Enrique López Eguiluz, 1968
Starring: Paul Naschy, Manuel Manzaneque, Dyanik Zurakowska
In Germany, a young gypsy couple accidentally awaken werewolf Imre Wolfstein when they spend the night in his abandoned, ancestral castle. He begins to terrorize the countryside, though the locals believe real wolves are responsible and organize a hunt. The quiet, isolated Count Waldemar Daninsky manages to kill Wolfstein, but is unfortunately bitten. The young Countess Janice and her friend Rudolph are intrigued by Daninsky and vow to help him. Janice quickly falls in love with him and in desperation, they write to a scientist who has supposedly found a cure for lycanthropy. The son of the doctor arrives along with his seductive wife, but the two turn out to be vampires determined to satanically possess Daninsky with black magic. Rudolph and Janice soon fall under their spell and only Daninsky can save them, but will it be too late?
Written by and starring Jacinto Molina aka Paul Naschy, this Spanish and West German co-production was his first role as Count Waldemar Daninsky, the tragic werewolf. Also known as Mark of the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror, Hell’s Creatures, and The Nights of Satan, the film has nothing to do with Dr. Frankenstein or his creature, but was retitled in the U.S. as a marketing ploy. Some prints had an animated sequence tacked on to the beginning trying lamely to connect the Frankensteins to the La marca del Hombre Lobo. Apparently it ran as a double feature with Dracula vs. Frankenstein.
The script is cleverer than you would expect from one of Naschy’s first films. Though it begins as a routine reimagining of The Wolf Man – a mysterious, brooding man avoided by the locals is bitten by a werewolf when he hunts and kills it – it takes an interesting turn when the doctor and his wife turn out to be a pair of vampires. Daninsky gets little screen time for the second half of the film, but at least this avoids the kind of sorry moping that plagues The Wolf Man and all Lon Chaney Jr werewolf films. There are moments where the script lags and a lot of the werewolf action is implied or occurs off screen. Naschy is certainly a more menacing and powerful werewolf than Lon Chaney Jr, though his guttural snarling is fairly ridiculous.
I’ve read comparisons of Naschy to Oliver Reed in Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf. While their performances are similarly physical and manly, Naschy is nowhere near the same league as Reed in terms of acting talent. The script also doesn’t do him any favors; it divulges very little about Daninsky outside of initially portraying him as some sort of Byronic hero. I know I keep using the word “brooding” to describe him, but it’s the most fitting word throughout the entire series and especially in this first film. There is – even more so than Oliver Reed – the sense of repressed sexuality and pent up aggression that makes him a convincing as a gentleman werewolf. In a sense, he has more in common with the titular character in Universal’s Werewolf of London (1935, predating The Wolfman). Dr. Wilfred Glendon (portrayed by Henry Hull) is obsessed with his experiments and neglects his pretty young wife. Though he loves her, he is unable to express virtually any sense of emotion. In this, Daninsky is closer to Glendon than to Lon Chaney Jr’s Larry Talbot.
As for the other actors, Dyanik Zurakowska (Orgy of the Vampires) gives a likable performance as Janice, the sweet young thing who falls in love with Daninsky. Manuel Manzanque is a bit obnoxiously naïve as her friend Rudolph. I always found it a bit strange that Rudolph is so eager to help Daninsky and isn’t jealously resentful. As for the villains, Julian Ugarte (All the Colors of the Dark) is very over the top as Dr. Mikhelov, but gives a pleasingly cheesy performance. Aurora De Alba (Vengeance of the Zombies) matches him perfectly. As soon as the pair appear on screen, it’s obvious that they’re dripping with menace and will soon be up to no good.
Though the locations are limited, they look great and have a nice Gothic feel with a spooky castle, cobweb-drenched crypts, and an elaborate torture chamber. The castle set is allegedly the same monastery used in Tombs of the Blind Dead a few years later. There is plenty of fog, smoke, and candlelight and certain scenes seem inspired by the work of Mario Bava, particularly a handful of eerie red or green-lit rooms in the castle’s dungeon.
Aside from this film, director Enrique López Eguiluz is only known for Santo contra los asesinos de la mafia (1970), an obscure, but well-rated entry in the Santo series. Eguiluz does a solid, if workmanlike job here and obviously borrows from Italian Gothic horror. One of the finest points of the film is the excellent score by Ángel Arteaga, a mixture of more standard, orchestral horror themes, odd jazzy notes, and some creepy, unpredictable sounds.
La marca del Hombre Lobo is not without its flaws. The editing is fairly rough and there are occasional jumps in the story that are a bit mystifying at first. The third act is the most problematic with a series of ongoing chase scenes that go back and forth between characters. It begins to develop a Pink Panther-ish vibe before the somewhat predictable ending, where Daninsky kills the other monsters and his lady love must kill him by shooting him through the heart with a silver bullet. This somewhat interesting premise (a werewolf can only truly be killed by one who loves him) is mostly carried throughout the rest of the series.
Though some of the later El Hombre Lobo films are more popular, I think this is a great place to start for Naschy newbies. It includes most of the themes that would be repeated throughout the series, including tragic love, black magic, miscellaneous monsters (vampires, in this case), some great atmosphere, and the solid presence of the solemn, brooding Naschy turning wolfish against his will at the light of the full moon. The violence and nudity are both pretty thin on the ground, though there is plenty of blood and some mild eroticism when the vampires begin their seduction. Hammer fans will certainly rejoice at The Mark of the Wolfman, as will anyone delighted by stylish Eurohorror. It is available on DVD as Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror, though the title is out of print and a little expensive. You can also find it streaming online, thanks to legions of devoted Naschy fans.