Written by: Paul Naschy
Directed by: Enrique López Eguiluz
Starring: Paul Naschy, Dyanik Zurakowska, and Manuel Manzaneque
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
FREE - Burial to anyone who dies of FRIGHT during the performance of this film!
Frankenstein's Bloody Terror is among the most unlikely launching pads for a long, iconic career imaginable. When former bodybuilder Jacinto Molina Álvarez hatched the film as The Mark of the Wolfman, he simply wanted to pay tribute to the classic Universal monster movies of his youth. Little did he know he would spend the next forty years playing Count Waldemar Daninsky in a long-running series of movies during a career that would be instrumental in shaping the popularity of the horror genre across the world. He entered the project as Jacinto Álvarez but he became Paul Naschy, a name that would quickly become synonymous with the gothic horror resurgence that would sweep across Europe during the 60s and 70s. The trend made it stateside, too, in this case infamously so: when Independent International head honcho Sam Sherman found himself in need of a Frankenstein movie he’d promised to exhibitors, he turned to Naschy’s monster mash even though it features no trace of Mary Shelley’s famous creature. It wasn’t the first, nor would it be the last time an enterprising producer pulled such tricks on the exploitation circuit, and this particular instance was crucial in establishing Naschy as a new presence to be reckoned with.
To Sherman’s credit, he did enlist animator Bob Le Bar to craft a new opening sequence explaining the title. According to legend, the Frankenstein clan were infected with lycanthropy and became the Wolfstein family, leading to an indelible image of a classic, fluorescent-tinged Universal Frankenstein transforming into Nachy’s face. It doesn’t quite portend anything in the movie itself, but it perfectly captures the playful Monster Rally approach of a movie that slams together classic monsters like a kid smashing together toys in a sandbox. And while it does so with all of the elegance of a caffeinated child, you can’t help but be drawn in by the constant twists and turns found in Naschy’s script. It starts in a familiar place, with a sleepy village haunted by the local legend of an allegedly Satanic brood living in a secluded castle. Unsuspecting passersby find themselves at the old place, now cobwebbed over and surely smelling of death as someone--or something--lurks in the crypt.
But instead of finding the usual bloodsucker, our damned couple resurrects Imre Wolfstein, the last of the clan of werewolves in the region. After dispatching these unfortunate souls, he roams the countryside until a manhunt tracks him into the nearby woods and corners him. Taking part in this manhunt is Count Daninsky (Naschy), whose fateful encounter with the creature leaves him infected with the curse of a bestial bloodlust that awakens with each full moon. Desperate for a cure, he seeks the help of Janice and Rudolph (Dianik Zurakowska & Manuel Manzaneque), a pair of lovers whose relationship becomes strained when Janice falls for Daninsky.
There’s a lot going on in Frankenstein's Bloody Terror: its setup is charitably described as belabored, as Daninsky’s transformation comes about 30 minutes into the story, at which point it becomes a different sort of story altogether as the Count reckons with his newfound primal urges. But Naschy isn’t content to let this play out in a straight line, as the final 30 minutes introduce Dr. Janos Mikhelov and his wife Wandesa (Julian Ugarte & Aurora de Alba), a couple of enigmatic researchers with secrets of their own. Remember how you thought you were getting vampires at the beginning of the movie? They stroll in here, finally revealing Naschy’s ultimate aim to stage unrepentant monster mayhem, clear character motives or plot coherency be damned.
Frankenstein's Bloody Terror endures as a quintessential representative of this era’s Eurohorror output. Characters might be thinly-developed, and the plot might be mostly nonsensical, but you absolutely can’t fuck with its sense of style and atmopshere. I love its mythos, too: even if it requires a lot of expository untangling, it involves excommunicated monks, a werewolf can, and the vampire overlords who...well, to be honest, the vampiric Mikhelovs’ plan isn’t entirely clear. It seems to mostly boil down to wanting to unleash the pair of wolf men (they also resurrect Wolfstein a second time for the climax) go wild and beat the hell out of each other. As someone who also enjoys monsters fighting each other, I have a hard time seeing how these two are supposed to be the villains. They just want to be entertained. Don’t we all?
And Frankenstein's Bloody Terror is nothing if not wildly entertaining, as each plot development--no matter how outlandish it might be--is all in the service of orchestrating some kind of mayhem or another. Does it make sense for Janice to fall in love with Daninsky after sharing all of one scene with him? Probably not. Is it a little too convenient that the group stumbles upon the Mikhelovs’ notes in their search for a cure? Of course. But it’s all in the service of this haywire collision of Universal horror by way of Hammer’s elegant panache, resulting in a weirdly singular vision of a monster movie that prioritizes grisly effects and cool creature designs. It’s probably what Universal’s own House movies should have been; where I’ve always found those to be loosely plotted excuses with lackluster monster mayhem, Frankenstein's Bloody Terror delivers. Well, unless you’re actually hoping to see a Frankenstein monster.
But you do get Naschy inhabiting his iconic role for the first time. Honestly, there’s not much indication here that he would go on to become an international sensation: he doesn’t quite command the screen like he would later in his career, and Daninsky practically feels like part of an ensemble anyway, even if it’s his ordeal driving the action for most of the movie. You do catch a glimmer of the charisma that would make him a star, particularly when he’s tortured by the beast lurking within his own flesh. His wild-eyed mania captures the unhinged, howling madness that swirls throughout Frankenstein's Bloody Terror, a film that primarily thrives on indelible visuals. Fog-shrouded woods canopy a decaying castle with a dank, decrepit crypt. Ugarte appears in makeshift Lugosi Dracula regalia to orchestrate a reverse exorcism that invokes the spirit of Satan into Daninsky’s body. Moonlight billows through the dungeon, shading the chaos in an otherworldly glow.
Frankenstein's Bloody Terror often doesn’t feel of this world, its evocative 70 mm “Chill-o-Rama” widescreen frame acting as a window into a comic book dimension ruled by primal creative impulses. It’s exactly what I love about this era’s Eurohorror output: with just enough gel lighting and gore effects, even the most threadbare of plots comes roaring to life on-screen. It offers so much that you don’t even care about Sherman’s exploitative title, a gambit that eventually paid off when he paired this film with Al Adamson’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein for years on the drive-in circuit before it went on to be a television staple throughout the 70s and 80s. For a movie that started off as an homage, it surely took on a peculiar life of its own, granting us one of horror’s most idiosyncratic voices and screen presences in Naschy, now regarded as the standard bearer of Spanish horror by most enthusiasts. While his later efforts would be even more lucid and vivid (look no further than 1970’s Assignment Terror for proof), Frankenstein's Bloody Terror is a snapshot of an artist coming into his own, baptized by the fires of devil-may-care filmmaking.
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