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December 10, 2014

Werewolf Woman


La Lupa Mannara
Rino Di Silvestro - 1976
Raro Video BD Region A

In the accompanying interview, Rino Di Silvestro wants to make the case that his film was inspired by a recorded case of female lycanthropy, the only known case. This is the only film I have seen by Di Silvestro, a filmmaker known exploitation movies of, at best, questionable taste. But it is entertaining to see him talk about his films, so thoroughly is he convinced of his own hucksterism.

From what is seen onscreen, it is certain that Di Silvestro was also inspired by classic Universal horror movies. We have the title character seen in Eighteenth Century Italy chased after by torch-bearing townspeople. Unlike the classic monsters, though, this werewolf woman is first seen dancing naked by fire light before turning into a furry beast with a snout more like that of a dog than a wolf. It turns out that the werewolf woman is someone dreamt of by a young woman, Daniela, who almost two centuries later, bears a stunning resemblance to her fabled ancestor. That Daniela acts like a werewolf without the physical transformation makes this film closer in spirit to She-Wolf of London, a minor 1946 Universal horror film in which June Lockhart is led to believe that she is the curse descendant of a female werewolf. The concept of the female werewolf as the basis for psychological horror has been given more recent currency, by a female filmmaker, in the Argentinian Mujer Lobo.

Daniela has enough issues, having been raped at age thirteen, and conflicted about sexuality, both her own and everyone else. Several people are killed by teeth, hands and sharp instruments, with a brief respite in the form of the only man who does not come on to Daniela, allowing the relationship to blossom on her terms. This is arguably a psychological horror film, although the psychology as such is as messy as the killings.

The killings do take place during a full moon, and Di Silvestro uses a repeated visual motif of distant shots of the moon, alone in the dark, as well as moon-like images of car headlights and lamps. In addition to trying to place his werewolf story within the context of a legend, much like the classic Universal films, there are visual moments that also recall Italian horror films from the previous decade, although Annik Borel's nightgown is decidedly more diaphanous than anything worn by Barbara Steele. This was the only significant film appearance by Borel, who previously was in small supporting roles in U.S. films and television, notably Jonathan Kaplan's Truck Turner, returning to small roles in European productions after Werewolf Woman. Cinephiles will more likely recognize the name of Frederick Stafford, the police inspector investigating the murders related to Daniela, from his appearance in Hitchcock's Topaz.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 10, 2014 07:27 AM