The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman (1972)
Originally published 6/1/2003
Matrix Reloaded: “Free Your Mind”. Now, certainly it references the plot and theme of the movie, or at least the first Matrix, and it also alludes to some of the philosophical conceits of the series, but when I first saw the tagline I was compelled to complete it: “Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow,” from the title of the classic 1971 Funkadelic album. My reaction to this begs the question: was this an intended effect? After all, millions are spent test marketing these sorts of things, and no doubt it occurred to some marketing whiz kid that some slice (however thin) of the movie going demographic would be prone to catch this reference (and probably not specifically the Funkadelic reference, as more people are familiar with the slogan as they are to the album of the same name). We are vain consumers, and we are confident that we are immune to advertising’s tricks and gimmicks, but are we really? Like the characters in the Matrix movies, are we living in a constructed reality where we are spoon-fed culture and allusion? We can congratulate ourselves by feeling that we are above the fray. We feel smarter by recognizing the Buzzcocks or Clash song behind the car commercial, but then feel the ironic remorse of having a small piece of our youth used to push product; then flattered by realizing that we are their hip, smart, and affluent target demographic (despite the fact that many of us cannot possibly afford to own a brand new Jaguar); then feeling cool enough to know how we’re being solicited. But the particular buttons are still being pushed. Our buttons are being pushed; our coolness is being usurped; and then we come to the excruciating realization that we may be dealing with people smarter and craftier than ourselves.
La Noche de Walpurgis was released in the grindhouses and drive-ins of America as The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman. A big hit in Europe, cementingPaul Naschy’s position as Spain’s preeminent horror film star, it came to America with all the fanfare and bluster of a dusty, ratty, moth-eaten circus. I saw it as a young teenager one gummy-eyed late night in the ‘70’s on San Antonio’s KENS-TV’s Project Terror program (“Where the scientific and the mystifying emerge…”). Project Terror’s programming consisted mainly of European horror at the time, and although some were heavily edited, one could see a glimpse of a bare breast once in a while and some cool but cheap gross-out gore. Ah, adolescence! I don’t remember either actively liking or disliking it, but I do remember thinking that the werewolf makeup looked cheap and that the vampire woman (played by Patty Shepard) looked pretty hot, so much that I rooted for her in the climactic battle with the good guy wolfman Waldemar Daninsky played by Paul Naschy. A silly diversion, nothing more, nothing less. I hadn’t thought about the movie since I saw it over 25 years ago. I’ve seen some other Naschy horror titles on video since then House of Psychotic Women is one that immediately comes to mind), and they’re certainly fun to watch if you don’t mind the fast, cheap, and out of control nature of the movies, but they contain none of the cruel poetry and transgressive power of the best of ‘70’s Euro-horror (de Ossorio’s Blind Dead series, Rollin’s vampire films, Argento’s Suspiria, even a couple of Franco’s films). Naschy’s work is a throwback to the Universal horrors of the ‘30’s and ‘40’s, albeit with nudity and gore, but unfortunately adds nothing new to the mix.
But the poster got me thinking about the movie again, if only for its outlandish taglines, which has a raucous poetry all its own. The movie industry as we know it was founded by former circus and carnival men who saw the potential of making money hand over fist by projecting moving pictures on a screen for a roomful of paying customers. They also knew the value of the barker and huckster, and how they were essential for getting bodies (or conning the rubes) into the show. As Hollywood became more of a factory town, and movies the most significant new art form in the twentieth century, the carnival roots began to recede back into the background. The new business model for the manufacturer of dreams that Hollywood became eschewed the old patter and snake oil roots of the old tycoons. Careful and premeditated scientific advertising and marketing became the rule. Test screenings and surveys were all important in the pushing of a Hollywood movie. Indeed, the high cost of production demanded a more consistent model than gut feelings and choice taglines. The last vestiges of the old hucksterism survived in the marketing of cheap exploitation and genre films like The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman. One can imagine some old cigar chewing carny hammering out the copy, or perhaps a clever young stoner with aspirations to write for Creem or Crawdaddy, head swimming with cough syrup. Either way, there was nothing careful or subtle about the poster or its taglines (well, maybe the “blood flows like vintage wine” was intended to lend a certain amount of class). In any case, adding “versus” to a movie title automatically relegates it to a drive-in or kiddie matinee second feature (Navy vs. The Night Monsters; Samson vs. The Vampire Women;Kramer vs. Kramer), so the distributors evidently had no high hopes for this Spanish import. The film went through the rounds on the drive-in and grindhouse circuit, ended up on late-night television, had its script novelized in paperback (which is quite rare, selling for up to $100), released on VHS as Blood Moon in the early ‘80’s (in an oversized box, which is a collectable in its own right) and was confined to the dustier corners of your local video store’s horror section where it remained unwatched except when pale and gloomy horror fans came around, looking for the rarest of the rare, a film they read about in passing on Video Watchdog or Psychotronic. And the copy was crappy looking, old and full of tape glitches, and the clerks didn’t give a shit because all they cared about was whether the copies of Dances with Wolves were being returned in time, because it was a new release, a big renter, and it won Best Picture, right?
message boards and are much more vocal about a discrepancy in the aspect ratio of Flavia the Heretic than your average fan of The Sting would be. Call it the triumph of the filmgeek, or the ascendancy of paracinema, where the art, exploitation, and genre film all provide a refreshing and intelligent alternative to the stultifying mainstream Hollywood school of moviemaking. One can call this as indicative of the cultural relativism that many conservatives decry, but in actuality it is a rebellion against the pabulum spoon-fed us by the major studios, a reaction, and an often bitter one, to the marketing and the hype and manufactured brouhaha that Hollywood so carefully and surgically applies. It’s not as if we feel we are above being sold to, but sell us a movie, not a concept, not a catchphrase we can repeat to our buddies at work. You can be brazen and crude, if you like. In fact we would prefer it.
Anchor Bay Entertainment released La Noche de Walpurgis (aka Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman, Blood Moon) as Werewolf’s Shadow, the most complete version of the movie yet, complete with material from the pressbook, a theatrical trailer, and a 15 minute interview with the film’s star, Paul Naschy. The DVD shows a full face of the growling werewolf and in the foreground a woman about to be beheaded by a medieval executioner. The copy promoting the disc at the Anchor Bay website reads thusly:
“A man cursed for eternity with the mark of the werewolf rescues two young women researching the legend of a vampire queen, and together they unleash a ferocious rampage of bloodlust, lycanthropy and lesbianism.”Bloodlust, lycanthropy, and lesbianism. It’s reassuring to know that the carny instinct has not died.
More InfoFor Paul Naschy information, you can't go wrong with The Mark of Naschy.
For "(i)nquisition tortures, gruesome bloodletting of naked beauties, whippings, lesbian vampires lapping up each other's gushing blood, throat slashings, lustful ravashings(sp), flesh and more flesh--all in one incredible 106 minute tape taken from the best available sources!!!" go no further than Paul Naschy: The Forbidden Scenes, where you can pick up the video in question.
Bloodsuckers and Breasts: The Vampire Films of Leon Klimovsky.
There is an actual Walpurgis Night (Noche de Walpurgis), which is a night not unlike Halloween, indeed it is situated directly opposite from Halloween on the calendar. It occurs on April 30, the day before May Day, the final triumph of spring over winter. On Walpurgis Night, children perform pranks and dress up like spirits and witches. What this has to do with a werewolf combating a vampire woman beats me, but then I haven't seen the movie in over 25 years.