1972, Spain, Directed by Leon Klimovsky
Colour, Running Time: 83 minutes
Review Source: DVD, R2, Mondo Macabro; Video: Anamorphic 1.66:1, Audio: DD Mono
Somewhere in mid London (subtly hinted at with an opening shot of Big Ben…) a bunch of toffs are enjoying a little party where eminent hunter and host Kosta is showing off his collection of severed animal heads, which are boastful evidence of his bravely murderous exploits in foreign lands. The party is also attended to by Dr Jekyll, a practising doctor who jests about the existence of werewolves upon seeing one of the wolf heads. Kosta pines for his Hungarian homeland, somewhere in Transylvania, and soon arranges a driving trip with his wife Justine (a woman who seems to be loved by all of the main male characters) to visit the village of the hunter’s origin. Upon arrival in the land lost in time they’re warned at a tavern not to stop by the old graveyard where Kosta says his family are buried, and there’s talk of a nearby castle where the owner is a “monster” and also present there is one Ms Bathory… Needless to say the couple do not heed any warnings (he’s not travelled several hundred miles in an old Jag just to be scared off by some crazy villager) and wandering around the graveyard they’re attacked by bandits - known raiders that roam the hills in search of loot and a bit of female flesh. Kosta is brutally murdered in the process but Justine is saved by strapping Waldermar Daninsky who, exercising necessary self defence to the minimum, smashes a bandit’s head in with a heavy boulder. It soon materialises that the reclusive Daninsky has his own problems and each full moon brings about a werewolf transformation that he’s desperate to see the back of. Justine mentions that she knows of a great doctor in London and begs him to come back for treatment. Quickly falling in love with one another (this woman wastes no time clearly) they head off in a rush when they realise the angry villagers have formed a lynch mob and want Daninsky’s blood spread over the castle grounds. Back in London, Jekyll has the crack-headed idea of injecting Daninsky with the serum that his grandfather developed, turning the foreigner into Mr Hyde (as if he didn’t have enough shit on his plate), thereby somehow causing him and the werewolf to battle before an antidote is administered to leave a cured Daninsky… eh?!? They actually go ahead with this insane scheme and soon London is the alternating hunting ground of a nasty Mr Hyde and the bloodthirsty werewolf.
To say this is a mixing pot of a plethora of ideas is a bit of an understatement - characters routinely theorise about what’s going on with unrestrained imagination; one villager reckons that the castle is inhabited by Countess Bathory, an evil witch who, if you catch her eye, will curse you forever in a glance - that’s not how I remember the Bathory legend! There’s also mention of vampires upon revelation that Kosta wants to go back to Transylvania - with everything else going on it’s actually surprising that one didn’t show up. We even get a deformed leper who initially scares the snobby couple from England, later assisting Daninsky with such routine tasks as burying corpses. The settings for each act are similarly chaotic - we go from swinging seventies London to Transylvania, which seems like some medieval world where villagers are clothed in rags and sit in taverns with no electricity. Later on we’re back in modern London and Jekyll’s laboratory where we’re almost plunged into science fiction territory with flashing lights, strange sounds, and a strapped down guinea pig being transformed from one monster to another. Then, once Hyde has been on the move for a while, the streets of London are fog enshrouded and the attempted murder of a drunken bystander results in police whistles as if we’ve gone back a hundred years! All of this makes one shake the cranium in disbelief at times, but it also produces quite an pleasurable, if schizophrenic ride, through genre ideas that were either implemented in a sense of fun, or simply misunderstood by the writers. Having said all that, there are moments of acknowledgeable proficiency as displayed periodically by director Klimovsky in other films: the awakening of Justine in the centuries old castle and her subsequent meandering through the dark corridors by candlelight is exceedingly spooky, and similarly the locations used for Transylvania’s barren landscapes, its graveyard and castle, are incredibly cold and desolate. The windswept, intermittently snowy regions are the perfect backdrop for the half hour dark ages-style segment of the story that takes place there. The score is supplied by Antón García Abril, a composer known for his versatility as he worked in anything from operas to many a good Spanish horror film. His work here is nicely executed and enhances a number of sequences such as the aforementioned castle exploration.
The main problem for me is Daninsky’s werewolf - despite supposedly being the star of the show, the creature is frustratingly ineffectual here, staggering impotently about as if he didn’t know what to do and lumbering towards victims with a distinct lack of velocity or aggression. The London disco set piece is a consequential lost opportunity - the werewolf appears in the club, panic ensues as everyone scrambles for the exit, and… that’s it! No massacre, no pile of torn up bodies, nothing! I think the problem is a combination of slow editing and Klimovsky’s absent knack for action. Hyde is actually more potent - a sinister individual who at least looks like he might cause violent havoc (and proving this at one point by strangling a prostitute with her own stocking). There’s lots to smile at in the film - I particularly like the way Justine goes off to Transylvania with one man and comes back after the former’s death with another, and nobody seems to bat an eyelid! Whilst not one of the greatest Spanish genre films around, there’s so much going on in Dr Jekyll Versus The Werewolf (or Dr. Jekyll Y El Hombre Lobo) it’s difficult not to find it a little bit endearing, even if it doesn’t really hit all of its copious targets. The wonderful Mondo Macabro rescued it from obscurity albeit in its domestic ‘clothed’ variety - admittedly unfortunate, however, just about all of the other boxes are ticked. Audio is provided as Spanish language (adequately translated with English subtitles), an original 1.66:1 aspect ratio (i.e. slightly window-boxed) is presented with very attractive image quality that stands up admirably to large screen projection, and a few extras include text history of Spanish horror and a twenty minute video interview with Paul Naschy. I believe the DVD is out of print so it does tend to cost a bit to pick it up nowadays - even a couple of years ago I don’t think I could get it for less than ten or eleven pounds. Regardless I consider this a cool disc to have in my collection and another plus for Mondo Macabro.