Skip to content

Plot: Waldemar Daninsky faces Countess Elisabeth Bathory… again!

El Retorno del Hombre Lobo (or The Return Of the Wolfman, released in North America as The Craving in 1985 and, at a later stage, internationally as Night of the Werewolf) was the first of two El Hombre Lobo episodes produced during the eighties. Times were changing and audience tastes were no different. The wicked and wild excesses of the 1970s had given way to the staunch conservativism and rampant debauchery of the 80s. The American slasher had become the new horror standard and suddenly Paul Naschy no longer found himself to be the trailblazer he once was. He experienced increasing difficulty in securing North American distribution for his features and back at home in Spain box office returns weren’t what they once were either. It was the dawn of a new age and Spain’s fiercest proponent of the macabre and the fantastic found himself out of step with what the younger generation was producing. As daunting as the circumstances might have been Naschy forged onward. As legend has it this was a personal favorite of Naschy’s and it’s easy to see why. Waldemar Daninsky never was in finer form in the more recent episodes than he is here.

That the Eurocult wave was cresting was apparent by 1976 and four years later the situation was even more dire. The death of Generalísimo Francisco Franco in late 1975 not only meant the slow crawl towards democracy and increased freedom on all fronts, it also signaled the end of mass government funding for the arts, including domestic cinema. If it wasn’t terrible enough Spanish and Italian exports had a hard time competing with big budget Hollywood box office hits as The Exorcist (1973) and Jaws (1975) (which didn’t stop both countries from trying and producing a veritable deluge of alternately obnoxious and hilarious no-budget imitations and knockoffs) and were only getting limited theatrical engagements in North America, once their primary market. To add insult to injury, the home video market was about to explode in just a few years from where they were. Naschy however refused to go gently into that good night and saw these newly-imposed restrictions as an opportunity to cut costs by writing, producing and directing his own features. He had made a television documentary on Madrid's Prado Museum and its art collection for Japanese company Hori Kikaku and they extended their gratitude by providing finances for whatever Naschy wanted to make. Thus he got together with partners Augusto Boue, Masurao Takeda from Dálmata Films, and Julia Saly and formed Acónito Films. Acónito (the scientific term for wolfsbane) would be responsible for all prime Naschy films this decade. Acónito Films produced a spate of features but only a few fall within the purview of this review.

While Mark Of the Wolfman (1968) set the stage it was from the much protracted first sequel Assignment Terror (1969) onward that the El Hombre Lobo became a recurring character in the Naschy canon. Sequels would appear annually (or every other year) up until and including The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975). In that five-year stretch Paul Naschy explored other avenues such as history, superstition and religion. In the decade of the international slasher craze and the domestic Cine-S movement Naschy staunchly stuck to his guns and produced an El Hombre Lobo installment on the 1970s model. Never below milking production assets, plot contrivances and locations for all they were worth The Return Of the Wolfman arrived a year after his Biblical parable The Traveller (1979) and will look and feel instantly familiar. By this point Naschy had accumulated enough experience in front and behind the camera to direct the productions which he had written. There’s a point, and a valid one at that, to be made that by the time The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975) rolled into cineplexes around the world that the series had strayed too far into the action-adventure direction. If there ever was a time to reinstate the franchise to its gothic horror roots, that time was now. Still, there’s no denying that after a decade-plus of sequels the formula was starting to wear thin. Which isn’t necessarily to its detriment as this one is thoroughly entertaining.

Hungary, 16th century. In the royal court of the Habsburgs Kings of Hungary and the Palatine of Hungary Countess Elizabeth Báthory (Julia Saly, as Jully Saly) is tried and executed. Báthory has been accused to torturing and killing hundreds of girls and women. She’s to be walled up in her chambers in Castle of Csejte in the Little Carpathians near Vág-Ujhely and Trencsén (or present-day Nové Mesto nad Váhom and Trenčín, Slovakia) where she’ll be left to die. Two of her vassals are executed for their involvement in her heinous crimes. Also on trial is Polish nobleman Waldemar Daninsky (Jacinto Molina Álvarez, as Paul Naschy), a known lycanthrope and scourge of the region, is tried for his killing sprees in wolfen form and his association with Báthory. On top of these individual accusations the two are accused of witchcraft, vampirism, and diabolism. A dagger made of silver of the Mayenza chalice is driven through Daninsky’s heart and an iron mask is secured on his face to keep him from biting.

Centuries later grave robbers Veres (Ricardo Palacios) and Yoyo (Rafael Hernández, as Rafael Hernandez) remove the dagger and the mask. Released from bondage the tortured nobleman takes up residence in his castle where he lives with his servant Mircaya (Beatriz Elorrieta). One day parapsychology students Erika (Silvia Aguilar) and Karen (Azucena Hernández, as Azucena Hernandez) arrive in the Carpathians with Barbara (Pilar Alcón, as Pilar Alcon) joining them shortly after once she has removed her old professor (Narciso Ibáñez Menta, as Narciso Ibañez Menta) from the equation. The three are able to locate Báthory’s tomb and the find leads to Erika becoming obsessed with Báthory and falling under her hypnotic spell. Her obsession leads Erika to perform a resurrection ritual. Waldemar Daninsky falls in love with Karen and when he realizes Báthory has been revived and is feeding on the local population he turns against his former mistress vowing to protect the woman he loves at his own peril.

If the above summary didn’t make it abundantly clear The Return of the Wolfman is more of a “greatest hits” rather than a straightforward sequel. After the insanity of The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975) the series had been absent for half a decade. For that reason instead of breaking new ground with the character Naschy borrows liberally from prior key episodes and its contemporary surrounding productions. The mainplot is a slightly condensed composite of The Wolfman versus the Vampire Woman (1971) and The Return Of Walpurgis (1973) with varying shades of Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973), Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (1974) and Devil's Possessed (1974) as well as assorted individual plot elements from Fury Of the Wolfman (1972) and Doctor Jekyll and the Wolfman (1972). With Beatriz Elorrieta’s Mircaya there’s the obligatory nod to Joseph Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla and Pilar Alcón’s Barbara could be seen as a loving wink to British cult icon Barbara Steele, the once-and-future queen of vintage Italo gothic horror. As Waldemar Daninsky had been away for half a decade perhaps a reintroduction was needed. Call it truth in advertising but The Return Of the Wolfman does indeed feel reinvigorated and acts as a symbolic return and a new beginning. To its everlasting credit The Return of the Wolfman opens with a sun-baked pool scene prescient of the Cine-S movement where you halfway expect to see a buck naked Eva Lyberten, Vicky Palma or Andrea Albani splashing around, but somehow never do. On top of that it has a disco theme that makes the theme to Cannibal Ferox (1981) appear sensible.

After the relatively low-key (at least in terms of casting) The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975) the first El Hombre Lobo episode of the eighties is brimming with familiar faces. Naschy was in the habit of casting the most beautiful Spanish women and here there’s the delectable trio of Silvia Aguilar, Julia Saly and Azucena Hernández. Aguilar had been in The Traveller (1979) and the Eurocrime romp Human Beasts (1980) (that also co-starred Julia Saly) and the sex comedy The National Mummy (1981). Saly usually worked behind the scenes as a producer and sporadically acted in that which she produced. In that capacity she could be seen in, the fourth and final Blind Dead episode Night of the Seagulls (1975), The People Who Own the Dark (1976), Inquisition (1977), Demon Witch Child (1978), the sex comedy Madrid al desnudo (1979) and The Cantabrians (1980). Hernández was Miss Catalonia 1977, had briefly worked as a model which naturally led to acting. Prior to her excursion into Spanish horror with El Hombre Lobo she could be seen in the Cine-S precursor Intimate Confessions of Stella (1978), and Bacanal en directo (1979). In the early 1980s Azucena transitioned into acting on the stage, did television and participated in zarzuelas. Her ascension to superstardom was cut tragically short when in the night of 15 to 16 October 1986 she was involved in a serious car accident in Las Rozas de Madrid. In the collision she sustained severe spinal cord injuries that left her paralyzed.

Also present are Beatriz Elorrieta (not using her Beatriz Lacy alias) from Necrophagus (1971), Narciso Ibáñez Menta from The Dracula Saga (1973) and Ricardo Palacios from 1001 Nights (1968) (with Luciana Paluzzi) and Juan Piquer Simón's Journey to the Center of the Earth (1977). In a rather unthankful role as a senior bandit is Luis Barboo, he of The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971), Female Vampire (1973), The Loreley's Grasp (1973), Return of the Blind Dead (1973), Witches Mountain (1973), Night Of the Assassins (1974), The Pyjama Girl Case (1977), Supersonic Man (1979) and Conan the Barbarian (1982). Unfortunately Naschy never found the time and space to cast German sex comedy starlets Ursula Buchfellner, Olivia Pascal, Betty Vergés, Edwige Pierre, Christine Zierl, or Biggi Ludwig in one of his features. Imagine what Paul Naschy could have conjured up with someone like Sabrina Siani, Florence Guérin, Olivia Pascal, Andrea Albani or, god forbid, Maribel Guardia.

In the decade of the American slasher and the Italian gore epic Naschy produced what, by al accounts, was a deliciously baroque gothic horror throwback. His association with Julia Saly allowed Naschy to produce a number of more artistic ventures across a variety of genres. The Saly years was Naschy’s last brush with relevance, both artistic as in terms of box office returns, of any kind. Whereas The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975) was the last vintage offering The Return Of the Wolfman and the Japanese co-production The Beast and the Magic Sword (1983) were the last of the Daninsky saga to turn a profit. From the mid-180s onwards (coinciding with the fall of Cine-S which had begun in 1980) Naschy and Spanish horror at large would experience a dark period from which El Hombre Lobo, the Spanish Lon Chaney never truly recovered. In the following decades only two more Waldemar Daninsky episodes would materialize. For a number of years Spanish fantaterror was nothing but a relic from a distant past until Álex de la Iglesia revived Iberian horror with his The Day Of the Beast (1995).

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.