With most exploitation films, it’s best to jump in cold and hang on for dear life because over-scrutinizing every frame can mean missing out on what a film really has to offer. Flaws and logic gaps are commonplace as many genre films tend to be rushed (or pay homage to earlier rushed flicks) and rely on copious nudity, sexual content, and/or graphic violence to make their points. Of course, that’s probably one reason why they’re so appreciated by those of us with time to spend watching as many as we can fit into out libraries. You know who you are, so wave that flag proudly, pal.
On the other hand, a film like Rino Di Silvestro’s 1976 Werewolf Woman (aka The Legend of the Wolf Woman, among other titles) demands to be scrutinized (warts and all) because under that copious nudity, et cetera is a film whose director fully believed in the subject matter (Clinical Lycanthropy) and yep, decided to tackle it head on as a full on exploitation flick. While it’s a film that’s got quite a nasty, depressing bite to it when all it said and done, you can kind of see through all the sleaze that the director was trying to slap some sort of psychological depth into the proceedings.
I still remember snagging a bunch of Cinefantastique back issues cheap at a comic shop way back in the early 1980’s and seeing a brief review of the English language version that shot it down for its makeup work, script, and other woes. But I was somehow stuck on that horribly amusing shot of the poor actress under all that hairy makeup as I wondered just how lousy the movie was to sit through. Flash forward about 30 years and let’s just safely say it’s pretty bad but far from the worst genre flick you’ll ever see.
Raro Video‘s release (available on DVD or Blu-Ray) is skimpy on extras, but the 20-minute interview with the late director makes the case for the film’s attempt at its unusual semi-verisimilitude. Silvestro throws himself into an animated discussion of the Lycanthropic condition that has to be seen before you watch the film just because it’s so intense. Of course, you can also enjoy this sleazy train wreck without that added experience. Nevertheless, there’s one shot early in the film that’s hidden but not so hidden that shows a slight genius at play if it was intentional.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
Daniela (Annik Borel) is a very disturbed young woman suffering from sexual trauma (she was raped at 15) who lives with her wealthy, doting father. Thanks to discovering her family history through well-aged documents, she has extremely vivid dreams that one of her ancestors was a werewolf who murdered a man was was burned at the stake by angry villagers. Unfortunately, these dreams are all to real to her mind, and when her sister (Dagmar Lassander) and her husband make a surprise visit, things slide very quickly out of control. On their first night in the house, Daniela lures the husband into a forest tryst, but kills him by trying to rip out his throat before pushing him off a cliff.
The shot I referred to earlier happens when the couple is introduced. As the sister calls out to the husband and he turns around, Silvestro cuts to Daniela who just so happens to be wearing a shirt embroidered with the word “SEX”… which made me laugh out loud, reverse the disc and watch the scene a few times before snapping that photo above. It could be the word was something cut off as the embroidery continues on the right side of the garment. But you only see those three letters and yep, my brain says that had to be an intentional choice by the director and/or wardrobe to have Borel wear something like that. Genius.
Anyway, where was I?
Oh, right. After the murder, Daniela is hospitalized and subjected to assorted treatments, but thanks to a few plot twists, manages to escape and go on a little killing spree. Both men and women fall to her “wolf”-side violence, but Daniela manages to find something close to true love courtesy of a film stunt man who takes her in and after a few weeks, everything is peachy-keen. Of course, this being an exploitation flick of the rape/revenge variety, that doesn’t last. Daniela is attacked again by three men who kill her beau, and she ends up back to her wolf-like ways but as a more modern serial killer.
While the post-credit opening of the film and a few other scenes feature Borel in full-on female werewolf regalia, this really isn’t a werewolf movie at all. Borel’s eye-popping performance is one of those “all-in” ones where you see an actor throw everything they have at a part and it makes the film because nearly everyone else can’t emote as well. It’s hard to take your eyes off her whenever she’s onscreen, although the way too many crotch shots end up working against the film’s attempts at seriously “examining” Daniela’s brand of psychosis.
Granted, what you get out of any exploitation film is wholly up to you, right? This one tries to be a bit more than what it needs to be while completely fitting that niche is needs to. Or: I probably spent too much time in analyzing this one, but whatever. If you’ve 98 minutes to kill and want to see what’s probably the first werewolf lady on film, well here you go.