Since I earlier reviewed The Wolf Man, it only made sense to me that tonight’s entry in daily horror grindhouse should be the 1976 Italian horror film, Werewolf Woman. I’d had Werewolf Woman on DVD for a while now but I had yet to get around to watching it. I actually knew next to nothing about it. The only reason why I bought the DVD was because of the title.
So, last night, I watched the movie and I quickly discovered that, in the best tradition of grindhouse cinema, Werewolf Woman‘s title actually had very little do with the actual film. The title character may go around ripping out throats with her teeth but it’s not because Daniella Neseri (Annik Borel) is a werewolf. Instead, it’s just because she’s gone insane.
When Daniella was thirteen years old, she was raped by a family friend. She has now grown up to be a young woman who fears sex and rarely leaves her family’s decaying estate. Her aging father, Count Neseri (Tino Carraro), is extremely protective of Daniella but, at the same time, he also tells her stories about how one of her ancestors was rumored to be a werewolf so you really have to wonder how good of a father he actually is.
When Daniella’s younger sister, Elena (Dagmar Lassander), comes home with her fiancée, Daniella hides out in the hallway and listens while they make love. Later that night, Daniella is wandering around outside when she runs into the fiancée. She proceeds to rip out his throat with her teeth and then leave him for dead. The police are convinced that he was murdered by a wild animal but Elena and Count Neseri both believe that Daniella was responsible.
So, Daniella ends up in an insane asylum but it takes more than just four walls and a locked door to hold Daniella prisoner. One of her fellow patients is a predatory lesbian (yes, this is very much a 70s movie) who tries to seduce Daniella. Unfortunately, any and all sexual thoughts cause Daniella to mentally (if not physically) transform into a werewolf. Soon, the patient has had her throat ripped out and Daniella has escaped.
The rest of the film follows Daniella as she makes her way across the Italian countryside, stopping to kill anyone who causes her to become aroused or to even think about sex. Or, at least, that is until she meets Luca (Howard Ross), who is a sensitive man and lover. Daniella and Luca have a falling in love montage. They make love without Daniella feeling the urge to rip out his throat. Things are going to be okay, right?
Nope. Inevitably, a biker gang shows up and violently destroys their happiness. In the spirit and style of I Spit On Your Grave, it’s up to Daniella to get revenge.
Now, when talking about a movie like Werewolf Woman — one that links lycanthropy with both sexual repression and a sexual awakening — it’s easy to read too much into the plot. I’ve been tempted to do just that while writing this review. Whether it was what the director’s intended it or not, there is a potentially intriguing theme running through Werewolf Woman, in which Daniella imagines herself as a werewolf because it’s the only way that she can survive in a world that is determined to sexually exploit, demean, and oppress her. Daniella’s mental transformation is ultimately the result of her own repressed emotions and fears and I’m sure that many would argue that Werewolf Woman, in the tradition of Repulsion and Ms. 45, is taking a stand against a patriarchal and repressive society (never mind that Daniella ultimately kills almost as many women as men).
And you know what? If this was a Jess Franco film, I’d give it the benefit of the doubt.
But ultimately, Werewolf Woman is no Ginger Snaps. Instead, it’s a somewhat slow soft core flick that doesn’t really add up to much. (Any and all subtext is definitely present by accident only.) That said, Annik Borel does a good job in the lead role and loves of Euroshock will enjoy seeing familiar faces like Howard Ross and Dagmar Lassander in the cast. Add to that, I always enjoy any film the features a woman getting bloody revenge on misogynists, even if this film ultimately left me feeling more icky than empowered.