Werewolf Woman (1976)
By: Mr Intolerance on February 6, 2009  | 
Shriek Show (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 100 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Rino Di Silvestro
Starring: Annik Borel, Dagmar Lassander, Frederick Stafford, Renato Rossini, Tino Carraro, Felicita Fanny, Andrea Scotti
Screenplay: Rino Di Silvestro, Howard Ross
Country: Italy
External Links
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So here's a film that on its initial US release was cut by 30 minutes. Yep, you read that right – this 100 minute film was originally given a 70 minute release back in the day. That's appalling – not even a feature length cut! Once I heard that, you'd better belive I was searching high and low for it. Werewolf movies are rarely ever done right – maybe Univeral's The Wolfman, Hammer's The Curse of the Werewolf and the bloodsoaked 80s US fright-fest The Howling showed us the way, but little has been done to capitalise on their legacy. John Landis' An American Werewolf in London I like a lot, but it does tend to play the comedy card a little too strongly to be truly considered a horror film, despite some awesome and genuine scenes of terror.

So, Werewolf Woman. Psychodrama of the exploitative type with horror as the general backdrop. Daniela is raped while still a little girl, and understandably she's generally unhappy towards the male of the species. The answer? Turn into an unconvincing were-wolf on the full moon, and go nuts, channelling the awesome power of a dead were-wolf ancestor. Now we see the ...umm...transformation of the ancestor in the opening five minutes, so it's not really any kind of spoiler, any more than the title is. The special effects by Carletto Rambaldi (who's since gone on to win a number of Academy Awards for special effects, if the director is to be believed) are about on a par with the Italian Alice Cooper vehicle Monster Dog, if you've seen that – to my mind, colouring in someone's nose black and putting fake hair on them does not make them into an unstoppable lycanthropic force for murder, mayhem and vengeance. Or maybe that's just my problem and I have to deal with it.

And so do the villagers, back in the day in the time-honoured Universal Films way, with flaming torches and pitch-forks. There's no ways like the old ways, eh? Mind you, my griping aside, the gore is NOT stinted on one tiny bit, when the were-wolf decides that she's had enough of persecution, she really lets those pesky villagers know about it – an axe in the forehead gushing blood like someone's turned on a gore faucet is about as obvious a way of saying, "fuck off and leave me alone", as I can think of. Things do not end well for the ancestor and so we spin on to the present, and Daniela's understandably over-protective family worried about her having had a bad dream. But the link has been irrevocably made.

And so is the expository dialogue, lots of it to cover the back-story. Daniela, raped at a young age has become completely introverted and never leaves the house, her sister Irinni is her complete opposite, and is studying at Berkeley and generally being the idol of the family. Daniela is the dead-spit of her lycanthropic forebear (or should that be fore-wolf? Ho, ho...I'd better shut up now before I say something stupid...), and is obsessing over the tales of her great-great-whatsit being a shape-shifter every full moon. Her father, the Count, is understandably worried by this turn of events, wanting to marry Daniela off to some eligible young bachelor, but she, equally understandably, is terrified of men. Stalemate. The psychiatrist seems to refuse to be any kind of help at all, and can't offer any useful aid of any kind.

Irinni and her nuclear physicist husband Fabian arrive, and things start to go from bad to worse. Daniela's very brief recuperation goes into a tailspin (and she rather puzzlingly breaks the fourth wall in order to tell us her woes), although she doesn't half fancy Fabian. You can just tell that this isn't going to go swimmingly, can't you? And particularly not when Daniela starts having some vey lucid hallucinations about her ancestor and rather large monitor lizards – not too sure what that's about, I mean wolves I could kind of understand, but reptiles? As a wise man once said to me when confronted with the bizarre: "Umm..."

Mind you, it's not the first of the "what the fuck" moments this film has to offer, and it soitanly ain't the last. Matter of fact it's almost immediately followed up by Daniela fingerbanging herself in a hallway at the door of her sister's bedroom watching Irinni and Fabian making the beast with two backs. Surely that's not normal? I'd run a mile from seeing anyone I actually knew doing the worm, let alone relatives. *shudders*

Daniela flees to the garden, where she corners Fabian, and nekkid as all hell, tries to seduce him. You'd have to be a man of very strong resolve, or gay, to resist her boobs...I mean, allure! Fucking Freudian slips. Mind you, she then goes totally dog-nuts, goes back into hallucinatory mode and savages the poor bastard with her teeth. It's at about this point when you realise exactly which points of this film may well have been cut. By this stage we've seen some crazed and bloody violence indeed, and some pretty lurid, if rather crude, special effects – as well as an extraordinary amount of full-frontal female nudity, which has always been a bit of a no-no in the States, except on the drive-in circuit. Still, 30 minutes of cuts?

This is also the moment where Daniela works out the realities of corpse disposal. Always looks so easy in the movies, doesn't it? Anyway, she gets hospitalised, and her physical state is confusing the medico boffins, who have no idea what to do with her (one of the doctors bears a disturbing resemblance to a white Italian Fred "The Hammer" Williamson). The Count and Irinni go to visit Daniela in the hospital – I cannot think what the Count was thinking he was going to achieve by doing this. The man must be blinder than the proverbial bat not to see how much Daniela despises her sister – and obviously responsibility for Fabian's untimely demise can't have yet come to light – you wouldn't often go and visit your spouse's murderer in hospital, I'd think. Predictably, Daniela goes crazy-8 bonkers with all the writhing and the thrashing and the Tourettes-esque vocabulary – Nurse, sedatives, please? And where are those restraints?

Daniela is paid a visit during the night by the local bisexual nymphomaniac, who seems to consider being bitten so hard that you bleed as a legitimate form of foreplay. And just what kind of hospital is this where the psychiatric patients can just wander around as they please at night in sexy lingerie? And what's their address... This scene is played out to some laughably bad bass-heavy porno-style music, and really seems to be played for the cheap titillation it provides, as opposed to the pretentions the film seems to have towards making vague assertions of dealing with issues of mental illness with sensitivity.

Of course, Daniela escapes, and naturally, carnage and mayhem are the only way to go. It doesn't take her too long to get back into the groove of her favourite extra-curricular activities, either. And of course with all the usual logic of a horror film – if you fuck, you will die. Some crazed killer will appear from out of the woodwork and bloodily dispatch you for the simple crime of getting your rocks off. So guess who the victims du jour might happen to be – we've already seen it happen once in this film.

The coppers are starting to piece things together, slowly but surely – but the fact that Daniela seems to have escaped seems to have escaped them, and seeing that the body of the nympho was found in her room – can't these guys put two and two together? Or at least put 'em together more quickly? So it's back to the Count's estate, and admirably the Count allows that it's probably true. Irinni isn't quite so sanguine about the possibility that Daniela croaked Fabian, and predictably flies off the handle.

So Daniela takes it on the lam, using her feminine wiles and animal instincts to survive, and thus procure more victims. The first guy who tries to make a pass at her makes the really stupid mistake of trying to rape her and Daniela goes feral – Annik Borel, the actress who plays Daniela does animalistic very well – and the creep gets exactly what he deserves.

The connection becomes quickly apparent – treat Daniela well and she won't rip your throat out with her teeth, fuck with her and badness will ensue. She meets Luca, a young stuntman whose kindness and child-like joie de vivre (he loves showing her his stunt falls, craving her approbabtion in a very winning way) completely change her personality – his lack of threat towards her makes her see him in a much different light to other men. He seems to instinctively realise that she's had a "rough time with men", and so leaves her be. When the relationship becomes consummated, it's portrayed in gentle and romantic terms – the soundtrack is schmaltzy, the montage of love-making and long walks on the beach like something out of a romantic comedy. But happiness is transitory, and you have to ask whether or not you can ever really tame something that's wild by nature (I think that The Howling answered that one for us).

I think we've all seen enough horror movies to know that something is always going to happen to rain on the parade of the reformed bad-guy and send them back to their bad-guy ways (hell, we've seen it in enough Westerns – The Unforgiven, anyone?), plus given the highly moral tone a lot of horror films take, we need a sense maybe of atonement, or justice having been served. Mind you, that can be a crock of bullshit as some directors like to keep you guessing right until the very last minute, or you get the twist in the final scene which can bring about the nihilistic and bleak surprise ending. Horses for courses, really, and given the fact that this film came out of the Euro-trash horror boom of the 70s, I'll let you be the judge of the ending – so go and watch it – there's still the final reel and a half to go.

What struck me as unusual about Werewolf Woman, is that the whole idea of lycanthropy is bought by the authorities at face value – it's not just perceived as a medical condition, people are quite willing to entertain belief in the supernatural, which would make this one of the least sceptical horror films I've ever seen. Normally police and especially doctors are the first to start blustering and trying to find "logical reasons" for badness to happen, but not in this film. The notion of Daniela having been possessed by her ancestor are spoken about as rationally as if the characters were discussing the weather.

There are some issues raised in Werewolf Woman about how men and women can never really understand each other, and while that's all very admirable, it's done in an intensely misogynistic fashion, and basically states that sex will fuck up any potential friendship between a man and a woman. Daniela is the least sympathetic lycanthrope I've ever seen (think about the tragic, haunted portrayals by Oliver Reed, Lon Chaney Jr or David Naughton, for example) – and while it's good acting (and apparently one of, if not the, only roles Borel ever played – a shame, as she could have carved herself quite a niche in the Italian exploitation/horror genres – it does not make us really feel for her, even given the character's tragic life. The only male figure she can relate to is an affable big kid, thus de-sexualising him. All of the authority figures are male and while there's a surface sympathy for her plight, there's little understanding of her pain, which gets addressed in the most clinical of terms. Maybe that's just watching it from a male perspective, I'd be curious to see what a female audience might get out of it.
Meh – VHS quality to these tired eyes, just a little sharper at best, and without many artefacts. It be presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and anamorphically enhanced, but that doesn't hide the multitude of sins that we see on-screen. Lacklustre, to say the least. After the Lizard in a Woman's Skin fiasco and now this debacle, I'm becoming increasingly disillusioned with Shriek Show/Media Blasters and their ways of working – I appreciate this being the uncut version, but why not re-master it, giving it a greater draw for the punters and thus, their cash.
Hmm – English dubbing, not my favourite way of watching a foreign-language film. The sound isn't anywhere near as crisp as I'd like and has the stamp of VHS quality written all over it, complete with quite noticeable distortion on the score. An Italian language version with subs and better sound couldn't be too much to ask, surely?
Extra Features
Not the most inspiring of packages – a reversible cover (original-esque art versus soft core porn art which features a hot young chick who ain't in the film), a gallery (actually, a number of them, featuring Di Silvestro's art, a poster gallery for the film, and some of Di Silvestro's personal photos), trailers for Two Orphan Vampires, Graveyard Shift, Plankton and Fiancee of Dracula, and an interview with the director Rino Di Silvestro (no spoilers, but then I did find it kind of non-specific about the film).
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
If there's a lesson to be learned from Werewolf Woman, it would surely have to be, "Don't piss off the she-wolf – your life expectancy will be considerably shortened." This film is a bit of an oddity – it starts out as straight horror, becomes more a psychological horror, and then all of a sudden we're in revenge mode a la Sudden Impact, and it's like, "where'd the horror go?", but retaining the violence, and then tragedy awaits and then the supernatural, which has been avoided for quite some time, comes back again. The pacing is pretty ordinary, it must be said – there could have been some judicious edits to get this down by at least 15 minutes without compromising the brutality, which would probably have made this a more punchy, edgier film. As it stands, it just kind of drags itself over the finish line. That said, it's a pretty unique film, and for fans of Euro-trash horror from the 70s, it comes recommended. Just be aware that you need to be patient with it – the pay-off is worth it.

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