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Plot: Waldemar Daninsky becomes the subject of a mad scientist

The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968) made Paul Naschy the new promise of Spanish horror. Lucrative as the first El Hombre Lobo feature was follow-ups were bound to follow. The first of these was the Universal Monster/science fiction hybrid Assignment Terror (1969) with a cadaverous Michael Rennie and German import/erstwhile Bond girl Karin Dor. The alleged French co-production Nights Of the Werewolf (1968) (with a cast including Peter Beaumont, Monique Brainville, Helene Vatelle, and Beba Novak) is widely believed to be a fabrication on Naschy’s part to bolster his then-nascent career. According to statements by Naschy at the time he spent one week of a five-week production schedule in France shooting his scenes and director René Govar tragically died in car accident shortly after. There were no surviving prints, and historical information is practically non-existent and what little is known is nebulous at best. The history surrounding The Fury Of the Wolfman (1970) is extensively documented and reinstated the Waldemar Daninsky franchise to its gothic horror roots. The Fury Of the Wolfman is indeed infuriating mostly because it should have been a lot better than it ended up being.

The third chapter in the continuing saga of cursed Polish nobleman Waldemar Daninsky proved especially difficult. Once again based upon a screenplay by Paul Naschy (as Jacinto Molina Álvarez) and produced by Maximiliano Pérez-Flores and César Gallego, The Fury Of the Wolfman was fraught with trouble from the beginning. For undisclosed reasons Enrique López Eguiluz, director of the rustic The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968), was fired with only a minimum of footage in the can. Basque director José María Zabalza - whose reputation as a bon vivant bohemian and rank pulp specialist preceded him at that point - was hired. Zabalza spent the production in a state of constant inebriation leaving Naschy to direct the feature. Reportedly the on-set chaos that Zabalza left in his alcoholic state had Nashy bursting in fits of tears seeing how awful the production was turning out. Adding further insult to injury Zabalza’s 14-year old nephew was allowed to rewrite the script. Zabalza’s non-involvement in directing can be traced back to 1969 when he had commenced pre-production on Bullets over Dallas (1970), Twenty Thousand Dollars for a Corpse (1971), and The Arizona Rebels (1972), three spaghetti westerns that pooled the same cast and crew that the Irunés was slated to write/direct. The Fury Of the Wolfman is widely considered to be the worst in the Waldemar Daninsky El Hombre Lobo canon.

"When the heliotrope starts growing among rough rocks and the full moon shines at night,” the narrator booms, “in a certain area in the earth, a man turns into a wolf.” Not that any heliotropes will be seen or mentioned, or that they will have any major or minor significance in the plot, anywhere in the next 90 minutes. At least it’s a cool start. In The Fury Of the Wolfman Waldemar Daninsky (Jacinto Molina Álvarez, as Paul Naschy) is a professor at the university of Kingsburg, California. On an expedition in Himalayas his group is attacked by a Yeti who savages everybody of his party and leaves Daninsky with a gash on his chest. Always the scientist Daninsky discounts the possibility on a whim, despite the visible evidence. "It was a Yeti. But that's impossible. I'm a scientist and these things don't exist. It was a hallucination. That's all." Injured Waldemar wanders the frozen wasteland until he happens upon a Tibetan monastery. A monk takes him in and treats his injuries. “Pentagram, pentagram!” screams the sufficiently frightened monk while Daninsky’s wound is actually pentagonal shaped. Once recovered Daninsky returns to his home in the US. At home he greets his wife Erika Wilson (Pilar Zorrilla, as Diana) and retreats to the bedroom, his sleep haunted by the horrible Tibetan incident. At university he runs into an old colleague, and former lover, of his by the name of Dr. Ilona Ellman (Perla Cristal). Ellman has developed a revolutionary new brainwave theory and is set to test it in her laboratory. As a former associate and lover she inquires after Daninsky’s emotional state, all while harbouring an unspoken and unrequited love for the pint-sized professor.

As he’s leaving the faculty Waldemar is handed a letter that he goes to read in the comfort of his car. From across the street Neville Yates (Fabián Conde, as Fabian Conde) watches on as Daninsky becomes enraged as he reads that his wife was involved in an affair. With the brakes on his vehicle rigged he crashes violently in a nearby tree and struggles, wounded and bleeding, back to his home. Finding nobody there he waggles to Ellman’s opulent castle. He’s patched up by his old flame, and finds that Ilona has a live-in assistant called Karen (Verónica Luján, as Veronica Lujan), whose misplaced loyalty to her tutor almost borders on the fanatic. With his wounds cared for Waldemar returns to his home when a full moon starts to rise. Upon turning into a werewolf Daninsky attacks and graphically kills his duplicitious wife Erika and makes short work of her lover Neville only moments later. Still overcome with rage Waldemar hurries outside into a particularly wild thunderstorm. Somehow he becomes entangled in a severed electric cable and is electrocuted. Police detective Wilhelm Kaufmann (Miguel de la Riva, as Michael Rivers) is the first on the scene and discovers the cut brake line. An investigation is opened and some basic sleuthing leads him to the sudden disappearance and death of esteemed Kingsburg professor Waldemar Daninsky.

Ellman, Karen, and her bevy of white-clad bosomy, mini-skirted science belles (Victoria Hernández and Diana Montes) waste no time in disinterring Daninsky’s remains. As the doctor and her vixens drag the professor’s cadaver to a cellar dungeon a caped, white masked figure (Francisco Amorós, as Francisco Almoros) stalks the shadowed hallways observing what happens in the castle’s bowels. As it turns out the deepest dungeons are filled with subjects of Ellman’s failed past experiments, male and female alike. Karen’s reporter beau Bill Williams (Mark Stevens) takes note of her sudden absence and he and the police detective smell something is afoot with the recent spate of mutilated bodies that seem to turn up everywhere. Ellman entrusts in Karen that her she can bring Waldemar back from the dead with the help of science. According to her most recent findings she’ll be able to mind control the subjects of her experiments. After a wolven Daninsky has slain several more innocent townspeople Karen reveals to Daninsky that Ellman has power over his lycanthropic form thanks to her mind control. After some more back and forth in the castle’s deeper reaches Karen and Waldemar discover that the masked and disfgured figure is Helmut Wolfstein, a neurologist infamous for his experiments on unwilling subjects, and that Ilona is his daughter Eva.

A cursory read through Ilona’s personal journal does indeed confirm these findings. Putting one and one together Daninsky deduces that Erika was a subject in Ellman’s mind control schemes and that the entire thing was just a ruse to have her reunited with her former flame. Ilona returns to the château and with Waldemar and Karen right where she wants them, the doctor unveils her diabolical plans. While the two of them were putting the pieces together Ellman resurrected Erika, now too a lycanthrope due to Daninsky’s earlier savaging, and Ilona forces both werewolves to fight each other. Daninsky slays his former wife and is instructed by Ilona to kill Karen, who she has now bound in chains. Waldemar, finally able to surpass Ilona’s mind control, attacks the doctor gashing her across the face and throat. Ellman is able to reach for her Luger firing two silver bullets into the wolven Waldemar, then crawls on him and kisses him goodbye. By this point Williams and the detective have made their way into the castle and free Karen from her chains. The body of the vertically-challenged Polish nobleman is carted off to the coroner’s office. Supposedly to be examined and be given a final restingplace.

While the existence of French co-production Nights Of the Werewolf (1968) and the veracity of Naschy’s claims surrounding it remain dubious at best, the main plot was deemed good enough for The Fury Of the Wolfman. Compared to the more rustic The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968), The Fury Of the Wolfman suffers from both appalling direction and cinematography from Leopoldo Villaseñor. Under the circumstances Naschy did well enough, but the colourless second unit direction by Rodolfo Medina – whose only other credit of note would be Juan Piquer Simón’s Jules Verne adaptation Journey to the Center of the Earth (1977) – doesn’t help. The castle interior scenes are frequently underlit and the entire colour scheme lacks the vivacity of The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968). Surprisingly Villaseñor would redeem himself with The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman (1971).

The score by Ángel Arteaga and Zabalza’s wife Ana Satrova comprises of recycled stings and cues from The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968) and original new music, all of which are more often than not unsuitable for the scenes in which they appear. The production went overbudget and as a cost-cutting measure stock footage from The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968), along with additional scenes with a wolfman stunt double that didn’t match any of the existing footage, were inserted. It wasn’t clear who was going to edit the production and at one point the master print disappeared. The Fury Of the Wolfman had a hard time finding a distributor and at one pre-release screening for a potential distributor Zabalza was found urinating in a gutter in front of the theater. It was finally picked up for release by AVCO Embassy Pictures in 1973 before gigantic losses nearly bankrupted the company and Robert Rehme took over as president.

Even for Naschy standards the cast were relative nobodies and the most recognizable names were reliable second-tiers at best. Perla Cristal was in The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962) and The Secret Of Dr. Orloff (1964) from back in the days when Jess Franco actually showed some mild promise as a filmmaker and when appearing in one of his productions wasn’t a potential career killer. Cristal had figured in the amiable Arabian Nights adventure 1001 Nights (1968) (with Luciana Paluzzi), and was a regular in spaghetti westerns. Victoria Hernández would play another supporting part in Amando de Ossorio’s The Loreley’s Grasp (1974). The only credits of note for Verónica Luján were León Klimovsky’s Commando Attack (1968) and Feast Of Satan (1971). Javier de Rivera was a regular in Spanish cinema, often playing figures of authority or law enforcement. Mark Stevens was the obligatory faded American star making a living in European exploitation. As always a domestic and international version were shot, with the Spanish version eschewing all the gratuitous nudity and gore of the international version. No wonder Paul Naschy all but denounced The Fury Of the Wolfman as it wasn’t exactly the finest hour for Waldemar Daninsky, his El Hombre Lobo. Thankfully the series would find a second lease on life with The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman (1971).

Plot: alien lifeform plans to conquer Earth by preying on mankind’s oldest fears

The box office success of The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968) demanded a follow-up to cement Paul Naschy’s reputation as the new promise of Spanish horror. That follow-up came in the form of Assignment Terror (released domestically as Los Monstruos del Terror and in North America as the heavily-cut Dracula vs Frankenstein), a pulpy showdown of epic proportions in the tradition of House of Frankenstein (1944). As an Italian/German/Spanish co-production it passed the hands of several directors, and was the swansong performance of veteran Hollywood actor Michael Rennie. Assignment Terror is a lot of things, but for the most part it is campy. It is, in all likelihood, the least conventional of Naschy’s enduring Waldemar Daninsky saga. It has everything. Aliens, mad scientists, vampires, mummies, and Waldemar Daninsky in what amounts to a supporting role - Assignment Terror has it all, and none of it makes any sense.

Assignment Terror was the swansong effort of producer Jaime Prades and the beginning of the darkest period of the El Hombre Lobo saga. Prades produced the historical drama El Cid (1961) as well as the Biblical epics King Of Kings (1961) and The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964). Assignment Terror was the first Waldemar Daninsky installment to follow the elusive (and believed to be largely fabricated) French co-production Nights Of the Werewolf (1968) of which allegedly no prints survive. Assignment Terror had a larger budget than The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968), but most of it was squandered as a host of directors came and went and costs spiraled out of control. The sequel The Fury Of the Wolfman (1970) didn’t fare much better either with director José María Zabalza being in a state of constant inebriation, forcing star and scriptwriter Paul Naschy to handle direction in his absence. Despite the difficulties Naschy managed to rope in an assortment of Spanish, German and American stars for the second El Hombre Lobo feature, one that initially was known under the working title El Hombre que Vino de Ummo, or The Man Who Came from Ummo.

To save their highly-advanced race from extinction two delegates from the planet Ummo are teleported to Earth to prepare said planet for imminent colonization. To facilitate their plans they take corporeal form with the bodies of a pair of recently diseased scientists serving as their host. Odo, the leader of the alien colonists, possesses the body of the aging Dr. Varnoff (Michael Rennie) whereas Maleva overtakes biochemist Melissa Kerstein (Karin Dor), primarily chosen for her dark eyes and luscious curves. The two reanimate Dr. Kirian Downa (Ángel del Pozo, as Angel del Pozo), a young war surgeon killed in the field, for his surgical prowess. The aliens figure that the easiest way to conquer Earth is to prey upon mankind’s oldest fears and superstitions. To that end Odo decides that a visit to the local temple of knowledge, the library, is in place. Upon leafing through the pages of the Anthology Of the Monsters by professor Ulrich D. Varancksalan, an old tome depicting age-old horrors, Odo’s mind is suddenly illuminated. They will resurrect a number of literary, historical and folkloristic monsters from pages torn, quite literally at that, straight out of the arcane tome.

The aliens do not come upon this idea immediately, but only after witnessing a gypsy sideshow fortune-teller attraction at the local carnival. In a scene directly lifted from Universal’s House of Frankenstein (1944) the duo come across the vampire as part of a carnival exhibit. Maleva is instructed to use her comely charms on the male half of the duo while Odo will manipulate the gypsy woman (Helga Gleisser, as Ella Gessler) into removing the stake from the skeleton of the famed vampire Count Janos de Mialhoff (Manuel de Blas). Bolstered by their initial victory Odo and Maleva resurrect Varancksalan’s Monster (Ferdinando Murolo), and interred Polish nobleman Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy, as Paul Naschi). With Daninsky’s considerable wolven strenght at their disposal the aliens travel to Egypt to disentomb Tao-Tet (Gene Reyes), an acolyte of Amun-Ra, in the Valley of the Kings. The recent deaths of two prominent scientists and the disappearance of a librarian (Diana Sorel) pique the interest of inspector Henry Tobermann (Craig Hill) who promptly opens an investigation into the strange going-ons. His search for clues brings him into the orbit of go-go-boot-wearing Ilsa (Patty Shepard, as Patty Sheppard), the daughter of Judge Sternberg (Peter Damon), who had his own encounter with werewolves as a young man in Germany a generation earlier as was depicted in The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968).

American actor Robert Taylor had expressed interest to Naschy in doing the picture, but it would be an aging and deadly ill Michael Rennie who landed the part. As before Paul Naschy (as Jacinto Molina Álvarez) wrote the screenplay and slated to direct was Hugo Fregonese, a Spanish national that had directed several western and adventure films in Hollywood in the 1950s and 60s. Fregonese lasted only a few weeks into production, and Argentinian expat Tulio Demichelli took over. Persistent hardships during production eventually took their toll on Demichelli and the naturalized Spaniard soon departed the production as well. Following Demichelli’s defection Antonio Isasi-Isasmendi stepped in allowing the troubled production to be completed. Allegedly German producer Eberhard Meichsner had a hand in directing too. With four people occupying the director seat at various points the jarring tonal shifts are all but expected. Director of photography Godofredo Pacheco lensed The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962), an atmospheric low-budget take on French production Eyes Without A Face (1960) and in all likelihood the only Jesús Franco film worth seeing. Naschy’s love for pulp was well-documented and Rennie’s character name is probably a tribute to horror legend Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood’s science fiction yarn Bride of the Monster (1955). Special effects artisan Antonio Molina has a diverse resumé that includes high-profile offerings as Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother (1999) and Live Flesh (1997), but also Jess Franco’s Devil Hunter (1980), the blaxploitationer Shaft in Africa (1973) as well as classic and not-so-classic Spanish horror ventures as Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973), Necrophagus (1971), and The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman (1971).

The biggest name on the bill is Michael Rennie, a respected Hollywood veteran known for his role as alien Klaatu in the Robert Wise genre classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and for his roles in the big budget peplum Princess of the Nile (1954) with Debra Paget, and the historical war epic The Battle of El Alamein (1969). Towards the end of the sixties Rennie was, like many of his contemporaries, forced to act in continental European low-budget schlock as Antonio Margheriti’s The Young, the Evil and the Savage (1968), León Klimovsky’s Commando Attack and Surabaya Conspiracy (1969). Karin Dor was a Bond girl in Lewis Gilbert’s You Only Live Twice (1967) and figured into Alfred Hitchcock’s Topaz (1969). Dor was a muse of director Harald Reinl and in that capacity she appeared in the Karl May adaptations Winnetou: the Red Gentleman (1964) and Winnetou: the Last Shot (1965), as well as several Edgar Wallace krimis.

Greenville, South Carolina’s Patty Shepard would get her own El Hombre Lobo feature with the León Klimovsky directed The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman (1971) and later would turn up in the gothic horror throwback The Witches Mountain (1975) from Raúl Artigot. Diana Sorel would turn up in José María Elorrieta’s The Curse of the Vampire (1972). Assignment Terror was one of the earlier roles of Manuel de Blas, husband of Shepard and an institution in Spanish cinema and television. Ángel del Pozo was an exploitation regular that appeared in the Alfonso Brescia spaghetti western The Colt Is My Law (1965), Eugenio Martin’s gothic horror ensemble piece Horror Express (1972), and Terence Young peplum breastacular The Amazons (1973), among many others.

The first El Hombre Lobo excelled in rustic gothic horror atmosphere. Assignment Terror on the other hand is pure, unbridled camp. The premise is completely ridiculous and its appallingly bittersweet to see an ailing actor of Rennie’s caliber forced to lower himself to cinematic tripe as this. Karin Dor, Diana Sorel, Helga Gleisser, and Fajda Nicol are all easy on the eyes as Naschy seldom disappoints in his choices of female talent. Daninsky is much more of a supporting role with the attention squarely on the Universal Horror monsters. The all-but-expected “emotion vs intellect” subplot emerges once the aliens begin to succumb to the fleshly desires of their corporeal form. Dr. Warnoff catches Maleva in flagrante delicto in between the sheets with Kerian, and promptly sends Varancksalan’s Monster to murder his accomplices. For maximum shock footage of a grisly real-life open-heart surgery was included for Naschy’s resurrection scene. It just as tasteless and unnecessary as it sounds. Naschy is only the sixth-billed in the cast despite being the hero of the piece, but he has the obligatory bosomy blonde that falls in love with his vertically-challenged character.

The Golem, who briefly appears in the Anthology Of the Monsters, doesn’t materialize for budgetary reasons. Not that it would have improved Assignment Terror in any way. The screenplay by Naschy (as Jacinto Molina Alvarez) is a convoluted mess that is frequently hard to follow and nigh on borders on the incoherent, despite the apparent simplicity of the premise. The selection of these specific Universal Monsters probably served as pretext for Naschy to portray them at a later point. After all Naschy would play Dracula in Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973), the Mummy in The Mummy’s Revenge (1975), and Frankenstein’s Monster in Howl Of the Devil (1987). More importantly it gave Patty Shepard a taster of the El Hombre Lobo universe before starring in her own feature with The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman (1971). In its defense, at least some of it had a point. The special effects by Antonio Molina are good for the time and the budget and Assignment Terror doesn’t shy away from the grue. Emblematic for Spanish horror at the time several scenes seemt to suggest the existence of a more nudity-heavy print for the international market. In the beginning of the decade several Italian horror productions already pushed the envelope in terms of eroticism. However it would never see domestic release with the repressive Franco regime still in power.

Assignment Terror is pulp of the purest variety. The El Hombre Lobo franchise worked best as loosely connected gothic horror genre pieces, and that would be what Naschy would return it to. All of the subsequent sequels would follow the formula, with each focusing on whatever was most marketable at that time. The Fury of the Wolfman (1970), The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman (1971), The Return of Walpurgis (1973) and The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975) all are vastly superior to Assignment Terror for wildly different reasons. While there’s little to connect all installments besides the presence of Daninsky there were certain standards Naschy strived for. Assignment Terror was the first El Hombre Lobo installment to miss the mark. Thankfully the franchise would return to prime with the swathe of sequels that soon followed. In between El Hombre Lobo sequels Naschy continued working on other projects - some which were at least as good, if not better - than his most enduring creation.