Saturday, 25 February 2012

Curse of the Devil

1973, Spain, Directed by Carlos Aured
Colour, Running Time: 84 minutes
Review Source: DVD, R1, Anchor Bay; Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: DD Mono

Following indirectly on from several earlier films Curse of the Devil continues the mythic saga of Waldemar Daninsky. In the middle ages one of Daninsky’s ancestors is cursed by a worshipper of Satan as the love-loving witch is burned at the stake, a curse that is intended to be carried down through the generations until the ‘present day’ where we catch up with the aristocratic Waldemar as he roams the woods shooting at stray wolves. At a local black mass orgy Satan himself makes an appearance, sending one of his females on a mission to infect Waldemar with the werewolf virus by having him bitten with the skull (!) of a wolf, after the woman has made love to him of course. Elsewhere there is a lunatic on the loose, randomly chopping up various people with an axe - as Waldemar gradually begins transforming into a werewolf the homicidal activities of man and beast segue into one another as townspeople speculate whether the perpetrator is human or not.
Whilst the continuity of the film is slightly uneven in places, events and people jumping around almost to suit the requirements of a chaotic narrative, compensation materialises in the form of a satisfactory supernatural ambience as well as a dose of directorial panache (Aured made a number of good films with Paul Naschy, including Horror Rises From The Tomb). As with the other Daninsky films that I’ve seen (not all of them are easy to locate) Curse of the Devil (or El Retorno de Walpurgis) happily sits within an odd universe all of its own creation, mixing up its own rules and forcing its dazed inhabitants to abide by them. The eventual manner in which the werewolf (played by Paul Naschy as always) is introduced is gradual and non-sensationalist - our first glimpse of him/it is from a distance as he slaughters two villagers, with no clear view of his features. As the mayhem snowballs Waldemar himself (in between love-making sessions with other women) is falling for a woman he saves in the woods, a prerequisite no doubt designed to add to the inherently tragic nature of the character. In fact she plays a greater role than mere love interest, actually becoming pregnant with the child that she ultimately retells the tale to in flashback, in addition to becoming instrumental in the werewolf’s fate, as he was in hers. She’s quite a tough soul too - despite being confronted with violent death in the family, discovering a man with his head squashed by a rock, etc., she seems remarkably unperturbed by her exposure to the terrors of the countryside. Despite her apparently unfeeling nature Waldemar becomes involved with her nonetheless, and thus his ultimate destiny is cemented. The werewolf himself is quite an uncanny creation, modelled by Naschy’s own admission on the Lawrence Talbot character of Universal’s The Wolf Man and its sequels. He won’t exactly put the frights up anyone nowadays but his inhuman ghastliness is an acknowledgeable factor that makes him compulsively viewable - these films are pleasingly addictive. The ominous rural locations are a suitable boost to the hostile world, enveloping the characters in a mysterious bubble from which there’s no real escape. Naschy achieved what he set out to do: update Universal’s formula with added sex and gore for a modern audience, and in the process he pretty much kick-started the Spanish horror movie industry that would bring us so many cool films along the way. Curse of the Devil is a surprisingly violent entry in the series considering when it was made, it features sizzling Euro women in various states of undress, Naschy’s doomed werewolf, an alien world, and a mob of angry villagers to boot - just about all the ingredients one needs for a good night in!

There are two US DVD releases of this that are worth considering and relatively easy to obtain: Anchor Bay’s disc features a detailed print with an almost sepia colour scheme that seems to aid the otherworldly story, but alas there is only an ugly English dub to listen to. Actually it’s not that bad compared to many I’ve heard but given a choice I’d take the Spanish dub every time. BCI Eclipse’s Spanish genre series (sadly long defunct) put out the same film with a slightly inferior transfer in all respects (in fact after the first batch hit the streets a number of technical corrections were made before a reissue) but with a choice between Spanish or English soundtracks, therefore it’s down to personal requirements which disc would be more suitable. Extras are slim in either case. If you know what to expect from Paul Naschy and in particular his peculiar Waldemar Daninsky werewolf series then Curse of the Devil won’t be a complete surprise, but it’s an appropriately morbid part of the franchise that should please fans.

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