[Tearing Through Werewolf Cinema] 'Fury of the Wolfman' Made Paul Naschy a Werewolf Through...A Yeti Bite?
Welcome to a weekly series in which Doris V. Sutherland takes readers on a trip through the history of werewolf cinema...
...Fury of the Wolfman (1970) opens with Dr. Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy) having returned from a research trip to Tibet. While the rest of the team was wiped out in a blizzard, Daninsky survived with only a pentagonal wound on his chest—a wound which he remembers being inflicted on him by the bite of a yeti. Back home, Dr. Daninsky finds his life thrown into turmoil: his wife Erika (Pilar Zorilla) is seeing another man, and his ex-lover Dr. Ilona (Perla Cristal) is plotting against him. The regrettable state of his love-life is underlined when his car brakes are sabotaged in an attempt to kill him. But Daninsky survives a collision with a tree and turns out to be in the perfect position for revenge: ever since his ordeal in Tibet, the full moon turns him into a vicious werewolf!
With Fury of the Wolfman (Spanish title La Furia del Hombre Lobo; also known as The Wolfman Never Sleeps) director José Maria Zabalza and writer Jacinto Molina largely ignore Waldemar Daninsky’s previous exploits in Mark of the Wolf Man and Assignment Terror. Not only is Naschy’s lycanthropic antihero brought back from the dead without explanation, he’s given an all-new origin story with the utterly bizarre suggestion that he became a werewolf after being bitten by a yeti. We never see the abominable snowman in question, so we can logically infer that the creature Daninsky took for a yeti was, in fact, a werewolf that happened to be prowling Tibet—after all, a similar scenario played out in Universal’s Werewolf of London. Yet the Daninsky series would later expand to include The Werewolf and the Yeti, so who knows?
Strange as it may be, the yeti connection is entirely relevant to Fury of the Wolfman’s aesthetic. Between the flashbacks of Daninsky being nursed back to health by a Tibetan mystic and Dr. Ilona’s experiments with the mysteries of the mind, this is a film that captures a distinctly 1970s intersection between the supernatural and the scientific. The decade would see the Amityville haunting in America, the Enfield poltergeist in England and the Belmez faces in the movie’s native Spain, all of which contributed to a mingling between the spirit of scientific enquiry and spirits of the dead (alleged ones, anyway). The atmosphere quickly bled into films like The Legend of Hell House and television series like The Omega Factor--and Waldemar Daninsky, as we can see, was an early passenger on the bandwagon.
That said, the film’s grasp of science is shaky at best, as (dubbed English) dialogue like this makes clear:
“To be a student of the doctor, you need more guts. You see, nature is all: the Earth, moon, air, the sun.”
“Yes, but also darkness and destruction.”
“You say that, then there is nothing—nothing!”
“Yes, but you don’t understand. Everything that’s been going on around here is much more like witchery, and I don’t see anything scientific about human beings suffering. What can that be?”
“Well, isn’t this scientific? They’re neither animals nor plants, for now. But after the doctor’s preliminary phase, they’ll be authentical [sic] mutants, and always they’ll live in darkness.”
Despite its up-to-date trappings, the film has not lost touch with its Gothic roots. Dr. Ilona’s laboratory turns out to have been built above a medieval dungeon, where she keeps her drug-addled test subjects as prisoners. She even has a henchman wearing a suit of armour, who stands disguised as a harmless decoration ready to catch interlopers.
Then, of course, we have the requisite claw-and-fang action from Daninsky when the full moon comes out. And it has to be said that, while werewolves might be thought of as being rather limited in their capabilities, Naschy’s creation shows himself to be a most versatile lycanthrope. He kisses his wife Erika to death, kills a man by pushing him into a fireplace (leading to lingering shots of the victim screaming in agony with flames superimposed over him), and menaces a woman by—oddly—jumping into her bed, leering at her, and then rolling out again without harming her. The film also throws in a female werewolf (still a cinematic rarity at this point) and manages to give a new lease on life to the now-tedious “a werewolf can only be killed by a woman who loves him” business by virtue of Daninsky’s tangled love-life.
All of this fits into the general mood of oddness that permeates the film. There are plenty of other manifestations, ranging from the dolly-bird students employed by Dr. Ilona as her personal Igors to the mysterious man who prowls the catacombs in a distinctly Michael Myers-esque mask, years before Halloween was made. We even have a plot twist suggesting that Daninsky’s condition was not caused by a yeti bite after all, but is instead the result of Dr. Ilona’s mind control playing on his superstitious fears; this revelation is complicated still further when we learn that Ilona’s surname is Wolfstein. Does she belong to the Wolfstein family seen in the otherwise-retconned Mark of the Wolf Man, a member of which was responsible for Daninsky’s infection...?
What it lacks in coherence, Fury of the Wolfman makes up for with sheer verve. The alternate title of The Wolfman Never Sleeps is appropriate, as Naschy’s series has shown itself to have a good deal of variety for a humble monster movie cycle: Mark of the Wolfman was pseudo-Hammer with a dash of psychedelia; Assignment Terror was a cartoonish monsters-meet-aliens romp; and now we have Fury of the Wolfman riding the paranormal investigation zeitgeist in its own splendidly silly manner.
By Doris V. Sutherland