Thursday, August 2, 2012

Las garras de lorelei (1974)

... aka: Grasp of the Lorelei
... aka: Lorelei's Grasp, The
... aka: Loreley's Grasp, The
... aka: Night the Screaming Stopped, The
... aka: When the Screaming Stops

Directed by:
Amando de Ossorio

When a young woman tells her future husband "It's bad luck to see the bride before the wedding" she ain't a kidding as a scaly lizard monster leaps through her window and claws her to death. An autopsy uncovers that the girl's heart is missing and the m.o. matches the "Legend of the Seven Full Moons" which states that a sea siren known as the Lorelei will periodically transform into a ferocious beast who will need to devour human hearts in order to return to her centuries old "dream." A Hungarian wandering minstral who stands on the street corner playing the song of the Lorelei on his violin for spare change tries to warn of the legend, but no one takes him seriously. Elke Ackerman (Silvia Tortosa), an uptight, sexually-repressed teacher (uh-huh... just take a look at this babe [fourth picture down]) at the local all-girls school, shows up at a pub looking for someone to help. The mayor (Luis Induni) hooks her up with Sirgurd (Tony Kendall), one of the best and most experienced hunters in the area. He's to guard the school and make sure nothing becomes of the nubile, boy-crazy young ladies there. Sirgurd sets down a 9pm curfew, where all windows and doors are to be locked and no one is to leave the gated school grounds. Meanwhile, a female villager who doesn't have the luxury of Sirgurd's services gets an unscheduled mastectomy when the vicious sea critter shows up at her home and rips her tit off.

While patrolling the school grounds one night, Sirgurd comes across a mysterious, cloaked, pale-skinned redhead (Helga Liné) lurking about. She runs off before he can catch her. Since the school rules forbid men from swimming with the students, Sirgurd is forced to go bathe in a nearby lake instead. There, he catches sight of the same woman he'd seen the night before, though this time she's clad in a green fringe bikini. She runs off yet again. He is however able to catch a man hanging around the area who turns out be a scientist on the hunt for the creature. The scientist - Professor Von Lander (Ángel Menéndez) - takes Sirgurd back to his lab for a demonstration of how a chemical taken from a chameleon combined with light from an "analytic spectrum" that mimics moonlight can turn a human hand into a clawed lizard hand. And thus the chemical plus the moonlight combined together can revert a human back to the distant origin of the species. Or something like that. He also happens to have a radioactively-charged dagger that can "destroy the cellular mutations of Lorelei and send her back into the legendary night from which she has come." Both the blind man and the man whose girlfriend was killed (who's vowed to hunt the beast down) are killed. In fact, anyone with knowledge of, or a vendetta against, the Lorelei ends up dead and missing a certain vital organ.

Needless to say, the alluring redhead Sirgurd keeps seeing is the Lorelei... but someone should have clued our dense hero in on this. Despite the legend, despite the murders, despite the fact she's lurking around the school at all hours of the night and despite the science demonstration, Sirgurd refuses to believe the strange woman he's just fallen in love with is the creature... Even when she says her name is Lorelei. Hey, I know that Helga Liné is hot and all that, but really, man? Lorelei and her male servant Alberic (an uncredited Luis Barboo) decide to pay the professor - who lets all kinds of animals run loose in his lab, including a sheep! - a visit. Lorelei burns all of his research papers and Alberic whips him until a beaker full of acid falls over onto his face. Eventually, Sirgurd goes diving and discovers an underground cave that leads to a huge hidden palace where Lorelei, Alberic and three man-hungry cave women dressed in rags (!?) live. Sirgurd is tied up while Lorelei goes to the school to try to kill Elke. Thankfully, one of the cavewomen is jealous of Lorelei and decides to let him loose, which results in a cave woman catfight, the palace exploding thanks to dynamite that doesn't explode until about twenty minutes after it's lit and Sirgurd rushing to the school to try to save Elke.

In Loreley's Grasp, the good and the bad duke it out to see who comes out on top. In the good corner, the director makes good use of some lovely outdoor locations, there's a haunting theme song, several of the actresses are gorgeous to look at, the photography isn't bad and many of the murder sequences are surprisingly quite gory. In the bad corner, the film is stuck with a bland, uninteresting male lead who decides to just act macho and stoic throughout, the man-in-a-rubber-suit lizard creature design is weak (though they're smart enough to keep it shrouded in the dark for the most part) and De Ossorio's script is pretty awful. The premise is serviceable enough, but the dialogue is awful, the characters are dull and the plot - ridiculous and stupid as it often is - is presented very matter-of-factly. It's both humorless and dramatically flaccid, and also refuses to even stick with its own created mythology. One man claims the creature "claims new victims every night" and another says it only attacks on a full moon. Make up your mind! There's actually some potential in here for a very good film but we end up with mildly-entertaining schlock instead. Worse things have happened I suppose. On the battle of good vs. bad, it's about a draw.

The cast includes Loreta Tovar as a blonde schoolgirl who's attacked while taking a bubble bath, José Thelman as the vengeful groom-to-be, Betsabé Ruiz as the first victim and Marisol Delgado as another of the teachers. All of them - along with Kendall and Barboo - were also in the director's RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD (1973), filmed the same year. Tortosa (who's absolutely gorgeous but gets shoved off to the side toward the end) and Line (whose unconventional beauty is perfect for her role) had both appeared in the classic HORROR EXPRESS (1972), alongside Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Telly Savales, before this one.
These are pretty cool. On one of the original U.S. theatrical trailers, someone added psychedelic flashes of comic-like art into the trailer. I snatched 'em all up for your viewing pleasure.  

It was reissued in the U.S. in a cut version as When the Screaming Stops. That version had a theatrical gimmick; a flashing red light preceding the gore scenes, added. That version was also released on VHS by Lightning Video. The Deimos DVD version doesn't come with it, but of course is the superior remastered, uncut print.

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