide him out of sight in one of the more remote barns on the family farm. Her father (Roger Lumont), mother (Hélène Vallier), and brother are far too occupied with the farm to pay her any mind. Claude introduces Nanette to the intellectual arts and their conversations challenge her limited worldview. As she tends to his wounds and brings him food a bond starts to develop between the two. As time goes by Nanette finds herself increasingly drawn to the beautiful and worldly Englishman and soon she uninhibitedly enjoys being naked in his presence. She offers her body to him at various points but Claude never reciprocates her bodily affections. Some time later Nanette introduces her mysterious houseguest to monsieur Flouret (Henri Vilbert), the local councillor and a known supporter of the Allied Forces. Claude promises to whisk her away to his far-away home in Great Britain once the war has ended, so that the two can finally enjoy their lives together. Then one day Claude tells Nanette out of the blue that he’s ready to put his secret mission in motion, and with that he promptly disappears as a thief in the night leaving the young maiden with a nigh on irreparable heartbreak.

Embittered she betrays the Englishman to monsieur Monette (Michel Delahaye), a known Nazi collaborator, in an act of self-preservation and vengeance bearing consequences so far-reaching that Nanette is barely able to foresee at such tender age. One day the sounds of explosions and gunfire render the peaceful silence of the countryside. Nanette is swiftly captured by SS soldiers and without much of an explanation brought before their commanding officer. When she lays eyes upon the officer it is him, Claude; the man who she believed to be an Englishman. Claude, ever so eloquent, explains to young Nanette that she has committed two grave crimes. First, she betrayed a hero to the enemy. Second, she is now complicit with the Nazi as she assisted German forces in annihilating hidden maquisard troops and assorted Résistance fighters among the populace of her inconspicuous and sleepy farming village. As a final act of betrayal Claude orders Nanette to instruct the execution of the entire village; including her parents, and even monsieur Monette, now no longer useful to the Germans. With a gun pointed at her head Nanette is left no other choice but to indulge Claude’s sadistic bout of Faustian corruption and she’s soon reduced to a sobbering mess from all the horror.

Twenty years pass and a distinguised-looking automobile rolls into the remodeled village. A sharply-dressed businessman disgorges from the expensive vehicle and shares that he loves the quiet serenity that the region is known for. A local (Jean-Pierre Sentier) informs the man about the history of the region, how the entire village was razed to the ground during World War II and had to be rebuild, and how he inherited an old family farm quite by happenstance when he met his wife. The man introduces the suave stranger to his demure and shy wife Nanette (Danièle Ajoret), now ravaged from age and from silently brooding over that one cursed day in her youth. The three engage in respectful chit-chat over a bottle of wine until it dawns upon Nanette who this swanky gentleman is. Barely able to pour the last glass Nanette storms away leaving her husband without nary an explanation. She returns brandishing a shotgun and as Claude begs to forgive her for what he did in the past, Nanette vows to right that one immeasureably terrible wrong of her youth. “For you, Englishman!”, she utters as she coldly shoots Claude who dies in dismayed silence.

The most interesting aspect of The Savior is that an actual historical event served as the basis for Mardore’s screenplay. On 10 June 1944 a regiment of German soldiers under command of major Adolf Diekmann massacred 642 civilians in the town of Oradour-sûr-Glane, in the Haute-Vienne region of France, and subsequently razed the entire village to the ground. After the war Charles de Gaulle visited the remains of Oradour and named it a national monument. De Gaulle ordered a rebuild of the village nearby. In 1953 the new Oradour-sûr-Glane was completed with the remains of the original remaining a historical site. What exactly led to the purge has never been truly explained as it was overshadowed by the Dilice, Czechoslovakian purge of 10 June 1942. It is widely believed to be a retaliation against a Resistance bombing just two days earlier, on 8 June 1944, that killed a colleague (and personal friend) of Diekmann. The Savior might be a drama but it primarily serves as an indictment against the atrocities and the horrors of war. Nothing is more terrible and ravaging than war and how it pushes otherwise good people to become immoral monsters. The Savior makes a very strong argument.

Muriel Catalá is ravishing in her debut role as nubile peasant girl Nanette. It’s a very physical role and that it required a fair bit of nudity at least gives credence to the idea that Catalá was serious about her craft. For the longest time Catalá was cast in coming-of-age dramas and sexy comedies and she never was able to quite make it. The Savior is a tour de force for Horst Buchholz. It was screened on the Cannes film festival in 1970 with both Muriel Catalá and Buchholz attending. The Savior was prescient how culture would evolve in decades to come and how its ugly ideology would rear its head once again. It’s a frightening piece of foreshadowing if there ever was one and it has lost none of its power. The Savior is low on action and World War II is always far in the background, but the picture it paints is damning. It is a protest against the machinations of war, of the politics that profit from it and all the lives it shatters in the process. It constantly looms on the horizon. The ghosts of war always come back to haunt us. It was bold screenplay, even for the 1970s – and The Savior has lost nothing of its power or the relevance of its message. It’s as topical now as it was then. If there ever was a European equivalent to Dalton Trumbo’s Vietnam war epic Johnny Got His Gun (1971), or an antecedent for Summer of '42 (1971), Sophie's Choice (1982), or The Reader (2008), this is it.