NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF (El Retorno del Hombre Lobo, 1980) is a part of director Paul Naschy's series about the lycanthropic shape-changing Lord Waldemar Daninsky. The 1968's "Werewolf Shadow", this Euro-horror franchise came 10 years before "An American Werewolf in London". Now unlike, some other werewolf films that also came out in the early-mid 80's, Naschy's approach is more about traditional, old-fashioned gothic horror with the added elements of a romantic tragedy.
In the 16th century, Countess Bathory (Julia Saly) is sentenced to a slow death by being imprisoned in a stone tablet due to her machinations with the devil. Her lycanthropic aide, Waldemar is more than willing to die and end his enslavement to the wicked Countess. After many centuries, Waldemar's corpse was found by a pair of grave robbers and they took the silver cross that kept his body in place; thereby awakening the werewolf.
Some days after, three beauteous aspiring archaeologists led by Erika (Silvia Aguilar) crosses paths with a revived Waldemar and they accept his hospitality in his castle. Karen (beauteous Azucena Hernandez) instantly falls in love with Waldemar; apparently she is the chosen one who will end the Count's curse. Erika herself is a student of the dark arts and she intends to revive the vampiress; Countess Bathory, with the blood of her friend Barbara (Pilar Alcon). Bathory awakens after many centuries and is determined to once again put Waldemar under their enthrallment in order to fulfill the prophecies of darkness on Earth.
"Night of the Werewolf" is undoubtedly very much linked with other films of the series. I have not seen "Werewolf Shadow", (or did I?) so I can only assume that this entry would be a "souped-up" version of the ones that came before. Despite this film's title, it definitely plays more like a vampire film than a werewolf film; the film is slower-paced with a developing storyline and has a very restrained amount of blood and violence. Indeed, the film does appear to be very sexy and seductive in its own way, much like a vampire film. There is a fair amount of nudity and sex but very mild in today's standards. The film is definitely a gothic horror film; although its timeline can be easily placed in a modern era, with the presence of a pool party in the beginning where women prance around in bikinis, the appearance of a car--but besides all those elements, if you take those scenes out, most of the film's costumes and the backdrop (in an ancient castle) has that very "gothic" feel to it.
The film's special effects utilize the old fashioned style of camera fade-outs and traditional animation of photos that were further developed in the 80's. You see Naschy is in half-man, half-wolf form with his shirt still in place. The Lycan look is more reminiscent of the old-school "Wolfman" rather than the lycans in the "Howling". Waldemar may be a lycan but he is a gentleman, and gentlemen always keeps their shirts on. The female vampires are quite breathtaking; they are quite beautiful and seductive, and follows the look of earlier vampire features. Their fangs look as if they've been done by a professional orthodontist much to the film's credit. The film also comes with the usual "foggy" special effects that emulate a spooky atmosphere, that is further enforced by the torch-lit castle, and cobwebbed crypts.
While "Night of the Werewolf" is a nostalgic return to old-fashioned traditional romantic horror films that can be compared to the Hammer monster films in the 60's, the film does have its faults. There are a few plot holes and some scenes seem to jump around in sequence. The love between Waldemar and Karen seemed severely underdeveloped; chosen or manufactured by destiny, one would be hard-pressed to believe that Karen would just fall in love with him after being unconscious. But hey, what do I know about the supernatural power of Love? One minute, Erika and Barbara were about to go to bed (excuse to show nudity) then they are in the Countess' tomb. These little things may hamper the film's pace to the experienced watcher. The screenplay does have its share of carelessness but some scenes still would hold out well even by today's standards. (a naked, lifeless body hung upside-down while it drips blood to revive Bathory and blood poured onto Mircalla are classic scenes)
Still, "NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF" is a refreshing watch and a welcome homage to traditional gothic romantic horror/tragedies. The film may be slower-paced than what we are used to and those looking for an abundance of blood and violence may be a little let down. The battle between a werewolf and a vampire always holds a certain charisma, especially to the avid horror fan. When viewing this film, keep in mind that it was made more than 25 years ago and enjoy it for what it is. The film may have its shortcomings in the technical side and definite flaws in its storytelling that makes it feel rather dated, but it may also be seen as part of the film's main draw. The film is a definite TRUE homage to classic horror/monster features.
Highly RECOMMENDED! To fans of Gothic Horror [4 Stars]
Please view the film in its original Castillian language and use the English Subtitles, it is much better than utilizing the English dubbed track. Special thanks to Trashcanman for pointing out this film to me.