Werewolf Wednesday: Curse of the Devil (1973)

For a while I wrote a weekly column at Killer Horror Critic looking at the history of werewolf films. Sadly, KHC has been forced to downsize and no longer published contributor material, so I’ll be continuing the series at my own blog (see the end of this post for a list of the KHC instalments). Inevitably, my column put me in contact with that redoubtable series from star and screen writer Paul Naschy: the exploits of Waldemar Daninsky, el Hombre Lobo. So, having covered Mark of the Wolf Man, Assignment TerrorFury of the Wolfman, The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman and Dr. Jekyll and the Wolfman, I’ll kick off my newly-homed feature with the 1973 entry in the Daninsky saga…

Curse of the Devil – also known under the variant English title The Black Harvest of Countess Dracula – was originally released in Spain as El Retorno del Walpurgis. This translates literally as “The Return of Walpurgis” and implies, misleadingly, that the film has a particular connection to The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman, the original title of which was La Noche de Walpurgis. In practice it has little narrative relation to that film, although it does have a little bit of thematic overlap via the presence of Elizabeth Bathory.

Bathory had been haunting the Daninsky series for a while. Countess Wandesa in The Werewolf Vs. the Vampire Woman was clearly based on Bathory, while Dr. Jekyll and the Wolfman gave the surname Bathory to Daninsky’s surrogate mother. Now, with Curse of the Devil, we get Elizabeth Bathory herself making an appearance. The film’s historical prologue has the notorious sixteenth-century countess watching on as her husband Rona is confronted by a shiny-armoured ancestor of Waldemar Daninsky, leading to some priceless dubbed dialogue:

“This is our last meeting, Rona Bathory. I’m going to send you to Hell where you can dwell with your master Satan for all eternity. You and your witches’ coven shall practice the black arts no more in this kingdom.”

“You righteous men have pursued my coven all my days. Hail to Satan, the most powerful!”

“You drove our bishop to suicide, and our holiest nuns have become Satan’s daughters, consumed and maddened with lust. But I have no fear of you, Ronald Bathory, nor your master. The time has come for the world to be rid of you and your evil family. I shall be your exorcist: not with a crucifix, but with a sword.”

Daninsky is triumphant and Bathory is burnt at the stake, but like all of the best stake-bound witches, she manages to utter a curse before expiring. The malediction turns out to be a tad convoluted, and won’t go into effect until the next time a Daninsky kills a Bathory.

The story cuts forward to the twentieth century, when we meet Waldemar Daninsky. Not right off, though, as the film makes the bizarre decision to follow its prologue with another prologue – this time an in medias res scene showing Daninsky’s wife and son at his gravestone. But after this weirdly convoluted business is over, we get the story of how he became a werewolf – and, once again, it manages to contradict the stories of how he became a werewolf in each of the earlier films.

While out hunting, Daninsky shoots a wolf and sees its body transform into that of a human. The werewolf, of course, was a member of the Bathory clan; realising that Daninsky is now subject to the curse, another Bathory – Ilona – sets about inflicting him with lycanthropy. This necessitates an elaborate ritual in which Daninsky gets bitten on the chest with a wolf skull. Meanwhile, Daninsky falls in with beautiful young sisters Maria and Kinga – but any amorous desires on his part will be now hampered by his lupine affliction.

The film’s plot structure is loose, amounting to a repeated pattern of Daninsky meeting a beautiful woman who either turns out to be a Bathory or falls victim to a Bathory, until one particular woman – and this can hardly be called a spoiler if you’ve seen any of Naschy’s other werewolf films – becomes the Woman Who Loves Daninsky Enough to Kill Him. As monotonous as this sounds, though, Curse of the Devil is enlivened by some very odd storytelling choices.

A good example is the sequence in which Daninsky heads indoors with Kinga for some romantic shenanigans, only to find that the girl in his arm is actually Maria disguised as her sister. The house is then invade by an axe-murderer, but after a scuffle, Daninsky overpowers the assailant. He then begins chatting to Maria about her amorous feelings, the axe-murderer completely forgotten. This is obviously daft – and yet, given that the film is structured with Daninsky repeatedly waking up in a state of confusion as to how much of his experiences were real and how many were dreams, it somehow fits the tone.

As with the rest of Naschy’s werewolf series, Curse of the Devil exists at the bloodier end of the genre. Even the villagers feasted upon by the lycanthrope are a decidedly morbid lot: they conduct a ritual that involves gouging the eyes from a corpse in an effort to magically blind the werewolf, and when the time comes to march on Daninsky’s lair with torches and pitchforks, they manage to brutally murder one of their own even before they get started towards their destination.

By now, the Waldemar Daninsky series had made it clear to audiences what they should expect: plotting so loose that it fades into a dreamlike haze, bouts of gratuitous gore, and Paul Naschy writing scenes in which he gets to cavort around with attractive young women. Curse of the Devil fulfils each promise – but unlike the stronger entries in the cycle, it doesn’t really add much new to Daninsky’s adventures.

Past instalments:

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