The Loreley's Grasp (1974)
By: Mr Intolerance on February 20, 2009  | 
BCI (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). Castilian DD Mono 2.0, English DD Mono 2.0. 85 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Amando de Ossorio
Starring: Tony Kendall, Helga Line, Silvia Tortosa
Screenplay: Amando de Ossorio
Country: Spain
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Geographically speaking, the Lorelei is a great big fuck-off rock on the east side of the Rhine river in Germany, overlooking a narrow pass that made navigation a nightmare for sailors in times gone past. Given the physicality of the area, sound echoed in an eerie way, giving rise to superstitions that the place was haunted by a sea creature – the Lorelei – that would lead men to their deaths. Given the mortality rate for sailors in the area at the time, it's easy to see how those stories came about. Mythologically, Lorelei was a young lass who'd thrown herself from the rock having been betrayed by her lover, and as the aforementioned sea-creature, would sing her siren-like song to distract sailors, thus dooming them. In Germanic folklore, the Lorelei rock is on top of the fabled treasure of the Nibelungs. Director of the Blind Dead series of films, Amando de Ossorio used a little of each of these elements when creating the haunting and moody Las Garras de Lorelei (directly translated The Claws of Lorelei – and given the imagery we see in the film, a far more appropriate title, too. Plus, it uses the more accurate spelling of the name – regardless, both versions are still a fuck's sight better than the awful name plonked on the film on its US release: When the Screaming Stops - bleargh).

Something is killing young women in a small coastal town on the Rhine, something green, something scaly, and something with huge razor sharp claws that tears the hearts from its victims. At the funeral of the first victim we see dispatched, a mysterious pale woman (beautiful Germanic ice-queen Helga Line) in a horse drawn carriage turns up to view the proceedings from afar. Something ain't right there, and we know it. But the funeral continues and the wake is, as you might expect given the woman was murdered on the eve of her wedding, a rather muted affair. The menfolk of the town want to do something about the killing, but when the local blindman (if you couldn't tell he was blind from the dark glasses, believe me, his dress sense was a dead giveaway – 70s fashion, yeesh!) mentions the possibility of the killer being the Lorelei, well, they just don't believe him.

School-teacher Elke (the strikingly gorgeous Silvia Tortosa) turns up to the pub at this juncture to find the mayor asking for protection for her and her girls at the remote boarding school she teaches at. The mayor decides to call on Sigurd (a name rich with connotations from German mythology – go and listen to Wagner's Das Rheingold and get back to me...after 3 days...), "an experienced hunter", to do the job. Now, while Elke looks like a wet-dream on legs, she's a real Miss Priss, and when Sigurd (Tony Kendall, who you might remember as the square-jawed hero of Return of the Evil Dead) turns up to the boarding school, she wants to house him in the damp and squalid garage rather than the main building, obviously thinking that he must be some kind of scrofulous old rapist – mind you, the way the bikini-clad school girls react to his appearance on a pretty darn cool motorbike would be enough to set off alarms for a boarding school teacher, I guess. Especially a prudish provincial one.

However, Sigurd can't be in two places at once, and of course, as the blindman predicted, another murder occurs in the town itself rather than the school – another young woman, another heart torn out. Another funeral, another appearance of the mysterious woman. Later that night, while patrolling the school-grounds Sigurd sees the mysterious woman, hooded and cowled – she somehow penetrated the grounds, despite every external entrance being locked (the locks are undisturbed), and surrounded by a huge fence – Sigurd seems a little non-plussed, to say the least.

The killer changes its M.O. slightly that night, with the next victim being male – basically it seems so far that if you live alone, you're fucked. Can I just state at this point that the killings in this film are pretty brutal for 1974, blood is spilled in abundance and hearts are torn from chest cavities (without having to break through ribs, oddly enough...) in a startlingly gruesome way. Oh sure, the special effects are a little crude given today's standards (but still – hooray for prosthetics and appliances!!! Fuck CGI in its stupid arse!) and the blood is the same colour as my local fire engine, but the level of brutality really did surprise me, given the context in which it was made (early 1970s under Franco's repressive regime). It surpasses that of the Blind Dead series, and the first two of those films did not fuck about with regard to showing us the nastiness.

Elke is still giving Sigurd a hard time, and forbids him from swimming in the school's pool (possibly thinking he's an aquatic molester?), which basically and fatefully sends him down to the local marshes on the banks of the Rhine. It's about here that the film gathers a kind of gravity about itself, and the plot picks up a sadness and a sense of inevitability. I like this very, very much. Sigurd happens upon the mysterious woman, sunning herself by the water. She sees him and flees (very daintily, I noticed – I'm assuming Ms Line wasn't too keen on being barefoot in the mud... Models, huh?) and the score, and Sigurd's face, would indicate that he's more than just a tad intrigued, obviously having recognised her from the previous night. Sigurd never gets that swim, by the way – according to the liner notes, Kendall had a deathly phobia about entering water due to a near-drowning experience as a child (oddly enough, just like your current reviewer), and so parts of the script had to be changed, and a body double was used for any shot where you see Sigurd in the brine.

Sigurd happens across a professor with weird-looking eyebrows lurking in the bushes near the marshes – according to him, that's research. Research on the Lorelei – in which the Prof firmly believes, given that he's up to some crazy experiments to do with cellular mutation – y'see, the Lorelei, under the light of the full moon turns into "a filthy beast", which would be the razor-clawed fiend we've already been introduced to. That immediately sparks the question, "if that's what it turns into, then what is it elsewise?" Y'know, I reckon you've already worked that one out for yourselves.

Anyway, the Prof shows us the only way to destroy the Lorelei – a radioactive knife, which strikes me as a bit of a two-edged weapon (pardon the pun), as it would kind of like being told that the only way to cure a cold is to wander about with a great big lump of U-238 strapped to your head. It might do its job, but what's it going to do to you? There's also a gratuitous (but still welcome) reference to the Blind Dead films here – nice.

Elke's starting to wonder about the veracity of the story of the Lorelei – she's (as well as others) starting to believe that maybe there is some kind of monster living at the bottom of the river, so Sigurd takes her on a riverboat ride to show her what the Lorelei is, in his rather pragmatic view. His Lorelei is both the rock itself (443 feet of proof right there) and the echoing sound from the narrow pass I mentioned before – it's odd that he can be so disbelieving, given an experiment he witnessed in the Professor's laboratory.

Anyway, the poor beguiled fool goes back to the marshes, thankfully without the terrible stripy trousers he was wearing the previous day (not as bad as the ones Alan Ormsby wears in Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, but still heinously ugly), to find the mysterious woman there again – as I suspect he hoped would be the case. She lures him to an abandoned cabin, an odd choice, but their originally scripted marine meeting had to be changed for reasons mentioned earlier. I must say, I can't blame Sigurd for following her, Helga Line was (possibly still is, I don't know) a damned attractive woman, especially in the rather abbreviated bikini she gets about in in The Loreley's Grasp. She has, and I'm assuming it's the make-up and lighting as well as her own natural features, been given a truly otherworldly look, appropriately enough. She almost seems to glow as though she's lit from within. Anyhoo, she tells Sigurd that her name is Loreley, which he doesn't believe – in terms of her being the legendary beast – and then I couldn't even tell you who tries to seduce who. She's seductive due to her body language and demeanour, he's just trying on some Latino charm (which somehow overcomes his appalling shirt) – either way, it works and there is much snogging. But something seems amiss with Loreley, and her manservant Alberic (students of Germanic folklore's ears should be twitching at this point), a big hulk of a fella (who I am positive I've seen in other films, Jess Franco ones, I'm sure – ah! The mute manservant with the rough head in Female Vampire) turns up to take her home, walking directly into the Rhine. Sigurd doesn't seem to have put two and two together yet – for a hero, he seems especially dim.

Alberic and Loreley pay Professor Van Lander a visit due to something stupid Sigurd has said – damn that pillow talk, it'll getcha every time. It's not a particularly social call, to say the least. And Sigurd is reduced to hanging around the marshes like a lovelorn schoolboy waiting to see Loreley. The townsfolk are getting nervous (what's a horror film without villagers running about with flaming torches and farming implements?), what with more victims turning up and it would appear that Loreley's number is rapidly coming up – the people are starting to believe in the legend.

But of course, you can't keep a good homicidal fish-woman hybrid monster down, and you just know that there's plenty more carnage to come – after all, we've still got a whole boarding school of nubile young beauties who haven't been bloodily slaughtered and had their hearts torn out and devoured yet. Sigurd disturbs the monster before it can feed, and then the hunt, along with the townsfolk, is on.

Now, remember that inevitability I was mentioning before? And one of the legends about the Lorelei we haven't dealt with yet? Elke and Sigurd are getting friendly, and we all know that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned – what about the fury of an amphibious river-dwelling heart-eating shark with knees? That's gotta be bad – I won't tell Loreley if you won't, because if she found out that the first guy who'd ever kissed her was making the scene with Elke behind her back, oh boy, who knows what she'd be capable of doing? She certainly wouldn't be hurling herself off any enormous slate rock this time. I think that anger born of disappointment might be directed elsewhere.

Oooh, fuck, Loreley found out. Sigurd finally gets all proactive and heads for Loreley's lair'll have to see the end for yourselves – it'll be a rewarding 85 minutes, let me tell you. Love, death, immortality, legend, we deal with a number of the big issues here, maybe not in the more traditional way that non-genre films would, and certainly more bloodily, but in a way that folks you and I positively relish. Oneiric, darkly romantic, yet still with enough trash aesthetic to please the sleaze, The Loreley's Grasp is one over-looked classic that needs a much bigger audience than the one it currently enjoys. The initially slightly camp or kitsch tone (say, with all the bikini babes at the start) turns ice-cold and menacing after the first third of the film, settling you down with an unsettling air for the latter two-thirds. A love-letter from back in the day when directors weren't so totally reliant on their special effects budgets and hurling yet another bucket of blood at the audience and could actually tell a story with a brain and a heart, 70s horror absofuckinglutely rules – The Loreley's Grasp proves why.
Wow. The 1.78:1 anamorphically-enhanced picture is razor sharp (even if the back cover states it's in 1.85:1). According to the front cover this is a high definition master from the original negative. According to my TV, it looks awesome. I did notice one thing – during some of the killings, the picture quality changes during the really gruesome bits (the tearing up of a boobie in the second kill, for example). It's slight (not like the re-inserted fooatge in Deranged), but noticeable – almost as if the footage came from somewhere else. Surely if the remastering was from the original negative there'd be a uniformity of picture quality?
De Ossorio had his composer from the Blind Dead films, Anton Garcia Abril, on board again for this film, so the score is memorably eerie, and haunting, with an appropriately dream-like siren song. My only issue with the audio here is that it's loud to the point of distortion. It's a dual mono track and generally a clear one, but I think whoever re-mastered the sound tried a bit too hard, and the film suffers slightly because of it.
Extra Features
Theatrical trailer (hardly very special, as I just watched the film itself); Spanish credit sequence (we're really getting down to the "completist only" stuff now); Still gallery (a – my pause button works, and b – why would I need to watch stills of the moving images I just watched anyway? It's not like I've suddenly got a whole bunch of rare lobby-cards or anything); Liner notes by author Mirek Lipinski with rare photos and stills (the liner notes are admittedly quite good, VERY in-depth and extremely informative – not to mention remarkably spoiler-free). So it's not exactly the most comprehensive package known to man, but considering one lead actress (Helga Line) doesn't like the film or the director at all and the fact that the director himself is dead means that all we otherwise could have had is a bunch of unconnected talking heads talking about the film from the outside, which gets quite dull, quite quickly. Oh, and it comes in a nice slip-case, too.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Amando de Ossorio has taken the old stories from The Niebelungenleid, other German folk-tales, and the physical reality of the locale in which the tale is set and blended the whole thing together into a masterful work of horror which has been shamefully overlooked, both by the audience of its time, as well as today's Saw-hungry crowds. If you're a fan of 70s Euro-horror, you need to have The Loreley's Grasp in your collection. While De Ossorio's horror immortality is assured simply due to Tombs of the Blind Dead, this film shows that he was no one-trick pony. Even despite the rather lacklustre package of extras, this film gets a high score for the fact that it's really bloody good, and for the incredible restoration job on the picture, which is second to none. A fast-paced, bloody and yet still atmospheric piece of film-making, what you get here is a movie that doesn't disappoint at any level. If you call yourself a horror fan and can watch this film and not engage with it, there is something wrong with you.

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