Skip to content

Plot: Polish nobleman is bitten by wolf during hunting expedition

Jacinto Molina Álvarez was born in 1934, and thirty-four years later he was a champion weightlifter, former architect student, graphic designer, failed pulp western novelist, and occassional film extra. Álvarez came from a line of men with artistic inclinations. His father, Enrique, was a renowned fur and leather craftsman and Emilio, his grandfather, was an acclaimed sculptor of religious iconography. Álvarez wrote the screenplay in a month with inspiration coming from a feature he saw at a matinee when he was 11. He hoped for it to go in production, but in 1962 Spain chances were slim as the country had no horror cinema culture worthy of the name. The once almost respectable Jesús Franco had made a few attempts, but a fantastique and straight up horror were unheard of. A take on the classic Universal Monsters, or an escapist fantasy, was what Álvarez’ werewolf was envisioned as instead of some profound rumination on mortality or the human condition. The Mark Of the Wolfman - the first chapter in the epic, multi-decade spanning saga of cursed Polish nobleman Waldemar Daninsky - became a box office succes, making Paul Naschy a household name in his native Spain - and launched a lucrative franchise spawning no less than a whopping 11 sequels over multiple decades.

The road from conception to execution for The Mark Of the Wolfman was beset by troubles from all sides. The story was originally meant to be set in Spain, but the oppressive regime from Generalissimo Francisco Franco would ensure it would never find proper funding. Salvaging Álvarez’ fantastique from looming obscurity was West German production company Hi-Fi Stereo 70. The company initially approached faded icon Lon Chaney, Jr. to play the cursed nobleman, but advanced age and throat cancer forced him to politely decline. In view of the situation Álvarez would play the character himself. To accomodate the changes the nationality of the lead character was changed from Spanish to Polish. Hi-Fi Stereo 70 urged Álvarez to adopt a non-Spanish alias as an actor. Thus was born Paul Naschy; a portmanteau of then-current pope Paul the Sixth and Hungarian weightlifter Imre Nagy.

The alias allowed Alvarez to write screenplays under his own name and act under his international alias Paul Naschy. One of the directors offered the project was Amando de Ossorio who passed on it, believing that horror would never take off in Spain. Upon the box office success of The Mark Of the Wolfman de Ossorio would start his own horror productions with with gothic horror potboiler Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969), The Loreley’s Grasp (1974), The Night of the Sorcerers (1974) and the memorable Tombs Of the Blind Dead (1972), the Knight Templar zombie movie birthing the (mostly consistent) Blind Dead franchise. In 2001 Naschy was given Spain’s Gold Medal Award for Fine Arts by King Juan Carlos I.

Realizing Naschy’s werewolf screenplays were directors Enrique López Eguiluz, Carlos Aured, Javier Aguirre, Miguel Iglesias, and former Argentinian dentist León Klimovsky. Klimovsky would direct Naschy in The Werewolf and the Vampire Woman (1971). In the Enrique López Eguiluz directed The Mark Of the Wolfman, the first Waldemar Daninsky epic, Nashy attracted some of the most recognizable talent of the day, including Julián Ugarte, Ángel Menéndez, Carlos Casaravilla, Dyanik Zurakowska, and Rosanna Yanni. Argentine actress Rosanna Yanni would cross paths with Carlos Casaravilla and Julián Ugarte in Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969), with Naschy in The Hunchback Of the Rue Morgue (1973) and Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973). Yanni would be one of many continental belles to partake in the sports comedy Las Ibéricas F.C. (1971) as well as Terence Young’s breasts-and-games peplum spectacular The Amazons (1973). Antonio Jiménez Escribano was in Necrophagus (1971). Ángel Menéndez would play men of science in The Devil Came From Akasava (1971), an Eurocrime romp from Jess Franco, and in Amando de Ossorio’s The Loreley’s Grasp (1974). Dyanik Zurakowska and Aurora de Alba would co-star with Naschy again in the León Klimovsky directed Vengeance Of the Zombies (1973). The Mark Of the Wolfman was one of the last acting parts for Manuel Manzaneque, who would bid the acting profession farewell and become a respected wine maker in Spain.

In The Mark Of the Wolfman Polish aristocrat Waldemar Daninsky (Jacinto Molina Álvarez, as Paul Naschy) finds himself attending a period-costumed masked ball at the estate of Count Sigmund von Aarenberg (José Nieto, as Jose Nieto) in Germany in honor of his daughter Janice (Dyanik Zurakowska, as Dianik Zurakowska) 18th birthday. Von Aarenberg wants her to marry her respectable friend Rudolph Weissmann (Manuel Manzaneque), son of judge Aarno Weismann (Carlos Casaravilla) whom he is friends with. After the prerequisite dance Janice is attracted to the diminutive Daninsky instead. Meanwhile a gypsy couple Gyogyo (Gualberto Galbán, as Gualberto Galban) and Nascha (Rosanna Yanni, as Rossana Yanni), whose horse-drawn caravan was driven off the road earlier by Weissmann, break and enter into the delapidated castle Wolfstein. Gorging on wine found in one of the cupboards the two drunken troublemakers, or the fairer half of them at least, desecrates one of the tombs by removing a silver cross.

Unbeknownst they have released long-dormant lycanthrope Imre Wolfstein from captivity and into the peaceful countryside nearby. As Wolfstein claims several victims among the populace a hunting party is mounted, led by forestkeeper Otto (Ángel Menéndez, as Angel Menendez). It is under these circumstances Daninsky and Weissmann make their acquaintance, with Daninsky killing the wolfman with a silver dagger – but not without sustaining serious injury himself during the altercation. In search of a cure he meets experts in the occult Dr. Janos Mikhelov (Julián Ugarte, as Julian Ugarte) and his beautiful assistant Wandessa (Aurora de Alba). As Daninsky comes to grips with his wolven affliction, Rudolph becomes enchanted with silky seductress Wandessa and Janice is instantly spellbound by the very metrosexual Janos Mikhelov. As these things tend to go Mikhelov and Wandessa have their own plans for Daninsky...

There's a sense of pathos to Daninsky that far outweighs Naschy's tendency to overcompensate in dramatic gesticulating and overcompensating for his lack of height. Dyanik Zurakowska, Rosanna Yanni, and Aurora de Alba steam up every scene they are in. Yanni, a former model in Italy and before that a chorus girl in her native Argentina, wields her most formidable weapon, which is her deep cleavage and heaving bosom. Zurakowska provides the necessary youthful exuberance and her attraction to the vertically-challenged Daninsky is as inexplicable as anything else. Neither Yanni nor Zurakowska were ever particularly shy about baring their bust if that was required. Aurora de Alba was the original Wandessa, and she would torture Daninksy again in The Werewolf and the Vampire Woman (1971), at which point Patty Shepard had taken on the role and again in The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975) where Silvia Solar inherited the part. Location shooting at the El Cercón Monastery in Madrid, later used in de Ossorio’s Tombs Of the Blind Dead (1972), lush usage of Mario Bava-esque colors (blue and red feature prominently), as well as shadowy, cobwebbed interiors, and earthen Spanish locations add tremendously to the production value. The Mark Of the Wolfman has all elements of a good Mediterranean European gothic horror venture.

As expected from a screenplay written in a month there's more than a few interesting creative choices made. First, the pitting of Waldemar Daninsky (who in a Hollywood script would be the bad guy) against a pair of well-preserved vampires. Julián Ugarte’s metrosexual Janos Mikhelov was several decades ahead of its time. It's an especially daring move on Naschy's part making Mikhelov a metrosexual as homosexuality was illegal in Spain in the 1970s. That Naschy wrote a few scenes of his character frolicking with Dyanik Zurakowska, and Aurora de Alba is everything you'd expect of a novice screenwriter, and who could honestly blame him? Rosanna Yanni and Dyanik Zurakowska were some of the most desirable actresses of the day and that both became stars in their own right speaks volumes. The inclusion of Rosanna Yanni is purely to raise the temperature even further and, as always, Yanni doesn’t disappoint. Well, Rosanna seldom disappoints.

Compared to any of the later installments The Mark Of the Wolfman is conservative and restrained, which doesn’t mean it doesn’t go completely off the rails. A lycanthrope nobleman is beset by a pair of vampires while a young maiden and the fairer half of the vampire couple lust after him, one of them quite literally? Rosanna Yanni’s very low-cut dress inspires poetry and the dusty, cavernous locales give a delightfully old fashioned (as, say, something of a decade earlier) look that adds immensely to the authenticity. Barrel-chested Paul Naschy was never much of an actor but he displays the hunger you’d expect of a young actor starring/writing in his own vanity project. Daninsky would cross time zones and continents, face off against a variety of supernatural enemies to varying levels of success, and always have one (or more) buxom belles inexplicably drawn to his hairy masculine chest. The Mark Of the Wolfman has the distinction of being the first to introduce Waldemar Daninsky to the world and catapulting Paul Naschy to international cult superstardom. For all the criticisms that could be leveled at Jacinto Molina Álvarez as an actor, writer, producer, and director Iberian horror would have been a lot duller if it weren't for his presence...

La_Ga_Lo

Plot: all-girl boarding school in Germany is beset by monstrous assailant

Before Spanish director Amando de Ossorio cemented his cinematic immortality with the lauded Blind Dead franchise, a series of highly atmospheric zombie movies, he was responsible for a number of respectable genre offerings. In 1969 he directed Malenka (released internationally as Fangs Of the Living Dead) and in 1974, just before the directing the final installment of his flagship franchise, he wrote and directed The Loreleys Grasp. Las Garras de Lorelei is an overlooked and little known entry into the director’s modest filmography, and whose other body of work is often ignored in favor of his more known Blind Dead franchise.

Las Garras de Lorelei was distributed internationally, somewhat haphazardly, as The Loreleys Grasp while the Claws of the Loreley is closer to the original Spanish title. In The Loreleys Grasp every fullmoon night Lorelei transforms into her scaly, reptile form, tearing out the hearts of victims, female and male alike. The movie is a delicate balancing act between fast-paced bloody kill scenes and slow-burning, tension building atmospheric sections. It was released in the US as the nonsensically titled When the Screaming Stops that insultingly tried to pass it off as, of all things, a slasher movie. Rising above budgetary limitations and stilted dialog is the likeable cast of Tony Kendall, the delectable duo Helga Liné, and Silvia Tortosa, along with exploitation regulars Luis Barboo, Luis Induni, and Betsabé Ruiz.

Leading man Tony Kendall had starred in a number of Eurocrime, spaghetti westerns and horror movies before appearing in The Loreleys Grasp. Prior to starring in The Loreleys Grasp, Helga Liné was an experienced horror veteran at this point, having starred in Nightmare Castle (1965), Horror Express (1972), León Klimovsky’s The Dracula Saga (1973), and Terence Young’s campy peplum The Amazons (1973). Silvia Tortosa had done mostly TV work before her appearance in Horror Express (1972). Helga Liné, who has the same seductive pale complexion here as she had in the delirious The Dracula Saga, spents much of her screentime in the skimpiest of outfits. Betsabé Ruiz, appearing only in a pre-title cameo as a bride, was in The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman (1971), Return Of the Blind Dead (1973), Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973), and The Dracula Saga (1973). Many of the shocks, if there are any to be had, come from the economic and efficient practical effects. The scaly monster suit - which bears some resemblance to the Gill-Man from the classic Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) - is obviously rubbery, but sufficiently scary when obscured in shadow. The head, despite being cloaked, is unintentionally funny-looking and less than monstrous no matter from which angle it is shot. At its core The Loreleys Grasp is more of a tragically romantic love story than a horror, all overlaid with a Germanic folkloric concept.

The Loreleys Grasp is set in an unspecified German town near the Rhine where everybody inexplicably speaks English. Sigurd (Tony Kendall), a hunter described as a man who has “a great deal of experience!”, is set on the case when a young bride-to-be (Betsabé Ruiz) is bloodily killed. In a nearby tavern the Mayor (Luis Induni) tries to keep the story under wraps, while a blind Hungarian violinist (Francisco Nieto) will tell the legend of Lorelei to anybody willing to listen, including the tavern patrons. As these things tend to go none of the murders instigate a police investigation. Nor does the Mayor want any kind of attention from authorities despite the inexplicable nature of the slayings. Teacher Elke Ackerman (Silvia Tortosa), who boarding school director (Josefina Jartin) insists on calling “elle-key” instead of Elke, instructs the ruggedly handsome Sigurd, much to the delight of the assorted students (each a racial stereotype of themselves), to guard the premises.

Sigurd spents much of his time skulking around the boarding school, visibly having a great time at the faculty as he’s flirting with the student body (all of whom have delectable bodies), making a pass on head mistress Elke Ackerman, and throwing longing looks at the enigmatic Lorelei. He, of course, fails to connect the dots when Lorelei mysteriously turns up near bodies of water, and bodies of recently-slaughtered victims. Lorelei, true to her folkloric origins, is a Siren. When he runs into Lorelei again he follows her to a derelict building. There, lying down in a mildly suggestive manner that emphasizes her curves while wearing minimal of fabric, she practically admits, mostly through deflecting answering his questions directly, that she’s the Loreley of legend. Sigurd is either too distracted by her lovely curves, or not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and fails to connect the dots. In the meantime Sigurd has apprehended Professor Von Lander (Ángel Menéndez) who fills him in on the origins and possible ways to defeat the mythological monstrous adversary. Interestingly, Lorelei doesn’t get a name until after claiming her fourth victim.

Once Sigurd has become romantically entangled with both Elke Ackerman and daytime Lorelei, he is motivated to do that what he was actually contracted for. A submarine investigation of a nearby lake leads to the discovery of Loreley’s underground lair. Loreley lives in a well-lit and ornately designed grotto, complete with bikini-clad servants, her trusty man-servant/bodyguard Alberic (Luis Barboo) and an opulent throne room. A nearby chamber holds the Rhinegold, vast treasure from Loreley’s father Wotan. When Sigurd emerges at the grotto’s entrance Alberic intones, “my lady awaits you!”. Three bikini-clad servant girls emerge from shadows closely behind, representing the Rhinemaidens protecting the gold. In the throne room Loreley informs Sigurd of her origins, and tries to sway him with her very skimpy bikini, or by hypnotizing him with a luminescent magic crystal. The intruder is brought deeper into the grotto's bowels, and chained to a wall by Alberic. Once bound Loreley’s three bikini-clad servants fight over who likes Sigurd the most. Their quarreling allows Sigurd ample time to figure out an escape.

Of the two leading ladies Elke Ackerman starts out as a bun-haired, suit-wearing uptight headmistress but as the movie progresses she, quite literally, lets her hair down, as she longingly looks from her bedroom window at Sigurd and starts wandering aimlessly around outside in her nightgown. Ackerman, who in the third act addresses Sigurd as “Sirgurd” for some reason, becomes the requisite damsel-in-distress archetype when she’s abducted by Loreley. Not until it is too late does Sigurd realize that the bodacious Lorelei is the Loreley of folkloric legend. Things get murkier for Sigurd when he discovers that the object of his affection is the very same monstrous threat is he hired to kill. Sigurd is torn between his affection for day-time Loreley, and headmistress Elke Ackerman. Always the pragmatist, Sigurd rescues Elke from Loreley with Professor Von Lander’s dagger. This causes Lorelei to lose her nocturnal monster form. As her spirit form imposes, “we shall meet again in Valhalla! Sigurd, I’ll be waiting!” her corpse dissolves to smoldering remains soon after. With Lorelei waiting for him in the eternal halls of Valhalla, and Elke Ackerman as his present paramour, Sigurd reaps the most benefits of the situation.

Central to The Loreleys Grasp is the Germanic folklore tale Godwi oder Das steinerne Bild der Mutter by Clemens Brentano. In 1824 the tale was reworked as the poem Die Lorelei by Heinrich Heine. It also is influenced by the four-part Richard Wagner opera Der Ring des Nibelungen. Filmed on location in El Carcán, Torrelodones, the river Alberche in Madrid, Spain and in Rhine, Germany The Loreleys Grasp offers atmosphere and spectacle in equal measure. For the time The Loreleys Grasp was suggestive and risqué (it never lowers itself to the sort of tactless smut that comprises much of output from Jesús Franco and Joe D'Amato alike) in its depiction of nudity and violence. Much of the nudity is implied rather than flat-out shown. When nudity does occur directly, it is part of a grotesquely violent and overly bloody kill scene. Like the Blind Dead movies before it The Loreleys Grasp is at strongest when its atmosphere is at its thickest.

Among Spain’s horror directors the work of Amando de Ossorio isn’t quite as unhinged and haphazardly written as some offerings from stalwarts Paul Naschy, or León Klimovsky. Infusing a part of his filmography with mythical properties de Ossorio’s work for the most part tends to be high on atmosphere. What The Loreleys Grasp lacks in practical effects prowess is complemented by its lovely cast, and the somewhat tragic love story at its center. Both leading ladies excel at the parts they are given. Silvia Tortosa was magnificently cast as the initially uptight and demure Elke Ackerman. Helga Liné, in her dual role as the titular character, isn’t given a lot to do early on. Her introduction is only in brief glimpses, and completely bereft of dialog. Once the plot is set up Liné occupies herself by cavorting around lakeside marshes in the skimpiest of bikinis. The Loreleys Grasp is a movie that calls for a certain level of class of its leading man. Tony Kendall, a typical rugged and fearless 1970s man, was cut for the part – as he exudes the same kind of aristocratic sophistication as Ángel del Pozo, Miguel de la Riva, or Bill Curran. There truly is no better place to start exploring the world of Amando de Ossorio than The Loreleys Grasp. It has plenty of atmosphere, a monster, and a lovely cast.