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Plot: Waldemar Daninsky desperately tries to lift a curse on his bloodline.

The seventh chapter in the ongoing saga of immortally condemned Polish nobleman Waldemar Daninsky The Return Of Walpurgis (for some reason released in the English-speaking world as Curse Of the Devil) restores the franchise to its former glory after the effective but underwhelming Doctor Jekyll and the Wolfman (1972). It is probably the most ambitious and epic of all the El Hombre Lobo episodes as it begins with a surprisingly well realized prologue set in 15th century during the Spanish Inquisition and then cuts to a 20th century present in early seventies Spain. Once again filmed from a screenplay by Paul Naschy (as Jacinto Molina) The Return Of Walpurgis follows Daninsky as he tries to undo a curse haunting his bloodline for the several centuries. Director Carlos Aured admirably rises to the task of realizing Naschy’s vision and even if it doesn’t have the visual flair and atmospheric finesse of The Wolfman Versus the Vampire Woman (1971) or the sheer excess and insanity of The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975), Waldemar Daninsky rarely was in finer form than he is here.

Carlos Aured was not one of Spain’s more prolific filmmakers, amassing a filmography of a modest 15 movies in 12 years. Aured started out in the 1960s as an assistant director to, among others, León Klimovsky on The Wolfman Versus the Vampire Woman (1971) where his association with Paul Naschy began. Naschy and Aured would collaborate on Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973) and The Mummy’s Revenge (1975) before the latter became one of the key directors in the Barcelona softcore scene of 1978-83 with the shortlived Cine S or “el destape” movement. In that capacity he was one of the instigators of said movement with the likes of Ramón Fernández, Jaime de Armiñán, Jorge Grau, Mariano Ozores, Eloy de Iglesia, Vicente Aranda, and José Ramón Larraz. Aured was a frequent collaborator with Alfonso Balcázar, Iquino, or Jaime J. Puig. Cine S were quasi-comedic soft erotic romps featuring the likes of Verónica Miriel, Amparo Muñoz, Adriana Vega, and Sara Mora. However, it was Ignacio Farrés Iquino’s The Hot Girl Juliet (1981) that truly launched Cine S and Andrea Albani, a former basketball player and swimmer, before more largely similar romps sprung from the same genetic stalk. Albani wasn’t an Iquino discovery exclusively as she debuted in José Ramón Larraz’ Madame Olga’s Pupils (1980) a year earlier. After the Cine S genre collapsed Carlos Aured would return to the terror and horror genres with The Enigma of the Yacht (1983) with Silvia Tortosa and Trapped in Fear (1985). Two years later, in 1987, Aured would retire from filmmaking after the Deran Serafian (who did his share of acting in Italian shlock) directed Alien Predator (1987), which he produced, went over schedule with his US partners heaping the debts on him.

Somewhere in 15th century Spain Grand Inquisitor Ireneus Daninsky (Paul Naschy) ensures a great victory for his tribunal as he defeats a warlock, long rumored to be at the heart of the witchcraft and Satanic activity that has flooded his dominion, in a horseback duel. Countess Elizabeth Bathory (María Silva) and her handmaidens decide to invoke Satan in retribution for the slaying. Before they can do so Daninsky is able to capture them, subjecting the heretics to auto-da-fé. Bathory’s handmaidens are hung from the castle walls and Bathory herself is burned in effigy. Before being consumed by the flames Elisabeth Bathory places a curse on Daninsky and all of his descendants. 4 centuries later Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy) lives in a remote castle somewhere in the far reaches of the Carpathian mountains with his housekeeper Malitza (Ana Farra) and valet Maurice (Fernando Sánchez Polack, as Fernando S. Polack). On a hunting excursion with his friend Bela (José Manuel Martín, as Joe Martin), the latter shoots a silver bullet at what he believes to be a wolf. His prey turns out to be a stray gypsy man. Daninsky offers a monetary compensation to the gypsy clan for their loss. The clan matriarch (Elsa Zabala), a descendant of Countess Bathory, doesn’t believe his guilt to be genuine and instructs coven member Ilona (Inés Morales, as Ines Morales) to seduce the lovelorn lord. In the throes of passion Ilona curses Waldemar with lycantropy by slashing a pentagram into his chest with the same wolf skull used in the black mass ceremony earlier. Ilona subsequently flees into the woods where she is promptly hacked to pieces by escaped deranged axe-murderer Janos Vilaya.

Meanwhile in the 20th century Hungarian mining engineer Laszlo Wilowa (Eduardo Calvo) moves to the region for a year-long research project, bringing with him his blind wife Irina (Pilar Vela) and two daughters Kinga (Fabiola Falcón, as Faye Falcon) and Mariya (Maritza Olivares, as May Oliver). The attraction and affection between Kinga and Daninsky is instantaneous and their courtship is very much a thorn in the side of Mariya. That doesn’t stop Mariya from attempting to seduce and sway Waldemar into her embrace. Mariya is succesfull in her attempt but happens to do so on the night of the full moon. Not only does she seduce Waldemar in the hideout of axe-murderer Janos Vilaya, but Daninsky’s full moon sickness results in the both of them getting horribly slaughtered when he turns werewolf. Malitza, whose maternal feelings for Waldemar might just be a tad too strong, agrees to help him dispose of the cadavers. The sudden influx of homicide and unexplained deaths attract the attention of police inspector Roulka (Mariano Vidal Molina, as Vidal Molina). He attributes the spate of murders to the fugitive Janos Vilaya, but has to revise his initial theory when village kids happen upon the axe-murderer’s decomposed body one day. Before long the village has mounted a torch- and pitchfork bearing lynch mob to hunt and kill the beast, but mistake Maurice, Waldemar’s valet, for the recluse nobleman and gruesomely kill him. As the legend goes, only a woman that truly loves Daninsky will be able to kill him – but will Kinga be strong enough to drive a silver dagger through the heart of the man she loves?

As these things tend to go, the screenplays to every El Hombre Lobo feature is basically the same. Individual elements might differ from one installment to the next, and they tend to be reflective of the prevailing trend of the year they were made it in. Formulaic does not quite cover the workman-like efficiency of Naschy’s screenplays. The Return Of Walpurgis carries over the Bathory character from the prior year’s Doctor Jekyll and the Wolfman (1972) and Elsa Zabala is given a larger part here than in the prior chapter. That The Return Of Walpurgis does not possess as much of the visual flair of earlier installments can be attributed to the editing and the cinematography. Director of photography Francisco Sánchez delivered much better work on The Dracula Saga (1973) the same year and the editing by María Luisa Soriano is a bit on the choppy side. Soriano was a regular in Spanish exploitation cinema having worked on Necrophagus (1971), and The Devil Came From Akasava (1971) prior. She would persevere with Naschy on The Mummy’s Revenge (1975) and lend her services to Juan Piquer Simón’s Journey to the Center of the Earth (1977) and Eurociné zombie debacle Zombie Lake (1981). Special effects man by Pablo Pérez worked on Horror Express (1971) and would collaborate with Paul Naschy on his amiable Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973) and the Gilles de Rais epic Devil’s Possessed (1974). The score by Antón García Abril is functional enough but does not offer much of note.

While never descending to the lows of The Fury of the Wolfman (1970) and largely eclipsed by the all-out insanity of its successor The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975), this El Hombre Lobo installment is defined purely by its functionality and likeness to its companion pieces Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973) and Devil’s Possessed (1974). As before Paul Naschy was able to attract some of the most beautiful domestic starlets with Fabiola Falcón, Maritza Olivares, and Inés Morales. Maritza Olivares is a typical Spanish beauty of the time, following in the footsteps of Dyanik Zurakowska, Aurora de Alba, Rosanna Yanni, Barbara Capell, and Shirley Corrigan. There never was any shortage of beautiful women in any of Naschy’s productions and it’s unfortunate that he never was able to work with continental European cinema belles as Silvia Tortosa, Luciana Paluzzi, Cristina Galbó, Diana Lorys, or Paola Tedesco. In the same respect it’s almost unbelievable that Naschy never ended up casting late Franco muse Soledad Miranda, mousy but sensual Susan Hemingway, domestic Cine S superstars Andrea Albani, and Eva Lyberten or even French import Florence Guérin in one of his productions. Neither would British exploitation stars as Candace Glendenning, Luan Peters, Judy Matheson, Valerie Leon, or Jenny Hanley (especially considering their association with Hammer) or Latin American imports as Gloria Prat and Susana Beltrán have felt out of place in an El Hombre Lobo episode.

It goes without saying that The Return Of Walpurgis was a tad too ambitious with its period costume prologue, brief as it might have been, on the budget that it had. The character of Waldemar Daninsky is interesting enough in itself, and it’s rather unfortunate that every episode insists on rewriting the origin of his lycanthropy while retaining the character’s basic kind-heartedness and pathos. At least here Naschy attempts to illustrate some kind of bloodline and how the transgressions of one Daninsky impact the life of a much later descendant. The concept is commendable enough but it would be cast to the side for the next installment. There’s seldom any continuity from one El Hombre Lobo chapter to the next and that robs them of any emotional connection the viewer could have built with any of the characters from one movie to the next. The Return Of Walpurgis isn’t the place to expect any important improvements or innovations in the El Hombre Lobo formula or canon. Two years later The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975) would shake up the formula a bit. That it was the craziest El Hombre Lobo feature up to that point helped tremendously too. The Return Of Walpurgis on the other hand is very much just another day at the office.

Plot: twin brothers fall under the spell of a mysterious countess.

The Devil’s Wedding Night (released domestically as Il Plenilunio delle Vergini or Full Moon of the Virgins) was another cheapie bankrolled to capitalize on the gothic horror revival craze in the marquee year of 1973. Directed by spaghetti western specialist Luigi Batzella, with second unit direction from Aristide Massaccesi, The Devil’s Wedding Night is the logical continuation of everything (and frequently more) that kitschy fare as The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960), The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960), and The Monster Of the Opera (1964) only dared hint at. Batzella himself had starred in The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1962) and he seemed hellbent on making sure that The Devil’s Wedding Night was to the wicked and wild seventies what The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1962) and Emilio Vieyra's Blood Of the Virgins (1967) were to the sixties. As such this is a veritable phantasmagoria of gothic horror atmosphere, sweltering Mediterranean erotica, with a framing in ancient mythology.

In the 1970s Rosalba Neri was everywhere. She had been a regular in spaghetti western and peplum through out the sixties - and as tastes shifted Neri too felt she had to go with the times. Her first step into that new mindset came by starring in a trio of Jesús Franco productions with the likes of Luciana Paluzzi, Maria Rohm, and Christopher Lee, but more importantly her partaking in the subtextually rich offshore giallo Top Sensation (1969) with fellow starlet Edwige Fenech (who was in the process of reinventing herself after a stint in German sex comedy). Just two years prior Neri had starred in Lady Frankenstein (1971) and a number of gialli including, but not limited to, The Beast Kills In Cold Blood (1971), Amuck (1972), The French Sex Murders (1972), and Girl In Room 2A (1974). Neri and Mark Damon had worked together earlier on the spaghetti western The Mighty Anselmo and His Squire (1972) from director Bruno Corbucci.

The early-to-mid seventies saw the European gothic horror boom in full swing with France, Italy, and Spain contributing alongside the glamour years of the then-ailing Hammer. Around this time Jean Rollin released his most enduring work and Jesús Franco helmed Vampyros Lesbos (1971), arguably single-handedly kicking off the vampire craze in Europe. In a five-year blitz Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay (1971), The Wolfman Versus the Vampire Woman (1971), Necrophagus (1971), Daughters Of Darkness (1971), Count Dracula's Great Love (1973), The Dracula Saga (1973), Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973), The Loreleys Grasp (1973), Bell From Hell (1973), A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973), and Vampyres (1974) were released. Seven Women For Satan (1976) was comparatively late, but not any less important. Even America got in on the craze with The Velvet Vampire (1971), decades later inspiring The Love Witch (2016).

Karl Schiller (Mark Damon), a 19th century scholar and archeologist, concludes after extensive research that the mythical Ring des Nibelungen lies hidden somewhere in the Carpathians. Feeling that the artefact belongs in the Karnstein Museum of Archeology, he sets out to finding the Ring at Castle Dracula, under the pretense of architectural inspection. Meanwhile his twin brother Franz (Mark Damon), a libertine and gambler, quoting the Edgar Allen Poe poem The Raven, encourages him not to undertake the long and arduous journey to Transylvania. When that doesn’t work Franz steals his brother's Egyptian amulet as he prepares, and takes off into the Carpathians. Before long both brothers have fallen for Countess Dolingen de Vries (Rosalba Neri, as Sara Bay) with Franz taking an interest in Tanya (Enza Sbordone, as Francesca Romana Davila), the innkeeper’s daughter.

De Vries’ majestic castle is inhabited not only by the Countess, but also her loyal servant Lara (Esmeralda Barros), a Mysterious Man (Gengher Gatti, as Alexander Getty), and the monstrous Vampire Monster (Xiro Papas, as Ciro Papas). While still pursuing Tanya, libertine Franz falls for the considerable charms of Countess de Vries, who every five decades, on the Night Of the Virgin Moon uses her Wagnerian magic ring to summon virgins to her castle. In Bathory fashion she bathes in their blood to retain her youth and immortality in a pact forged with the dark lord himself. De Vries seduces Franz and eventually turns him into a vampire. In a black mass wedding meant to “consecrate their union” Karl, who has followed his brother to the Carpathian moutains, must now face the horror of his malefic undead brother, the fang-bearing Countess, and her legion of evil servants.

The majority of The Devil’s Wedding Night was directed by Luigi Batzella, who was primarily known for his work in spaghetti westerns and the Django! franchise. Batzella would gain infamy for his nunsploitation vehicle Secret Confessions Of a Cloistered Convent (1972), that also featured Neri and Damon in lead parts, his batshit insane gothic horror throwback Nude For Satan (1974), and a pair of il sadiconazista offerings including, but not limited to, The Beast In Heat (1977). Principal photography took place at Piccolomini Castle in Balsorano in the south central region of Abruzzo in the province of L'Aquila, Italy. Second unit director Aristide Massaccesi (under his English nom de plume Joe D’Amato) shot the opening chase sequence, and Neri’s bloodbathing scene, the latter of which is bristlingly erotic thanks to Neri’s curvaceous figure and luscious writhing as she is doused by Esmeralda Barros. Several different versions exist, most notably a standard 90 minute version with small variations, and a definitive 130 minute cut. The screenplay, written by Ralph Zucker and Mark Damon (under the pseudonym Alan M. Harris), was based on the story “The Brides of Countess Dracula” by Ian Danby.

The strength of The Devil’s Wedding Night lies not merely in that it pushes the envelope in terms of eroticism and on-screen grue, it plainly is more atmospheric and involving than Javier Aguirre’s glacially paced, and rather stuffy Count Dracula's Great Love (1973), or Amando de Ossorio’s conservative Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969). The Devil’s Wedding Night positions itself closer to León Klimovsky’s The Dracula Saga (1973) as far as atmosphere and production design is concerned. Rosalba Neri exudes the same kind of nobility and timeless charm that Narciso Ibáñez Menta had in the Klimovsky movie, and that Paul Naschy and Julián Ugarte missed in theirs. On the whole The Devil’s Wedding Night is a lot more lively than the stuffier entries in the gothic horror genre from this period. The presence of Rosalba Neri and Enza Sbordone make the plot contrivances and Damon’s virtually indistinguishable double role slightly more tolerable.