Sunday, November 08, 2009

Tomb of the Werewolf – review


Director: Fred Olen Ray

Release date: 2004

Contains spoilers

As well as directing guilty pleasure the Lair, Fred Olen Ray directs some right twaddle. On the other hand, Spannish horror icon Paul Naschy has made a career out of becoming a werewolf (amongst other things) films and amongst Naschy’s excursions as the cursed Waldemar Daninsky is Werewolf Shadow, which was directed by the great León Klimovsky. It seems a shame then that this reimagining of the Daninsky story should be created by an old hack like Ray.

Blood bathingTypically, like many of Ray’s productions, the cast is peppered with actors more famous for porn roles – indeed Ray’s films do seem to fluctuate between B horror movies and softcore porn. This film starts with a girl (Jenna West) bound to a tree as she is approached by Elizabeth Bathory (Michelle Bauer, who we last saw in Morgana). Bathory summons the devil (Brian Carrillo) and told that she must make sacrifices to Satan and, for immortality and to maintain her looks, she must bathe in their blood. She slices the girl’s throat and rubs her face in blood.

Danielle Petty as Melanie CharlesModern day. We see the end of the show Current Mysteries, hosted by Melanie Charles (Danielle Petty). Watching it are Melanie and one of the shows producers, Tony (Leland Jay). He is called to a meeting by studio executive Gilchrist (Don Donason). Before he goes there is just time for a quick sex session – I mention because the fast cut away before any action actually took place didn’t jar with this scene, it further established the two as a couple. However every subsequent, gratuitous, sex scene (straight and lesbian) fast cut away before we actually saw much more than a breast – as though Ray was (strangely) embarrassed to add such scenes in and yet needing to simulate a Euro-sexploitation. Actually it was atypical softcore 'titilation' but nevertheless it jarred.

looking into the pastTony is introduced to Richard Daninsky (Jay Richardson). He is the last of the Daninskys and has just inherited the European castle. There is talk of the castle containing a treasure and so Daninsky has brought a book with the family history. The idea is that Current Mysteries will go to the castle, with a psychic investigator, and film an episode looking for the treasure. Tony takes the book home and Melanie starts to read it and we get a cut scene back into the life of Waldemar Daninsky and his bride Eleanor (Stephanie Bentley).

the wolfman comethWaldemar and Eleanor were deeply in love but then she was struck down with the Black Death. Waldemar was approached by Bathory who stated that she could save Eleanor – for a price. She demanded a kiss and bit Waldemar’s lip. That night, as he watched his beloved (who seemed not much better, to be honest) the full moon shone and he transformed into a werewolf. He killed Eleanor.

the crewTony and Melanie arrive at the castle and meet up with their crew, Christie (Jacy Andrews), Leslie (Beverly Lynne) and Steve (Frankie Cullen). They also meet creepy house keeper Elizabeth… yes Bathory herself is the housekeeper. After the obligatory lesbian scene, cut short as described above, the filmmakers and Richard settle down to dinner. Then psychic Amanda arrives and we can clearly see that she is Eleanor returned.

staked by silver crossAs Elizabeth leads Richard to the castle crypt, to show him a secret, Amanda dreams of Waldemar. She dreams of him hunted, in wolf form, and captured by a mob. Of him imprisoned and then killed by having a silver cross stuck through his heart… For those not au fait with the Naschy films' general lore, werewolves can be killed, rather like vampires, by putting a silver cross through the heart. Remove the cross and they come back to life, unless the cross was wielded by one who truly loves the werewolf.

a hypno-necklace!So, Richard is in the crypt and Elizabeth gets him to open up Waldemar’s tomb and there is said silver cross. She tells him to remove it but, when he refuses, she gets him to look at her necklace – which turns out to be a hypno-necklace! He takes out the cross and faces away from the tomb so doesn’t see Waldemar coming back to life (with fresh blood at his hairy old mouth, at that). Of course Richard is wolf food. So… the wolfman is up and at ‘em and Bathory is going to need one of her special baths sooner rather than later. Our intrepid film crew is in all sorts of trouble.

death of a vampireOf course, Bathory is our focus and there isn’t too much lore to give you – except one really weird bit. She bathes in blood (and also licks it up) and is clearly immortal. Because Daninsky killed Eleanor she is stuck at the castle (this isn’t further explained but I’m guessing that as the reward for his soul wasn’t paid – ie Eleanor getting better – it screwed the deal) until he gives Satan 6 souls, and he had killed 6 by the time she says that. The weird lore is surrounding the hypno-necklace as it turns out that pulling the necklace off makes her eyes glow, electricity spark and her blow up!

when werewolves go madThe film is poor, badly acted, had little to no atmosphere and a story that – despite some meandering – has been done several times before and much more competently within the Naschy back catalogue. Naschy himself has little to do in human form, just lurking around in the background and looking much older than the portrait of him that hangs in the castle. It was a waste of a man who three years later absolutely proved that he still had it, in the excellent short the Vampyre. I do have to say, however, that Michelle Bauer has aged very well indeed and looks absolutely fine in this.

The bottom line is, if you want to watch a Waldemar Daninsky story then go for one of the European productions and avoid this straight to DVD monstrosity. 1 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

EDIT 4/5/15: The film has been re-released (region 1) as the Unliving and the cover states it is uncensored and uncut.

It certainly does have extended sex scenes that maintain a degree of modesty but are certainly longer and more explicit than the first release (perhaps not as pained as a quick fumble then fade to black but undoubtedly gratuitous also). It is also around about 15 minutes longer.

As I re-watched I, at first, wondered whether I was a little harsh with the score but, honestly, with the impact on the Naschy legacy, the plot holes and the logic fails the score probably stands. However, if you are wanting the film for your collection you should go for the Unliving edit.


MadeInScotland said...

Have you heard about the Hammer exhibition currently on until 15 November?

I've bought a fang-tastic portrait of the Prince of Darkness himself, commissioned especially for the exhibition.

Made in Scotland: Rest In Peace (No More)


Taliesin_ttlg said...

MadeinScotland - no I hadn't heard about it... unfortunately I don't think I'll be in London before it ends... it is a striking portrait you bought a well...

Nicole_Hadaway said...

Just looking at the pics this looks like a fantastically bad movie. I've seen Trick Or Treaters with better werewolf faces than that!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Nicole - the Naschy wolfmna look kind-of worked in the 70s/80s but in the noughties it was a bit terrible :)

Anthony Hogg said...

Fred Olen Ray also directed Beverly Hills Vamp (1989).

That flick also featured Michelle Bauer and Robert Quarry, funnily enough.

Just don't expect quality from it!

Although that shouldn't be too surprising.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Expect another couple of Fred Olen Ray efforts in the next couple of days...

I suppose I should keep my eye out for Beverly Hills Vamp, given the Deathmaster himself is in it!!