La Noche de Walpurgis

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Lon Chaney Jr. is probably the most iconic Wolfman in cinema, but the most prolific has to be Paul Naschy. Naschy played the werewolf character Count Waldemar Daninsky twelve times in twelve different features (known as the Hombre Lobo films). Naschy’s personal attachment to the character ensured that throughout these features he was the real auteur. Taking cues from Universal’s golden age of horror films in the thirties, Naschy’s Hombre Lobo films don’t follow a grand continuity, preferring a series of singular feature length set pieces and grandiose “monster battles”.

La Noche de Walpurgis (1971) arrives early in the Hombre Lobo series. Here Daninsky is miraculously revived only to have to battle the mysterious Countess (a vampire played by Patty Shepard) for the souls of two graduate students, Elvira (Gaby Fuchs) and Genevieve (Barbara Capell). In terms of story La Noche de Walpurgis amounts to little more than the American release title would suggest; The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman (again following in the footsteps of Universal). 

But like other horror genre auteurs working in Europe during the late sixties and seventies Naschy injects the film with an eye towards the then modern technological trends such as zooms and slow motion. In addition to these technological flourishes Naschy embraces the popular tactic of combining the horror film with the sexploitation film; a tradition most popularly associated with Jess Franco and Jean Rollin. 

La Noche de Walpurgis does have some truly compelling moments. Any of the slow motion murder scenes where Genevieve and the Countess stalk their prey in the woods merit a look. These scenes, like those one sees in Rollin’s vampire pictures, take on an ethereal quality. Partly this is due to the very “unreal” nature of the slow motion device, but also due to the duration of these scenes which outlive the tantalizing aspects of their spectacle (gore and nudity). This latter effect prompts some reflexive considerations as well as a form of visceral disgust with the grotesqueness of the images. 

As is the case with any low budget erotic horror film of this period La Noche de Walpurgis isn’t going to be for most viewers. Naschy’s work is definitely the province of dedicated cinephiles and horror fans. Shout! Factory has released a very nice collection of Naschy’s films on blu-ray that I recommend as the only way to experience these films (excepting 35mm of course).