8/31/09

Multi-Monday Travels Through Time to Spain Where I Shiver at the Sight of a Werewolf

It’s Monday again so that means another roundup of my weekend watches. This weekend I had some time to catch up a few that I’ve been meaning to see, and so I decided to focus my viewing on a particular country. So, I packed my cinematic bags for a trio of pictures from the Spain. Because while the rain there may fall mainly on the plain, the blood seems to flow wherever you go.

First up, I finally sat down with Timecrimes. (Or in Spanish Los cronocrimenes) from 2007. Writer/Director Nacho Vigalondo definitely used a subtle hand in creating this tightly woven tale of time travel, and he delivered an entry into the time travel sub-genre which should stand the test of time. The plot revolves around Hector (Karra Elejalde) who spends his time watching the woods though binoculars. One afternoon he spots a naked girl in the forest, and when he goes to investigate, he is stabbed by a man in an overcoat with a pink bandage wrapped around his head. Hector flees and ends up on a compound where a man (played by director Vigalondo) convinces him to hide in a tank. When Hector emerges from the tank he finds himself a few hours back in time, and he leaves to investigate the events that lead up to his time traveling.

Timecrimes escapes the usual traps of time travel movies by taking the time to make every little detail stand out. Now, I’m sure if you picked apart the film with a fine tooth comb you could come across an inconsistency or two, but I think you’d likely really have to nitpick. Most time travel scenarios don’t make sense because, as we all know, if you change the past, it changes the future. Timecrimes’ premise revolves around that very fact, and in doing so delivers a very smart film. It is unfortunate that the film is often labeled a horror movie as it is more of a thriller at its core.

I would love to talk more in depth on this film, but I fear that if I say anything more I'm venturing into spoiler territory. Suffice it to say that the film will surprise you. Like any other foreign horror flick that does moderately well, Timecrimes has been slated for an American remake with Vigalondo remaking his own film. I worry that some of the subtly of the film will be dumbed down for a US audience, but if the right actor is cast in the lead then it might work. (I would love to see someone like William H. Macy get the part.) Before it’s remade, I highly recommend you check this one out if you have a chance, or should I say, if you have the time.


Bugg Rating

Next up is Shiver (Spanish: Eskalofrío) from 2008. Director Isidro Ortiz began his career with a retooling of the classic legend of Faust with 2001’s Fausto 5.0 that made some waves with the addition of graphic violence and nudity from an underage girl. Shiver is a bit tamer by comparison, and some have said that it took its inspiration from the J-horror trend.

Shivers stars Junio Valverde as Santi, and many horror fans may recognize him from Guillermo del Toro’s 2001 film The Devil’s Backbone where he also played a character named Santi. This Santi is a misanthropic kid who has a condition that makes him very photosensitive, and he must avoid sunlight or other bright lights whenever possible. In order to help him lead a more normal life his mother (Mar Sodupe) moves him to a little hamlet in Northern Spain where the sunlight is less intense, allowing Santi to go out during the day. As soon as they arrive, the sleepy little town begins to be plagued by murders, and weird new kid Santi always seems to be around when they happen. The police soon begin to suspect Santi of the murders, but he’s more concerned about not being killed next.

Shiver is a good looking film with some nice camera work, and they give the little town a good little creepy vibe. However, the film falls flat by not allowing suspense to build nearly long enough. The reveal of the mystery (or the killer at least) happens at the beginning of the second act, and left the rest of the film feeling a little deflated because of it. If they had drawn it out even just a bit more, then it might have been a much better film for it. I wanted a little more “is he or isn’t he” on the werewolf/vampire angle the film hints at in the early scenes. As it stands, it is a well acted and well shot film that is still miles ahead of recent teen horror fare like the Prom Night remake or The Haunting of Molly Hartley.

There is one other thing I should mention. Once again, Ortiz uses an actress of a very young age in some nude scenes. They are not sexually graphic scenes like those in Fausto 5.0, and I would have a hard time believing anyone would find it titillating. The footage is reserved and shadowed, and I have to admit that this time it was a necessary part of the plot of the film. That being said, I thought it would be worth mentioning as it will likely strike some viewers as either unnerving or unacceptable.


Bugg Rating

The last film in the trio of Spanish chillers comes from the man whose name is often synonymous with the county’s horror output. I’m talking Paul Naschy here, and I haven’t had a chance to see another of his films since way back when I covered Fury of the Wolfman last November. So when I decided to go on this Spanish horror binge I had to dust off my copy of Werewolf Shadow (Spanish: La noche de Walpurgis) the forth lycanthropic outing from Naschy. This time we’ve not only got Larry Talbot’s relatives involved there are also bloodsuckers and lesbians to boot!

Gaby Fuchs stars as Elvira, and along with her friend Genevieve (Barbara Campbell), she has traveled to Northern France to do research for their final thesis. They are investigating the Countess Wandesa Darvula de Nadasdy, an ancient witch/vampire who kept her beauty by drinking the blood of virgins. That is until her suitor found out and killed her with a silver cross to the heart. As the girls travel, they get lost and end up asking the help of Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy), who is, unbeknownst to them, a werewolf. Daninsky escorts the girls to the site of the Countesses’ burial, and Elvira accidentally removes the silver cross bringing the witchy vamp back to life. Very quickly, things are set in motion that lead to an epic struggle of werewolf versus vampire.

After the Spanish success of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, entitled La noche de los muertos vivientes, there was a high demand for ‘La noche’ titles with films like de Ossorio’s La noche del terror ciego (Night of Blond Terror), Franco’s La noche de los asesinos (Night of the Skull), and Naschy’s La noche de Walpurgis finding their way to the screen. The title of Naschy’s film refers to Walpurgis, a holiday inherent to central and Western Europe which falls on April 30th. Walpurgis has its roots in pagan traditions, and one of its main customs is to light bonfires to scare away the dead that roam the Earth before the first day of May brings the light of the spring. When the film was brought to America, it was marketed under several titles including The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Women, Blood Moon, and the grammatically incorrect Werewolf Shadow.

When Werewolf Shadow was released in Spain, it became Naschy’s biggest hit to date, and the film would mark the first collaboration between writer/actor Naschy and director Leon Klimovsky. They would pair up another seven times in their career for some of Naschy’s most memorable films. Naschy as usual does a fine job in his oft repeated role as Waldemar Daninsky, and makes the werewolf afflicted man the proper balance of tortured and animalistic. The showdown at the end of the film between the wolf and the resurrected vampire countess is not to be missed. For his part, director Klimovsky does a fine job, but the movie has very little flash or style to it unlike its Italian contemporaries.

In fact, one thing that stuck out like a sore thumb was how utterly horrid the costuming for the ladies in the film was. The countess and her outlandish lesbian vampire gear aside, the fashions on display were entirely unflattering to either of the female leads. While Barbara Campbell’s Genevieve does finally get some decent clothes, Gaby Fuchs’ Elvira wears an array of the most formless, sacklike clothes that I’ve seen in quite some time, and no one with a name like Elvira should ever look that bad.

I’ve only seen maybe four or five of Naschy’s prodigious film catalog, but I found Werewolf Shadow to be one of the better of Paul’s lupine flavored films. His films are almost an acquired taste with a high tolerance for cheese being required before you can just enjoy the film. If you can accept it on face value for what it is, then you will surely have an enjoyable time with it.

Bugg Rating

So there we are a trio of films to satisfy any kind of craving you have for a Spanish thrill or two. As usual, the trailers are below and I hope uou join me back here tomorrow for another installment of Terrifying Tuesday!




3 comments:

  1. Timecrimes is a well made film, but I couldn't stand Hector. So apart from despising the main character, I thought it was good. haha.

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  2. Cant vouch for the other two, but I absolutely love Naschy and the Hombre Lobo series. Werewolf Shadow is second only to Night of the Werewolf in my opinion, some of the most memorable atmospheric shots and slow mo. Always happy to see a review up for it, love that it continues to see a prosperous shelf life

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  3. Thanks for the comments fellows.

    Carl, Naschy is always a fun watch, even the bad ones seem to have something to them to redeem it.

    Eskie, I didn't find Hector all that bad, well, kinda sorta later on you see he's not that nice a fellow perhaps, but I chalked his behavior up to the time traveling driving him mad. However, I can see your point, I had a problem like that with Hostel.

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