After debuting his tragic werewolf anti-hero, Count Waldemar Daninsky, in Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror (1967), writer/actor Paul Naschy (alias: Jacinto Molina Alvarez) returned in three lacklustre sequels before scoring an international hit with Werewolf Shadow (1971). Following the barely-released Nights of the Werewolf (1968) and Assignment Terror (1969), the fourth Daninsky movie opens with this cryptic quote: “When the heliotrope starts growing among rough rocks, and when the full moon shines at night. In a certain area of the Earth, a man turns into a wolf…” Typically, once the plot kicks in, we discover heliotropes have bugger all to do with anything.
In a nod to Werewolf of London (1935), Daninsky (here called “Walter”!) returns home to his lovely wife Erika (Verónica Luján) after tragedy befalls his expedition to Tibet. Suffering a mysterious illness and acid flashbacks to a Tibetan mystic (“Pentagram! Pentagram!”), he consults glamorous scientist Dr. Ilona Wolfstein (Perla Cristal), who has conceived a radical new brainwave theory. “Control of the hypothalamus and cerebral cortex is possible through chemitrodes!” she tells cute student Karen (Diana Montes). Mmm-hmm… Anyway, someone hands Daninsky a letter saying his wife is having an affair. Suddenly, we’re in film noir/The Postman Always Rings Twice territory, as the guilty culprit sabotages the brakes on his car. Daninsky survives, goes wolf, mauls his wife then kills her lover for an encore. However, foolishly grabbing an electric cable on a rainy night, he fries his furry self.
Shortly thereafter, Ilona and her snivelling manservant dig up Daninsky’s corpse. Back at their gothic castle, Ilona, Karen and a retinue of mini-skirted science babes revive Daninsky as a remote-controlled zombie werewolf. Surely a screen first. He makes a worthy addition to Ilona’s dungeon full of chemitrode-controlled hippies and the caped creep in a Phantom of the Opera mask always roaming the castle, but periodically bursts his chains. Karen’s tabloid journalist boyfriend (Mark Stevens) investigates the werewolf rampages, alongside a grouchy policeman. What he doesn’t know is Karen has fallen for broody, barrel-chested Daninsky. Between getting it on, they plan their escape.
Naschy often claims director José Maria Zabalza was drunk on-set, which explains why haphazard continuity afflicts this series entry. While this groovy gothic romp proceeds with straight-faced insanity, there are ill-explained undertones (the quasi-lesbian relationship between Ilona and Karen) and pointless twists (the identity of the masked phantom), while the dialogue is either pseudo-scientific doubletalk or else high camp hilarity (“Very soon you’ll be the beast that I dominate!”). Not an awful lot happens, despite brief werewolf rampages where Naschy kills a poor student studying for his exams, burns cook and his wife on their own stove, and nibbles the obligatory girl in a flimsy negligee. He always climbs into bed with female victims, which suggests things may have go further in another, more explicit version. On a further downside, Naschy appears to be condemning lefty layabouts when the hippies get it on with the science babes, ignoring the monsters at large. The abiding image you take away from this may well be Naschy laying into the flower children with an axe!
For all its faults, there are elements of groovy gothic style worth cherishing: the combination of pulp-horror thrills from Forties B-movies with Seventies sex and gore, corpses rotting in the castle walls, the fab mod outfits for Ilona’s science babes and a black magic funeral complete with robed maidens, candles and a satanic hound. Plus a late hour twist reveals Erika caught the werewolf curse. She morphs into a hairy lady werewolf for a fur flinging battle with Naschy!