Werewolf Woman (1976)

Also known as:
Daughter of a Werewolf
Naked Werewolf Woman
She-Wolf Terror of the She Wolf
The Legend of the Wolf Woman
The Wolf Man (USA)
La Lupa mannara

Any film that opens with a beautiful, voluptuous nude woman dancing at night in a circle of fire has me sold from the outset. Annik Borel has some great voodoo moves to show us as the bongoes beat on, then collapses on the ground and becomes the titular Werewolf Woman. 'Titular' is the operative word as this wolf-woman is only covered with a thin covering of fur and her breasts, nether-regions and new prosthetic nipples clearly show through. Now, despite the werewolf fur being patchy, the makeup is actually pretty effective in close-up, with the Werewolf Woman having quite frightening red eyes. Roaming through some Italian medieval forest, a mob of torch-wielding peasants pursue her. Snarling and drooling, and along with the identical audio loop of howling found in The Reincarnation of Isabel, she corners a villager and rips his throat out, then messily despatches him with an axe to the head. Later the crowd catches her and prepare to burn the tied-up creature at the stake.

Italy, in the present (of 1976). Daniella Neseri (the blonde Borel again) wakes up screaming from a nightmare, a nightmare we have just witnessed. Her father, the wealthy Count Neseri, (Tino Carraro) comforts her and takes her to rest at his holiday mansion in the country. He explains to the psychologist on her case, played by Elio Zamuto, that her nightmares and psychoses stem from two sources. One, that she was raped by a "maniac" at thirteen, and the other that she has become obsessed by the legend of an ancestor, of whom she has a picture in a locket, who looks like her and became a werewolf. Neseri hopes that rest in the country will do her the world of good.

As they relax by the pool - an opportunity to show Borel in a bikini - Daniella begins to relax. Still, it's short lived as her sister Elena (Dagmar Lassander) turns up with new husband, the manly Fabian (Andrea Scotti). Tensions begin and sexually aroused, Daniella secretly watches Elena and Fabian have sex. Fabian thinks he hears something and pursues the noise outside into the night, where Daniella is waiting. Tipped over into full-blown psychosis, Daniella drops her clothes and attempts to seduce Fabian. He accepts and no sooner do they begin to have sex than she rips his throat out with her teeth. Bloody, naked, snarling and screeching, she throws his corpse off a cliff.

Later, we see that Daniella has become virtually catatonic in an asylum. She occasionally rises from this state to scream abuse, possession-like, at nurses calling them and her visiting sister "whores". The murder of Fabian was attributed to an accident and his wounds blamed on scavenging animals. A nymphomaniac in the hospital takes a shine to Daniella and tries to seduce her. Still retaining some wiles, Daniella agrees to respond to the crazed woman if she'll untie her from the bed. The nymphomaniac agrees, and is swiftly stabbed to death as Daniella escapes. Hiding in the car of one of the female doctors, Daniella attacks her and she crashes the car, killing the doctor. Still, despite the accident, Daniella had gotten far away from the asylum and found a sort of freedom.

The murderess hides in a barn and watches a couple making love. Filled with anger and hatred of sex again, she watches the man leave and rips the throat out of the naked woman. Daniella flees again, taken to the house of a sleazy middle-aged lothario who promises to "look after her". After he tries to rape her, another throat is torn out. Finally, Daniella meets someone that's actually nice to her, a young stunt-man, who takes the homeless woman in and gives her a non-sexual bed. As we witness a montage of stunts and romance, the two fall in love, and Daniella feels her throat-ripping, murderous urges receding. She even calls her father on the phone and tells him she's cured. Count Neseri desperately begs her to turn herself in but Daniella refuses.

As you'd expect in a film of this nature, trouble is brewing in Paradise. A group of four hoodlums, who'd been watching the couple, breaks into their home and viciously rape Daniella. As the stunt-man returns home, he discovers them and frantically fights them all off, in the end being overpowered and stabbed to death by one of them. So now we enter the I Spit on Your Grave chapter of Werewolf Woman. After her lover is buried, Daniella stalks them all and kills them off, one by one. She crushes some of them in a car-crushing machine and burns the vilest one to death, seemingly cooking and eating him later, out in an urban wasteland somewhere. Finally the police catch up to her, as she circles herself in a ring of fire similar to the one we saw at the start of the film. Will she burn to death herself, or escape her pursuers and find freedom at last?

Within the confines of an exploitation film, director Rino Di Silvestro has crafted quite an effective and, at times, sad little horror-sex film. I couldn't help but feel pity for Daniella, whose enjoyment of sex is destroyed in childhood by her first rapist, which causes her to grow filled with an insane, hated-filled rage by any sort of arousal. Though gorgeous-looking, Annik Borel does convey this rage well, particularly when she tears "Fabian" apart. Tino Carraro as Count Neseri also give us some good emoting as the grieving, stricken father of the unfortunate girl. The cinematography by Mario Capriotti and Dennis Kull has some great panning shots, particularly in the opening "Werewolf" scenes. Yes, the only real "Werewolf woman" is in the film's first few minutes but Daniella's ancestor's effect is felt throughout the film. I didn't feel cheated by the lack of hair and fangs, as Daniella certainly channelled a werewolf personality whenever her sex-rage filled her. The numerous gore scenes were quite well done, and we know we're still watching a horror film of a more psychological nature.

Yes, on one level, it's a just cheap little sexploitation-horror film from Italy, and Annik Borel does spend about three quarters of the film naked - strangely, I keep forgetting to complain about that. Yet, there is a sense of melancholy and lost chances for poor Daniella that stayed with this reviewer beyond the sex and gore. I've read a lot of negative reviews of Werewolf Woman out there, but if you have room in your collection for one more film, give it a chance and see what you think. I feel it's an underrated little gem of a seventies horror film.

© Boris "Wolfie" Lugosi, 2006.

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Review written: 12/05/2006 21:49:27