Review Date: 3/16/20
Director: Paul Naschy
Cast: Paul Naschy, Shigeru Amachi
"Unfortunately, intolerance and slander always triumph over the just."
An unusual Spanish/Japanese co-production about a werewolf named Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy) who travels to Japan to find a cure for his lycanthropic curse. The film opens in 16th century Europe, when the Daninsky family was cursed by a vengeful sorceress. Waldemar is a descendant of the curse, and comes under the study and care of a scientist and scholar in Spain. Unfortunately, the superstitious locals don't like what the good doctor is up to, so they send for the Spanish Inquisition to look into the matter. Not surprisingly, this ends badly for the scholar, so Waldemar, his wife, and the scholar's daughter flee to Japan. It doesn't take long for the Japanese to start investigating the rash of violent murders left in Waldemar's wake, and a samurai named Kian (Shigeru Amachi) pledges to help Waldemar find a cure. But science and magic fail him, so Waldemar's wife secretly seeks the aid of a dark sorceress who hides in the woods. This turns out to be a trap, and Kian is finally forced to kill Waldemar with a mystical silver katana.
It's not a very good movie, but it has some neat ideas and I really admired its serious and sincere approach. It's a thoughtful horror film that revolves around human tragedy and the torments of a doomed soul. Waldemar is not a bad person and there are genuinely good people who love him and want to help him, but salvation is always out of reach. Kian's sister hopelessly falls in love with him, dooming herself and perpetuating the Daninsky curse. The idea of a werewolf in Japan is an interesting theme, as no such creatures exist in Japanese folklore and the people struggle to find answers and defend themselves. While the execution is poor, the film's unique set pieces are overflowing with creativity. Highlights include a brothel massacre, a harrowing fight between Waldemar and a tiger (!), a grim seppuku ritual, a ninja ambush at a hot spring, a ghost samurai duel, a nightmarish C-section, and a sword fight with white-haired spirits.
While samurai veteran actor Shigeru Amachi gives an excellent performance, the action scenes are weak and the swordplay is disappointingly sluggish. Considering all of the swordplay and monster action, the film is surprisingly tame and could definitely benefit from some gratuitous bloodletting to spice things up. However, one scene that isn't weak is Paul Naschy's intense tiger fight, which looks incredibly dangerous and must be seen to be believed. It's a long film and the pacing can be tedious, but I never lost interest in all of its bizarre curiosities. It's also really awkward and perversely amusing to hear Japanese actors dubbed in Spanish.