DR. JEKYLL VS. THE WEREWOLF
Color, 1972, 88m.
Directed by León Klimovsky
Starring Paul Naschy, Jack Taylor, Shirley Corrigan, Mirta Miller, José Marco
Code Red (US R0 NTSC), Mondo Macabro (UK R0 PAL) / (1.66:1) (16:9)
In the early '70s, Spanish horror was shifting into overdrive thanks to both glossy thrillers like The House That Screamed and easily exportable monster outings with Paul Naschy, who was quickly becoming an international favorite as the country's furry answer to Lon Chaney, Jr. Despite the political climate of the time, filmmakers were savvy enough to shoot dual versions of many of their horror offerings with nude scenes shot for the export versions and clothed ones for Spanish audiences. Two of the most famous films stuck in this situation were directed by León Klimovsky, who had been making films since the late '40s but struck gold with titles like The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman and Vengeance of the Zombies.
Often passed over in the history of Spanish horror because it doesn’t star Naschy, the atmospheric and fairly rewarding The Vampires' Night Orgy bears more in common with the gothic terrors being produced in Italy and other adjoining countries rather than the works of everyone’s favorite “hombre lobo.”
In a setup common to many ’70s supernatural tales, a bus load of innocents takes an unexpected detour when the driver drops dead from a heart attack. The passengers, all future employees ranging from a chauffeur to a gardener at an aristocratic mansion, make their way to a seemingly deserted village. However, they do stumble upon the journeying Luis (Jess Franco mascot Taylor), whose car has broken down, at the town bar. That night one of the unlucky newcomers goes to investigate the village’s empty streets and comes face to face with its inhabitants, who happen to sport fangs and a very nasty attitude. As their numbers dwindle, the humans attempt to piece together the mystery and find a way to escape with their lives.
Though it doesn't have any orgies per se and only lets the vampires run loose a couple of times, The Vampires’ Night Orgy is rarely boring and sports a solid cast of monsters and victims. The always appealing Helga Liné turns up as the vampires’ leader and could have used more screen time, while Taylor is a typically solid leading man. The scope photography makes the most of the spooky settings, which feel unnervingly genuine compared to the fog-bound sets of Hammer’s vampire sagas. It may not have quite the delirious kick of the Spanish bloodsucking yarns that followed later, namely Count Dracula’s Great Love and the criminally underrated Saga of the Draculas, but most will find their appetite for chills well sated here.
The UK label Pagan released the first DVD of The Vampires’ Night Orgy early in the format's history with a non-anamorphic transfer representing the “clothed” edition of what was previously released on the public domain circuit in the US, primarily through Sinister Cinema, with nudity intact. Bare breasts are replaced here with nighties, though some skin still slips through (including a brief bit not in the Sinister print). The image quality on that version looks very gray and lifeless, while the disc also includes some interesting cast and crew bios which contain some valuable bits of trivia for Euro fanatics. A pretty cruddy conversion of the same transfer was also available iffy channels like Eclectic and Alpha in the US.
Fortunately after a long, long absence from public availability, the racier unclothed version of The Vampires' Night Orgy resurfaced in a 2013 DVD release from Code Red, sold directly through their site. Obviously it's a much better transfer than the haggard VHS-era one (now long unavailable) from Sinister Cinema, and it's interesting to note here that pretty much all the nude scenes appear to be contained within the same reel. A nice cost-saving trick if you need appease the local censors and swap it out in a hurry. The source print has obviously been through a few projectors as there's a fair amount of damage, while the colors are better than before but still look weird and sickly. (That could be how it was shot, though, based on how dreary it's also looked elsewhere.) The film is preceded by a very politically incorrect movie theater food ad, so be warned!
The film was later revisited as a standalone Blu-ray release containing the theatrical trailer, and it's taken from the same film source with detail increasing a few notches. Whether that merits an upgrade depends on your mania for Spanish horror, but if you don't have it already, it's a solid film worth watching here in its strongest variant. As usual the English dub is the only track here, about as good as a DTS-HD MA mono track of a print could sound. The usual U.S. trailer is the sole extra.
Now, back to that DVD. The second feature on the same disc, Dr. Jekyll vs. the Werewolf, also received its DVD debut originally in the UK (from Mondo Macabro) only in its clothed variant but appears in its much stronger naked version here. (An even naughtier version on European VHS was also composited into a German DVD; read more details here.) This time Taylor returns (as Dr. Jekyll, of course) and teams up with Naschy for what feels like one of those '40s Universal monster mashes gone completely, stark raving mad.
Isolated Hungarian towns known for their werewolf population usually don't make the best honeymoon spot, but that doesn't stop young married Justine (The Devil's Nightmare's Corrigan) from journeying to this land of perpetual fog for some fun in the graveyards. Soon a group of bandits offs her husband and prepares to debase poor Justine, but she's saved at the last minute by everyone's favorite barrel-chested werewolf, Waldemar Daninsky (Naschy), who returns her to the local castle. Quickly overcoming her grief, Justine falls for the hirsute one and persuades him to return with her to London for treatment (with angry villagers nipping at his heels). Back home she introduces Waldemar to her pal, Dr. Jekyll, who injects the hapless werewolf with a serum which transforms him into that murderous cad, Mr. Hyde. Unfortunately the doc's possessive and romantically jealous assistant mucks things up with a strategically placed scalpel, leaving poor Waldemar stuck as the cane-wielding Hyde. Now loose in a city filled with swinging '70s clubs and nubile innocent women, this schizo monster must fight to resist his homicidal urges and return to the woman he loves.
This lunatic fifth installment in the Waldemar werewolf saga gives Naschy the chance to ham it up as two classic monsters for the price of one. Whether growling into the camera or wielding a mean cane, he's great fun to behold and keeps the film lively through some of the slower spots. Taylor has surprisingly little to do (and the title is actually a bit misleading as Jekyll isn't really "versus" anything), but the clash between gothic and groovy environments more than makes up for it. The lively double-climax finale is a lot of fun, with the requisite romantic tragedy thrown in as a nod to the Universal tradition.
The aforementioned Mondo Macabro DVD will likely remain the best-looking option for some time to come and contains the comparatively elegant Spanish audio with English subtitles here (no risible "cor, blimey!" English dub track to be found), but the absence of the surprisingly savage nude scenes is a major issue. In particular a topless whipping scene and a sex/strangulation bedroom encounter are far more potent in the export cut, which remained impossibly hard to find for many years. The Mondo Macabro disc also includes a 20-minute Naschy interview (quite charming and entertaining as usual), thorough bios for the main stars and director, and a text essay on the history of Spanish horror.
The Code Red transfer is definitely less pristine and not as vibrant, but it has those full-strength sex and violence scenes, and wow, does it make a difference. Again the strongest stuff is concentrated around one reel in the middle of the film, and it gives the whole production a major shot in the arm exactly where it needs it. Not surprisingly you just get the amusing English dub track here, which also features a sometimes different, much groovier music score that sounds like it wandered in from a nearby giallo production. As usual for Code Red, the disc kicks off with that obligatory trailer for Family Honor and also includes trailers for The Vampires' Night Orgy and - why not? - Teen Lust, under the title Girls Next Door. Spanish horror fans should jump on this one right away.