Color, 1971, 87 mins. 3 secs. /
Directed by León Klimovsky
Starring Paul Naschy, Gaby Fuchs, Barbara Capell, Andrés Resino, Yelena Samarina, Patty Shepard
Vinegar Syndrome (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0 4K/HD), Subkultur (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), BCI Eclipse (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The fifth time proved to be the charm for Spanish horror legend Paul Naschy in his string of appearances as the tragic werewolf Count Waldemar Daninsky with La Noche de Walpurgis, better known to U.S. theatergoers as The Werewolf vs. Vampire Woman and to DVD consumers as Werewolf Shadow. The Spanish horror boom had been picking up steam since the late '60s (including Naschy's lycanthropic debut in La Marca del Hombre Lobo, later mutated into Frankenstein's Bloody Terror), but this is the one where everything really clicked into place in the aftermath of 1968's Assignment Terror, the unreleased Las Noches del Homre Lobo, and 1970's troubled The Fury of the Wolf Man. A major new ingredient here is director (and onetime dentist) León Klimovsky, who found his niche here and went on to gems like The Dracula Saga, The Vampires' Night Orgy, and the sixth Daninsky film, Dr. Jekyll and the Wolfman.
In keeping with the Naschy cycle, this one is a standalone story with only nominal continuity with past entries as Daninsky is first seen lying dead on a morgue slab. However, the two physicians assigned to performing an autopsy on him (evidently in the middle of the night) make the mistake of removing the silver bullets from his corpse, which of course revives him homicidally on the spot. Enter young and pretty Elvira (Fuchs) and Genevieve (Capell), who go on an expedition to find the legendary castle of the Bathory-inspired Countess Wandessa Darvula de Nadasdy (Fuchs). Forgetting her boyfriend back in town, Elvira strikes up a romance with Daninsky after he joins them to help look for the grave -- only for Elvira to revive the Countess by dribbling blood from a hand wound onto the skeletal remains. Soon the stage is set for a bloodthirsty curse across the land that will pit the sympathetic werewolf against a ruthless noblewoman bent on converting any young woman in her path.
To this day Naschy fans still debate which of the werewolf films is the best, but there's little doubt that this is an excellent gateway choice for newcomers and a fine representation of the best '70s Spanish horror has to offer. The Gothic atmosphere is potent, Naschy gets to wolf out on several occasions, and at least in its full-strength export version, the gore and nudity are abundant enough to keep up with the times. The U.S. version is the shortest around, knocking out some skin and exposition while adding new library music in some spots; the strongest edition was the export one that played around Europe except in Spain, where the nudity was excised in exchange for some superfluous extra scenes involving Elvira's boyfriend. No matter how you may have come across it though, this is a rip-roaring good time and a fun monster movie for adults even if they've never heard of Naschy before.
While the U.S. version of this film has been presumed to be more or less public domain and issued in several ugly, cheapo editions on VHS and DVD over the years, the official releases have been far more satisfying. Anchor Bay issued the first DVD in 2002, offering a composite of the export version (in English) with the extra Spanish scenes spliced in with English subtitles. It also featured a solid Naschy interview (14m53s) about his career at the time and his thoughts on his most famous character. Subsequently it was reissued on DVD in 2008 from BCI Eclipse as part of its Spanish horror titles with Deimos, also offering the hybrid cut (running 91m12s) but adding the option of the full Spanish track with English subtitles. That disc also has a scratchy but letterboxed presentation of the U.S. Werewolf vs. Vampire Woman version (weirdly minus music during the credits) along with a stills gallery. The first Blu-ray came from German label Subkultur under the title Die nacht der Vampire, also with the hybrid version now running 94m27s (presumably running longer since it didn't rely on any PAL sources). That release, which looks okay apart from some significant debris at times, features German or Spanish audio options (DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono) with English or German subtitles, plus the Naschy interview from the U.S. DVD, a 9m26s German-language interview with Fuchs (no subs), the Super 8 German version (32m50s), a reel of international main title sequences (7m24s), an 8m42s gallery, German and U.S. trailers, and a TV spot.
Revisiting Naschy six years after their solid release of Count Dracula's Great Love, Vinegar Syndrome have delivered what is likely to remain the definitive edition of this film courtesy of a three-disc set containing a UHD and two Blu-rays with three versions of the film. In a wise move, the UHD is devoted entirely to the uncensored export version of the film, running 87 minutes and featuring DTS-HD MA 2.0 Spanish and English audio options (with newly translated subtitles, or English dub SDH subtitles or translated SDH subs). The film was dubbed either way, so while the Spanish version is classier, don't feel guilty for just kicking back and enjoying the English dub either. The 4K presentation is a real stunner with HDR bringing out a rich array of colors and fine contrast, making this look like it was practically shot yesterday.
The same version and its audio options are retained on the first Blu-ray, which also offers several bonus features starting with the feature-length 2010 documentary, The Man Who Saw Frankenstein Cry (80m28s). A slew of participants including John Landis, Joe Dante, Caroline Munro, Jorge Grau, Donald F. Glut, Javier Aguirre, Antonio Mayans, Jay Taylor, and more including Naschy's family members are on hand (hosted by Mick Garris) to discuss the man's impact on European horror and monster cinema in general. There's a lot of great info here including context within the changing political climate in Spain, the international co-productions that sometimes resulted in very weird stories along the way, and the fate of some of his more off-center projects. Burned-in subtitles are featured for all the participants (Spanish for English speakers and vice versa), so don't bother messing with your remote. Despite getting significant festival play upon its completion, this one has been very under the radar since then apart from DVD releases in Germany and Spain -- so it's a really great addition to have here. A heartfelt new interview with Naschy's son, Sergio Molina (29m4s), is a worthy walk through the main feature from his point of view and fond memories of his father who instilled a lifelong love of cinema. Also included on that disc are two trailers (as The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman and Werewolf Shadow), a reel of alternate main title sequences (7m17s) similar to the one on the German Blu-ray, and a 1m46s gallery of posters, photos, and other promotional material. The second Blu-ray features the other two versions of the film: the "clothed" Spanish version (93m49s) with English subtitles, which contains some alternate takes, the aforementioned extraneous filler scenes, and snips to some of the stronger content; and, in a concession to the previous DVD editions, the hybrid cut (94m46s), also in Spanish with English subs, with all the filler scenes coupled with the stronger nude footage. Image quality for both of these is excellent and comparable to what's seen on the main version.
VINEGAR SYNDROME (Blu-ray)
BCI Eclipse (DVD)
Reviewed on November 8, 2022.