Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tomb of the Werewolf (2003)

... aka: Unliving, The

Directed by:
Fred Olen Ray

Elizabeth Bathory (Michelle Bauer) sells her soul to Satan for eternal youth and (as most of us know) must bathe in the blood of young women (not just virgins, as you will later see!) to retain her youth. She is also responsible for periodically sending her dark lord Lucifer some damned souls by making human sacrifices. Somewhere along the years she crosses paths with Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy), a nobleman in love with Lady Eleanor Daninsky (Stephanie Bentley). When the black plague ravages Eleanor, Elizabeth strikes a deal with Waldemar to return her to life. She does, but then Waldemar is transformed into a werewolf, kills the newly-revived Eleanor and is captured by townspeople who drive a silver cross through his chest. He's then laid to rest in a hidden crypt in the Daninsky family castle and forgotten. (By the way, the time and place of these events are never given.)

Flashing ahead to today, descendant Richard Daninsky (Jay Richardson) learns he has just inherited a huge castle reputed to have a treasure hidden somewhere inside. He travels to Europe with the crew from the television series "Current Mysteries" in tow. Amongst the group are arrogant TV reporter Melanie Charles (Kennedy Johnston), her producer boyfriend Tony (Leland Jay), script supervisor Leslie (Beverly Lynne), beefcake cameraman Steve (Frankie C. Cullen) and make-up artist Christie (Jacy Andrews). The group also hire psychic Amanda Collins (Stephanie Bentley again), who is a dead-ringer for the long- dead Eleanor because she is actually a ghost. And wouldn't you know it, there in the castle alive and well-preserved is Elizabeth, who is posing as the caretaker and housekeeper, but is naturally up to other devious things.

Elizabeth leads Richard down into the dungeon / crypt and tricks him into removing the cross from the corpse of Waldemar. Waldemar returns to life, kills Richard, gets outside and starts biting chunks out of villagers. Meanwhile, the TV crew goof off and get off in assorted combinations. The sex scenes for the video release (including the expected girl-girl encounter) cut to black before they get too racy, suggesting there may be an unrated version out there somewhere. If one does indeed exist, it will probably end up on Cinemax at 3 a.m.; this film is perfect for late-night trash-film fanatics. Director Fred Olen Ray does an OK good job with the return of Naschy's famous Spanish horror character. He's added a little fog, a little ambiance, a little blood and some romanticism to this tale in intentional reverence to the El Hombre Lobo movies of the 1970s. He also stuck pretty closely with the original werewolf design and special effects. The only major difference is that the cheesy time-lapse werewolf transformations of yesteryear have been replaced by the cheesy computer morphing werewolf transformations of today. The film is nowhere near as atmospheric as the original Spanish productions, but there's plenty of nudity / sex and even a decent amount of blood to keep B movie fans mildly entertained.

The period details (aside from the castle and some costumes) are not convincing in the least and neither are the performances from most of the younger cast (Beverly Lynne and Jacy Andrews excluded), but having three veterans in the pivotal roles makes a big difference here. Jay Richardson dies pretty early on, but he's an-always reliable character actor and does just fine here. It's great to see Paul Naschy in an American movie and playing Waldemar again. He has a few English-language lines with his thick Spanish accent, but spends most of the film in make-up or standing off in the background watching the action from afar. But the real star of this one is Michelle Bauer, who is menacing, sexy, sardonic, wickedly funny and delivers her dialog with great camp relish. Pay careful attention to her facial expressions. She never just stands around waiting to say her line; she's always active in what's going on while others around here often seem to be drifting off. It is one of her best performances and largest roles... and none too soon! The 44-year-old (who seems to be growing old gracefully with no signs of reconstruction or Botox face-freeze) is surrounded here by girls who are young, attractive and refreshingly devoid of silicone. Never mind that, Michelle steals the spotlight away from all of them.


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