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Plot: Waldemar Daninsky fights bandits, witches, cannibals, vampires, and a Yeti too!

La Maldición de la Bestia (or The Curse of the Beast, released in Europe under the more descriptive title The Werewolf and the Yeti and in North America as Night Of the Howling Beast) is the eighth chapter in the epic El Hombre Lobo saga and according to director Miguel Iglesias it did better on the international market than at home. The final of the classic era at long last explores that burning question first raised in The Fury Of the Wolfman (1970) some five years before. What horrible fate exactly befell noted anthropologist Waldemar Daninsky on that ill-fated journey into the Himalayas? The Werewolf and the Yeti was Paul Naschy’s ultimate pièce de résistance and saw his cursed Polish nobleman face off against Nepalese bandits, witches, cannibals, and his ancient arch-nemesis, the ravenna strigoi mortii Wandesa – and a Yeti, too. The Werewolf and the Yeti is probably the best El Hombre Lobo this side of The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971) and the ambitious The Return Of Walpurgis (1973).

This time Waldemar Daninsky has quite the gallery of rogues to withstand. His first order of business are a bunch of Himalayan cave-dwelling cannibal vampires Second, and more importantly, he has to defeat a band of Nepalese bandits led by Temugin and face the even greater threat of warlord Sekkar Khan. To top things off, Khan is but a plaything for the mighty Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy, the ancient and nefarious sorceress he had faced two times before in The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971) and The Mark of the Wolfman (1968). Finally, and probably more of an afterthought than a real adversary, a Yeti is on the loose and killing people. It’s up to Waldemar Daninsky to stop all of them from wreaking havoc upon the innocent. One way of describing The Werewolf and the Yeti is like a greatest hits of sorts. What better way to start exploring the crazy El Hombre Lobo saga than with an episode that has a bit of everything (and plenty of craziness of its own) that came before? For one, it’s probably the single-most breakneck paced and veritably insane of the series.

Esteemed Polish anthropologist and psychologist Waldemar Daninsky (Jacinto Molina Álvarez, as Paul Naschy) is summoned to London, England at behest of his old friend and archeologist professor Lacombe (José Castillo Escalona, as Castillo Escalona). Lacombe has come into possession of irrefutable proof that the mythical Yeti does exist. Tragically, it was the last sign of life from the doomed Sylas Newman expedition into Dathokari, Kathmandu. Lacombe is mounting an expedition into Tibet with his daughter Sylvia (Mercedes Molina, as Grace Mills) and his team – Lacombe’s assistant Ralph (Ventura Ollé), Melody (Verónica Miriel), as well as strongmen Norman (Juan Velilla), and Larry Talbot (Gil Vidal) - with Daninsky acting as their guide. In Tibet native liaison Tiger (Gaspar "Indio" González) and his sherpas will guide the expedition deep into the land. The way Daninsky sees it the best place to start is where the Newman trail went cold. That place is the mountain range of Karakoram on the borders of Pakistan, India, and China.

Bad weather conditions force the expedition to seek an alternative route to the Rombuc barrier and the pass that the Newman expedition mentioned in their communiquées. Tiger is none too happy with the prospect and issues a dire warning that local folklore and superstition claim the "Pass of the Demons of the Red Moon" is cursed and thus to be avoided. Not wanting to endanger the life of his men Tiger helps the group find someone willing to venture into the cursed land. That man is cross-eyed, semi-alcoholic, and half-mad adventurer Joel (Víctor Israel). Waldemar volunteers to follow Joel into the pass but when he disappears under mysterious circumstances Daninsky soon finds himself lost in the endless snows. Exhausted and injured from his ordeal Waldemar seeks refuge in a nearby cave and finds that it’s inhabited by two attractive women (Carmen Cervera and Pepa Ferrer). The semi-feral women nurse him back to health – and just when he is strong enough to journey back he discovers both of them are cannibal vampires. In the throes of passion he’s bitten and cursed with lycanthropy but manages to escape.

Around the same time the remainder of the expedition is taken hostage by Temugin (José Luis Chinchilla) who takes them to the stronghold of Sekkhar Khan (Luis Induni). Khan is a vicious warlord who has plans to expand his dominion and his armed troops have thrown the region into chaos and destroyed any and all existing opposition. Khan has annexed it for his own and enslaved local ruler princess Ulka (Ana María Mauri). Before rejoining the expedition Waldemar is entrusted with a cure for his full moon sickness by monk Lama (Fernando Ulloa). While Sekkhar Khan obviously poses enough of a threat by his lonesome, the black force behind him, the immortal witch Wandesa (Silvia Solar) - whom Daninsky faced twice before in lives once lived - does not take kind of Waldemar’s interference, wolfen or otherwise, and has Sekkhar Khan dole out severe punishment for his transgressions. With the professor, Sylvia, and Melody imprisoned by Khan’s bandit forces and princess Ulka rendered powerless Waldemar has but one option: to risk life and limb to rescue his friends from the claws of the warlord and his diabolical mistress. To make matters worse Daninsky also has to keep them out of the hungry maw of that pesky Yeti that is still at large…

After the gothic horror and mad science of the prior six episodes The Werewolf and the Yeti ramps up the action-adventure aspect. At times it sort of feels like a budget-deprived antecedent to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) - except that that was a tribute to 1930s adventure serials, and Naschy’s feels like a 1950s adventure with a copious amount of blood, sex, and just about every monster that was popular in 70s horror. Actually, Naschy was never given the due credit for the inclusion of cannibalism here. Sure, it was more of the hokey The Night of the Sorcerers (1974) variety – but even by that standard he was early to the races. Man from Deep River (1972) is probably the earliest Italian example of the genre, and Argentina got there even earlier with the Libertad Leblanc jungle adventure Captive Of the Jungle (1969). Vampires and witches had been sweeping over Mediterranean Europe for a good five years by 1975, and they always had a been a staple of the Naschy oeuvre. In keeping with the times The Werewolf and the Yeti is easily the bloodiest and sleaziest of the classic El Hombre Lobo canon. With Mercedes Molina, Verónica Miriel, and Silvia Solar there’s plenty to look at and neither shy from taking their tops off when and where it matters. Naschy, of course, never hid why he casted all these Eurobabes in the first place either. Solar might not have the same prestige as Helga Liné, Adriana Ambesi, Diana Lorys, Mirta Miller, or Perla Cristal – but for an elder stateswoman she’s hardly the worst choice. If it wasn't for this Solar would never have done the possibly even more insane Eurociné gothic horror The Wicked Caresses of Satan (1976).

In a series that always prided itself in having some the most beloved and delectable Eurobabes, The Werewolf and the Yeti probably features the least known. Where it previously had former Bond girls (Karin Dor), local superstars (Aurora de Alba, Yelena Samarina, Perla Cristal, and Mirta Miller), hot-to-trot starlets (Dyanik Zurakowska, Rosanna Yanni, Fabiola Falcón, and Maritza Olivares), imported talent (Gaby Fuchs, Barbara Capell, Patty Shepard, and Shirley Corrigan), and reliable domestic second-stringers (Betsabé Ruiz, María Silva, María Luisa Tovar, Victoria Hernández, and Marisol Delgado) the only real star of note here is Silvia Solar. Compared to any and all of their illustrious predecessors Mercedes Molina, Verónica Miriel, and Ana María Mauri are nobodies, relative or otherwise. Why did we never see any French belles (Dominique Delpierre, Edwige Fenech, Françoise Pascal, Jeanne Goupil, or Muriel Catalá), Swedish sex goddesses (Leena Skoog, Solveig Andersson, Christina Lindberg, Marie Forså), Italo babes (Claudia Gravy, Erika Blanc, Gloria Guida, Rita Calderoni, Barbara Magnolfi, Paola Tedesco, Laura Antonelli or Femi Benussi) or exotic delights (Laura Gemser, Zeudi Araya, and Me Me Lai) alongside Naschy?

The appearance of Shirley Corrigan never led to an influx of UK babes (Barbara Steele, Candace Glendenning, Valerie Leon, Yutte Stensgaard, Kirsten Lindholm, Pippa Steele, or Judy Matheson). Why did no German sex comedy starlets (Christina von Blanc, Ursula Buchfellner, Olivia Pascal, Edwige Pierre, Christine Zierl) or Lederhosenporn regulars (Ingrid Steeger, Ulrike Butz, Judith Fritsch, Alena Penz, Flavia Keyt, or Gisela Schwartz), Cine-S superstars (Eva Lyberten, Andrea Albani, Sara Mora), or famous foreign imports (Lynn Lowry, Danielle Ouimet, Anulka Dziubinska) and Latin American horror royalty (Amalia Fuentes, Tina Romero, Susana Beltrán, Gloria Prat, or Maribel Guardia) ever turn up over the course of the latter El Hombre Lobo episodes? It’s unbelievable enough that famous locals as Maribel Martín, Carmen Yazalde, Silvia Tortosa or Tina Sáinz never were part of the series – or Naschy’s other work for that matter.

The Werewolf and the Yeti marked the end of an era. Four more sequels would materialize sporadically over the next two decades, but the halcyon days of Waldemar Daninsky were now well and truly behind him. During the eighties - a decade that saw a great decline in Italian and Spanish horror and exploitation - only two episodes were produced with Return of the Wolfman (1980) and the Japanese co-production The Beast and the Magic Sword (1983). After that Daninsky would only resurface with Lycantropus: The Moonlight Murders (1997) that was cut to shreds by director Francisco Rodríguez Gordillo. Closing chapter Tomb of the Werewolf (2004) fared possibly even worse being written and directed by American low budget impresario Fred Olen Ray and late cinematographer Gary Graver. Naschy and fellow veteran John Henry Richardson found themselves surrounded by a bevy of American screamqueens (Michelle Bauer, Danielle Petty, Beverly Lynne, Monique Alexander) in a production that bore little semblance to what Jacinto Molina had spent 40 years cultivating. It’s a sorry end for one of Naschy’s greatest and most enduring cinematic creations. Alas, time had not been kind to Naschy and somehow he had become a relic of a bygone age. Although reappraised in his native Spain in his old age and duly recognized and awarded internationally for his cinematic contributions, Paul Naschy would pass away, age 75, in Madrid in 2009. Naschy might be dead, but El Hombre Lobo is forever.

Plot: estranged sibling returns to the old family seat, finds eccentric relatives.

León Klimovsky’s La saga de los Drácula (The Dracula Saga internationally) has retroactively attained cinematic immortality not only because it was a direct competitor to Paul Naschy’s own Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973) but because American audiences have unconsciously known it for years as footage of it featured in the Edward Furlong thriller Brainscan (1994) some twenty years later. It elevated derivation into an artform and made a star out of unlikely leading lady Tina Sáinz (in an ironic twist of fate this would become the most remembered title in her repertoire) and Narciso Ibáñez Menta’s portrayal of Dracula as a world-weary homebody is as memorable as the portentous, decaying Hammer-on-a-budget atmosphere that The Dracula Saga prides itself on. Who better suited to direct something like this than Argentinian transplant León Klimovsky? He had directed the Paul Naschy El Hombre Lobo features The Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman (1971) and Doctor Jekyll and the Wolfman (1973) as well as The Vampires Night Orgy (1973) after all. Highly atmospheric in its predilection towards aristrocratic decadence and brimming with both macabre playfulness and sweltering Mediterranean eroticism The Dracula Saga is the zenith of Spanish vampire horror – and not to be missed for that reason alone.

With Klimovsky at the helm it’s no wonder that The Dracula Saga is pervaded with that Argentine weirdness. The spirit of Emilio Vieyra is alive and well here. There would no The Dracula Saga without The Blood Of the Virgins (1967). Neither would there be José Ramón Larraz’ Vampyres (1974) for that matter. In the five years between 1970 and 1975 there was incredible surge of gothic horror throwbacks after Jean Rollin arguably single-handedly started the French horror industry with The Rape Of the Vampire (1968) and The Nude Vampire (1970). However it was Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos (1971) that really codified the subgenre, put Spain on the international cult map, and kicked off the vampire craze in continental Europe. Following the box office successes of Rollin’s early vampire works and Franco’s delirious exercise in psychotronic sleaze the rest of Europe couldn’t stay behind. Before long there was The Wolfman Versus the Vampire Woman (1971), and Daughters Of Darkness (1971). Even America contributed their sole classic to the subgenre with The Velvet Vampire (1971) (with Celeste Yarnall). 1973 was an absolute banner year with the likes of Black Magic Rites (1973), Count Dracula's Great Love (1973), The Vampires Night Orgy (1973), The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973), Joe Sarno’s Vampire Ecstasy (1973), and A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973). Vampyres (1974) and Nude For Satan (1974) arrived a year later but were no less important. The Dracula Saga echoes The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1962) just as much as it does A Woman Posssessed (1968) (with Libertad Leblanc).

Narciso Ibáñez Menta was the member of an important family of theatrical artists. He was a pillar in Argentine and Spanish horror and terror, on both the big - and small screen. In the sixties he and his son Narciso "Chicho" Ibáñez Serrador were the creative forces behind several successful series for Argentine and Spanish television. Menta had played the role of Dracula earlier in the Argentine mini-series Otra vez Drácula (1970). In 1973 he returned to the big screen with The Dracula Saga (1973) from director León Klimovsky, with whom he had worked two decades before on the series Three Appointments With The Destination (1953). Helga Liné was a beloved gothic horror icon thanks to roles in The Blancheville Monster (1963), Nightmare Castle (1965) (with Barbare Steele) and Horror Express (1972) (with Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Silvia Tortosa). Betsabé Ruiz was a fixture in Spanish horror with appearances in The Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman (1971), Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973), The Loreleys Grasp (1973) and Return of the Blind Dead (1973). Tina Sáinz on the other hand came from the soccer comedy Las Ibéricas F.C. (1971) and has since gone on record saying that The Dracula Saga is her sole claim to international fame. More recently Sáinz had a 15-episode recurring role in the series Cable Girls (2017-2020) where she could be seen alongside Blanca Suárez from The Bar (2017). María Kosty has since built a career in television while Cristina Suriani remains a humble unknown.

Summoned back to her ancestral homestead in Bistriţa in the Carpathian mountains after an unspecified stay in London, England 5 months pregnant Berta (Tina Sáinz, as Tina Sainz) and her husband Hans (Tony Isbert) find themselves stranded as their carriage is forced to make an unforeseen stop as the horses are spooked and refuse to go any further into the Borgho Pass. On their way through the woods the young couple come across an injured young maiden (María Luisa Tovar) who just regains consciousness. Passing out from her incurred blood loss the half-naked maiden collapses once again, leaving it to Hans to see to it that she gets to the village. Sufficiently startled by the bloody sight and the howling of wolves the two make it to the inn. There they are greeted by a superstitious, long-haired, hunchbacked local who warns them about the tolling funeral bell from the nearby cemetery. "The cemetery of Vlad Tepes," he ominously intones, "is inhabited only by the dead!" With the maiden laid out on a table a helpful villager tears open her shirt to clarify that she has biting marks on her neck as well as on her chest. Crutch-bound town physician Dr. Karl (Heinrich Starhemberg, as Henry Gregor) infers that it must be another animal attack, something they have been experiencing lately. One-Eye (Ramón Centenero, as Ramon Centenero) meanwhile jokes about the situation as the priest (Luis Ciges) insists that the maiden "provoked wickedness" and that “there on the table you see LUST stretched out!" all while getting a good eyeful himself. The constable (José Riesgo, as Pepe Riesgo) meanwhile is all too enthusiastic to cast blame on a band of gypsies which allegedly (but not really) have been a scourge of the region for some time.

In the inn providing lodging the two make their acquaintance with iron-fisted matriarch Sra. Mamá Petrescu (Mimí Muñoz, as Mimi Muñoz) and the grumpy Sergei (Fernando Villena). Hans quickly catches the eye of the innkeeper’s nubile daughter Stilla (Betsabé Ruiz, as Betsabe Ruiz) as Berta and himself settle into their temporary accomodation. Stilla wantonly throws herself a the virile Hans, but he kindly rejects her all too obvious advances. Stilla then retreats back to her room where she’s overtaken by a mysterious blackcloaked figure. The following morning Berta and Hans are having breakfast when they are greeted by the patrician Gabor (J.J. Paladino), the Count’s administrator, who will bring them to Castle Dracula in his horse and carriage. Once at the castle Berta insists on seeing the graves of her forefathers and she notices the coffins of her grandfather and cousins in the family crypt, despite the fact that they are supposedly all waiting to meet her. The couple are left to enjoy lunch alone at their palatial abode with none of their hosts making an appearance. None of this helps improve Berta’s mood, fatigued from her pregnant state and worn from the journey. In one of the rooms Hans is spellbound by the portrait of a regal, beautiful woman that Berta is unable to identify. Once the sun has set Gabor informs the couple that the family is ready to meet them now and they’re invited to join them at the dinner table.

Here we are introduced to Count Dracula (Narciso Ibáñez Menta as Narciso Ibañez Menta), his dazzling second and much younger wife Munia (Helga Liné), his hot-to-trot stepdaughters Xenia (María Kosty, as Maria Kosti) and Irina (Cristina Suriani) as well as maid Sra. Gastrop (Elsa Zabala) and butler Gert (Javier de Rivera). Denied affection by his very pregnant Berta, Hans first falls headlong into the hungry embrace of the noble Munia, who quite matter-of-factly drops her gown for him, and then later Hans is seduced by a willing Irina and Xenia in an adjacent chamber. Some time later the Count explains the history of the Dracula lineage to his granddaughter, that they are descendants of Vlad Tepes, the warlord of Wallachia, and that Berta’s child will ensure the survival of the nearly-extinct bloodline. The Count also entrusts Berta that the family suffers from a peculiar affliction that makes their skin ashen and pale and makes them unable to withstand sunlight. There’s an heir, hidden somewhere within the attic and periodically it’ll be fed a villager or undesirable, but he’s "the result of the excesses and degradations of my ancestors!" and unfit on many fronts.

One night the Count lets himself into Berta’s room as she’s fast asleep but can’t bring himself to vampirize his granddaughter. Instead they will let nature run its course. The clan has locked Berta into the castle. There she slowly descends into madness, is prone to hallucinations and spells of chewing her hair – all while experiencing severe abdominal pains that the Count finds easily explainable. "Don't you understand?" he barks at one point, "She's being eaten from the inside!" Meanwhile Xenia and Irina defile the priest in the woods. One day Berta is wandering the hallways when she runs into a couple of gypsies in the process of breaking-and-entering. She pushes the man (Manuel Barrera) falling to his death in the spiral staircase and the woman (Ingrid Rabel) is fed to Valerio - a role so important that it wasn’t even credited - the ravenous Cyclops, dwarfish, hunchbacked, web-fingered abomination that the Count occassionally whips into subservience. In the following weeks Berta does give birth to a son, but when she comes about she finds him dead in her arms. The apparent loss of her newborn son fetters the last tenuous vestiges of what remains of her sanity. Grabbing an axe from a wall she steps into the family crypt, and coldly murders her relatives one by one. After all that bloodshed and carnage she retreats back to her room where she succumbs to the bloodloss from childbirth as blood of her relatives drips on her newborn son. As the closing narration informs the Dracula bloodline lived on for many centuries of solitude.

Plotwise The Dracula Saga steals from the best. It has the stranded couple experiencing vehicular trouble and the strange people at the village inn mumbling cryptic warnings about ancient evil in the remote castle from The Kiss Of the Vampire (1963). Like in Necrophagus (1971) Berta’s relatives envelop themselves in secrecy about their true nature until facts, and a heap of exsanguinated cadavers, force them to come clean. Just like Amalia Fuentes in Blood Of the Vampires (1966) and Anita Ekberg in Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969) it has a young maiden realizing that the eccentricity of her estranged relatives is borne from the fact that they’re actually vampires. Since no horror movie is complete without an obligatory monster, a plot point liberally borrowed from The Blancheville Monster (1963), The Dracula Saga not only has the abomination Valerio, but also Berta’s unborn son, who is a spawn of evil just like in Rosemary’s Baby (1968). The Dracula Saga is one of those great patchworks that through the supreme art of derivation is one of those unique recombinants. It never quite becomes a saga the way it promises but it’s certainly epic enough considering the limited budget.

The most unique creation of The Dracula Saga is Valerio, the monocled, dwarfen, webfingered, hunchbacked abomination with a most carnivorous appetite. Apparently the product of years’ worth of inbreeding. In the tradition of The Blancheville Monster (1963) the diminutive monster is locked away deep in the bowels of Castle Dracula and his cries (that of a sobbing woman) emit through the walls. When Berta comes eye to eye with the horror she’s already so far in shock that the little monster doesn’t even register. Valerio has no menionworthy function besides being a convenient excuse to dispose of various extraneous characters without much in need of an explanation. The innkeeper’s daughter played by Betsabé Ruiz and the gypsy woman portrayed by Ingrid Rabel both meet their ends after being locked into a room with Valerio. As Berta turns into an axe-murderer and slaughters her vampire relatives Valerio comes out as one of the survivors. The screenplay, of course, makes nothing of it – and Valerio is forgotten about as soon as he's introduced. It’s a wonderful piece of prosthetics and practical effects for a movie with a budget as modest as this one.

The Dracula Saga is ripe with that thick, decaying Mediterranean atmosphere of mildew, cobwebs and candlelabras that defined the best of Italian, Spanish, Mexican and Filipino gothic horror. Ricardo Muñoz Suay and José Antonio Pérez Giner succeed in providing a regional take on that very stylish almost Hammer-like atmosphere with the usage of good period costumes, vivid use of colors and a hypnotizing harpsichord and organ score by Antonio Ramírez Ángel and Daniel White with public domain music from Johann Sebastian Bach. Filming took place at La Coracera Castle in San Martín de Valdeiglesia in Madrid, one of Spain’s great horror castles. The castle had earlier featured in The Blancheville Monster (1963), The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968), Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969), Assignment Terror (1970), The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971) and Necrophagus (1971), among others. Francisco Sánchez photographs the suitably sarcophagal location with its shadowy bowels, ornate hallways, candlelit interiors with age-old dusty tomes, time-worn candelabras, and cobwebbed dungeon basement beautifully.

As with any Hammer inspired production there’s no shortage of absolutely ravishing women everywhere you look. Betsabé Ruiz and María Luisa Tovar were never shy about taking their tops off and The Dracula Saga takes full advantage of that. Helga Liné even has a brief full-frontal scene whereas the pregnant Tina Sáinz remains clothed at all times. Sáinz’ tomboyish charm was already one of her biggest assets in Pedro Masó’s Las Ibéricas F.C. (1971). In no other Spanish vampire movie are the undead so dried out, parchment skinned, ashen-looking as they do here. The contrast of the pallid complexion of the vampires and the rosy skintones of the living is perhaps one of Klimovsky’s greatest achievements.

As the scion of kitschy gothic horror pulp as The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960), The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1962) and The Blancheville Monster (1963) That the last happened to feature Helga Liné in her first major role only adds to the authenticity. The Dracula Saga is derivative in exactly the right ways. It never becomes quite as oneiric as Gerardo de Leon’s Blood Of the Vampires (1966), as impossible to follow as Renato Polselli’s unsurpassed exercise in psychotronic excess Black Magic Rites (1973) or Luigi Batzella’s Nude For Satan (1974) a year later. Tina Sáinz certainly is no Amalia Fuentes, Soledad Miranda, or Rita Calderoni.

That doesn’t take away that The Dracula Saga is as delirious as some of Italy’s finest offerings. Spanish horror was always atmospherically richer and thicker in the macabre sense than its Italian counterpart and The Dracula Saga has plenty on offer. Klimovsky makes good use of the mist-shrouded locales and foggy, candlelit interiors and the bevy of bosomy belles ready to drop top whenever required. It had worked so wonderfully well for him some two years prior with Paul Naschy’s El Hombre Lobo The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971). No. In those times before Vampyres (1974) this is a monumental achievement rightly remembered as a well-deserved high zenith of early 1970s Iberian gothic horror throwbacks. Helga Liné had made a decent living starring in stuff like this, for young Tina Sáinz it is, was, and remains an anomaly in an otherwise respectable and long career. No wonder everyone remembers her for this.