Plot: thirty-something girl anxiously awaits her date… or is she?
Spain has always been fertile ground for fantastic – and horror cinema. With several decades of history to draw from and the old masters rightly enshrined as the innovators that they were Spain never really stopped producing horror or weird cinema. Over the last twenty years Álex de la Iglesia and Jaume Balagueró have been the prime names associated with Iberian terror and suspense and the country continues to produce horror at a steady pace. Over the past several years Norberto Ramos del Val has been producing low budget horror and terror. Lucero is our first exposure to his work and since then he has directed, among others, Heaven In Hell (2016) and Killing Time (2022). It’s impossible to gauge how important he will become to Spanish fantaterror, but new blood is never bad. Whether he is the de la Iglesia or Balagueró for this generation only time will tell.
In the Lucero barrio (neighborhood) of Madrid 34-year old Eva (Claudia Molina) attends the Sacrament of Penance during the Semana Santa (Holy Week) procession. After returning to her apartment it becomes clear that Eva is mentally unstable and deeply unwell. She is interested in witchcraft and has the literature to prove it. On top of that, she’s probably neurotic, is constantly itchy, and possibly suffers from OCD. Her boyfriend Angel (Edgar Calot) has left her – and she’s understandably saddened and frustrated with the whole situation. Tonight she has a date with Lucas (Jaime Adalid) and she’s fighting against the hours for him to arrive. As the shades of night descend it dawns on Eva that her date might not be coming tonight or at all. This triggers her anxiety even further and as memories of her time with Angel wash over her she sinks deeper into depression and loneliness. As Eva is consumed by paranoia and explores the deepest chasms of her soul a terrifying secret is bound to surface…
The opening montage with all the footage from Madrid and Claudia Molina in high couture sort of gives off the vibes that this might turn into a modern day giallo but once Lucero settles on the apartment as its one and only location any such pretensions or ambitions are, sadly, instantly abandoned. At a brisk 68 minutes it still takes forever for something nothing substantial to happen – and when it does, it happens oh so very, very slowly. For a good 53 minutes Lucero sort of flows glacially (or serenely, whichever you prefer) with no apparent direction or specific destination in mind until it suddenly explodes into a phantasmagoria of Satanic covens and full frontal situational nudity. The only novelty (if it can be called that) that Norberto Ramos del Val introduces is that Lucero has no dialogue whatsoever. None. Not a single line is uttered. It might seem like an odd creative choice at first but on second glance it seems perfectly logical.
And then there’s the title itself, Lucero, that can refer to any number of things. For starters, there’s Venus, the morningstar. Second, it’s also another name for Lucifer, which probably goes a long way explaining the skeletally thin Satanic cult subplot that really begged further exploring as well as the international market title Fallen Angel that this has gotten in some territories. If Lucero accomplishes anything it’s making us wanting to see more of Claudia Molina. Molina wonderfully succeeds in carrying what little story there is all by her lonesome. This being Spanish the bathtub scene (and the fact that Eva doesn’t utter a single syllabel for about 68 minutes) suggests that Ramos del Val probably has seen Female Vampire (1973). The solitary kill scene is effective in its brevity and functional minimal gore. It sort of echoes She Killed In Ecstasy (1971) passively and the coven scene indicates that Ramos del Val has seen his fair share of either Jean Rollin or any early seventies Meditterranean horror of your preference. Sadly, this is also where Lucero wastes most, if not all, of its potential. There’s so much here and so very little is done with it. Hopefully one day Ramos del Val will make the Satanic coven and witchcraft (lesbian or otherwise) movie that’s alluded to here.
If you were feeling charitable perhaps Lucero could be described as a Spanish take on Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) and The Tenant (1976) but truthfully this is closer to Pål Sletaune’s hugely atmospheric and occassionally gripping Next Door (2005). Except that that had actual characters and story – and this not necessarily does. There’s only so much a naked Molina in the third act and a sufficiently ethereal ambient score (that could have come from Simon Boswell or Michael Stearns) can possibly redeem. The problem isn’t so much what Lucero is but what it could have been. Some dialogue would have worked wonders here. As much as the non-verbal route allows the viewer to project whatever they want onto what they see informed by their own experiences, it also makes the entire thing inconsequential on its face. An entire Jean Rollin or Paul Naschy type fantastique could be extracted from the coven and witchcraft scenes. For most of the time Lucero is closer to the oeuvre of Rene Perez than to Paul Naschy. Much more of a moodpiece rather than a character study Lucero is style over substance.
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.