Sunday, December 23, 2007

28th September 2007: Werewolf double!

Werewolf In A Girls' Dormitory

Italy/Austria 1961 b&w

aka Lycanthropus, Ghoul In A Girl's Dormitory, I Married A Werewolf, Monster Among The Girls, The Ghoul In School

Director “Richard Benson”/Paolo Heusch Writer “Julian Berry”/Ernesto Gastaldi

Cast Barbara Lass (Priscilla), Carl Schell (Dr. Julian Olcott), Curt Lowens (Director Swift), Maurice Marsac (Sir Alfred Whiteman)

Our first film tonight is a strange one: Lycanthropus, an Italian horror film lensed in Austria but set in England, and released in America as Werewolf In A Girl’s Dormitory with Anglicized credits. It sounds schizophrenic, and feels like it too, a who-dunnit masquerading as a lower-tier horror film and stripped of its usual gothic trappings, dungeons and tortured damsels. Instead the setting is a finishing school for teenage wildcats – jail-bait hussies considered too delicate for a reformatory – who all start foaming at the mouth over the arrival of Dr Julian Olcutt, disgraced physician and now their new science teacher.

The same night Mary, one of the delinquent schoolgirls, sneaks over the walls to the sound of howling wolves and heavy breathing, and is found the next morning, her face frozen in a deathmask of terror and her body torn to pieces by a wolf – or is it SOMETHING ELSE?

And who is responsible for the string of all-too human murders littering the school’s halls? Is it the blackmailed “Lord” Alfred, his glass-eyed henchman Walter, or his twisted hate-filled wife Sheena? Is it the new teacher, whose former experiments in lycanthropy – or WEREWOLFism – may have led him to experiment on himself? Is it the innocent-looking student Priscilla, whose burgeoning and highly inappropriate romance with Dr Olcutt doesn’t even curl a whisker on the rest of the faculty? Or is it… SOMEONE ELSE?

As a European horror film it barely rates, substituting all of the genre’s familiar supernatural elements with a barrage of pseudo-scientific babble. It works much better viewed as a ghoulish mystery in the Edgar Wallace tradition, one seething with corruption, blackmail and omnipresent intrigue. “Judgment is for God alone,” the solemn headmaster tells the girls, so for once I’ll keep my final analysis to myself. But if I WERE God, I would certainly keep those teachers on a leash. And that’s the final red herring I’ll throw out – time to take the beast for a walk with Werewolf In A Girl’s Dormitory.

The Beast Of The Yellow Night

USA/Philippines 1971 colour

aka The Beast

Director/Writer Eddie Romero Producers John Ashley, Eddie Romero Executive Producers
Beverly Miller, David J. Cohen, [uncredited] Roger Corman

Cast John Ashley (Joseph Langdon), Mary Wilcox (Julia), Leopoldo Salcedo (Inspector Santos), Eddie Garcia (Det. Lt. Campo), Ken Metcalfe (Earl Rogers), Vic Diaz (Satan), Andres Centenera (Blind Man)

Next is a werewolf film from the Philippines with a difference, in which lycanthropy is not a disease of the body but of the soul, a curse administered by the Devil himself.

John Ashley, a fresh-faced B-star of the Fifties likened to a delinquent Texan version of Elvis, spent close to ten years of his career’s downhill slope in the Philippines, in a series of lurid drive-in exploitation films which gave new meaning to the term B Grade: B standing for “Blood”, “Breasts”, “Banana Trees” and “Box-Office Bonanza”. In The Beast Of The Yellow Night, Ashley attempts a more complex characterization than he’s used to and is, for the most part, successful. He plays Langdon, a lost soul who’s been around before and is doomed to return again and again. In modern day Manila (1971, that is) he wakes up on a mortuary slab in the body of American businessman Philip Rogers, mangled and believed killed in an industrial accident. Langdon inherits an unhappy wife Julia who is more interested in finding solace in the arms of his best friend Earl (the familiar Caucasian features of Ken Metcalfe).

Being ageless Evil itself, Langdon/Rogers can peer ino the blackest of hearts and smell the most impure of intentions, even in his “wife” who falls in love with the damaged moral paradox that no longer resembles her “husband”. His condemned soul must also go, for a reason never made clear, through a physical transformation into a wild beast, and here’s where the threadbare production values catch up with the film’s ambitious intentions. Ashley’s new look is laughable in a film without cheap laughs, and with his grey plaster features, old man’s eyebrows and black bouffant bouncing on his cowboy shirt, he resembles country singer Merle Haggard, only… well, more haggard.

The animalistic Langdon goes on the prowl through the back alleys of Manila, tearing his victims apart with his bare hands. Veteran Filipino actors Leopoldo Salcedo and an uncharacteristically non-villainous Eddie Garcia play two cops following the trail of dead bodies and spilled organs – not to mention the black bristles from Ashley’s Joan Jett hairstyle – back to the American businessman’s bungalow. Salcedo as Inspector Santos remembers Langdon from twenty five years earlier as a weak-willed US army deserter and Japanese collaborator, and the hunt is on. Or is it Langdon who is purposely giving himself away, wandering through the streets in his blood-caked cowboy shirt?

Some viewers find Eddie Romero’s Filipino horrors slow, preposterous or just plain old and clunky. I personally love his directorial style, which can only be described as classically lowbrow yet enjoyably pretentious. Romero’s literate dialogue has Ashley engage in endless philosophical debates about the nature of evil with the chubby countenance of Satan, played by Vic Diaz, at his greasy best shrouded in sulphur-yellow mist, who uses Langdon as his pawn to awaken the latent evil in others.

Following their hugely successful Blood Island trilogy, Ashley and Romero broke from Hemisphere Pictures to form their own ventures, and Beast… is the first, an equally successful picture for Roger Corman’s neophyte New World Pictures. Ashley and Romero followed Beast… with a series of drive-in films with diminishing returns: pure exploitation fare such as The Woman Hunt (1972) and Savage Sisters (1974), and bizarre science fiction-themed actioners like The Twilight People (1972) and Beyond Atlantis (1973). Once the filmic Gold Rush in the Philippines had passed, Ashley returned to States and worked mainly in production roles until he passed away from a heart attack in 1997.

As for Eddie Romero – at 83 he’s alive and well and is still making films. I met him in late 2006 at a Cinemanila festival screening of his digital romantic comedy Faces Of Love. Is aid to him, “I’m so pleased to shake the hand of the man who made The Mad Doctor Of Blood Island.” He looked at me, smiled and said, “Ah! You’re just like Quentin!” And with that, I will never mention the name Taratino again as we present the Filipino werewolf classic from 1971, The Beast Of The Yellow Night.

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