WEREWOLF WOMAN (1976) Blu-ray
Director: Rino Di Silvestro
Raro Video USA

Originally released in the U.S. by Dimension Pictures under the more apt title, THE LEGEND OF THE WOLF WOMAN, this Italian-lensed terror (known there as “La lupa mannara”) is one of the most exploitive lycanthropy flicks you'll ever witness. Not really a werewolf movie in the classic sense, it's more or less deals with a woman with major psychological problems, mainly her believe that she's a modern-day reincarnation of a she-wolf. But with French-born actress Annik Borel in the title role, this film definitely has bounce and bite!

Borel plays a beautiful young woman named Daniela, still ruffled by a childhood rape incident and having a recurring dream where she’s a hairy werewolf woman in another century. When Daniela discovers a photo of a look-alike relative accused of lycanthropy, she enters a nightmare world and a downward path of psychotic violence. While under her wealthy industrialist father Count Neseri’s (Tino Carraro, THE CAT O’NINE TAILS) care, she witnesses her sister Elena (Dagmar Lassander, HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON) and her husband Fabian (Osvaldo Ruggieri, PLANETS AROUND US) making love, and subsequently lures the husband out into the woods to seduce him and take a chunk out of his neck with her bare teeth. His death is ruled an accident (blamed on ignorant watch dogs!) and Daniela ends up in a mental institution run by a concerned psychiatrist (Elio Zamuto, VIOLENT NAPLES), who continually attempts to analyze her dilemma.

Now under restraints in a ward, Daniela shouts out Exorcist-like obscenities to a polite nurse and her still-mourning sister (not to mention exposing her nether regions), and later escapes with the help of a nymphomaniac lady patient who is stabbed in the process. Along the way, Daniela munches on a number of other male and female victims (including a doctor played by Felicity Fanny, also in DEPORTED WOMEN OF THE SS SPECIAL SECTION for the same director) and eventually falls into the hands of a friendly, muscular movie stuntman (Howard Ross of NEW YORK RIPPER fame, who was also one of the writers) whom she trusts and falls in love with. Afterwards, three hoods break into the empty western studio village the couple is staying in, more rape and revenge ensues, and before it’s all over, a narrator attempts to convince us that all this was based on real events which occurred in 1968!

The only time we really see Borel as a werewolf is in the opening sequence. Set 200 years earlier, it shows her dancing nude by a campfire, subsequently turning into a furry creature (I’m sure it would have been great to have been the makeup guy who applied the strands of hair to her body), and being brought down by angry torch-wielding villagers. The rest of the show has her as the modern descendant who although is not really a wolf, acts as appropriately nasty as any of her celluloid counterparts. The film works on different levels of trash cinema (even borrowing from the popular 1970s "exorcism" and "rape and revenge" genres), with a number of gushy gore effects and body mutilations created by none other than Carlo Rambaldi, who also created the werewolf make-up with its stick-on brown nipples and cute doggy nose). The sleazy proceedings only bog down a bit during the obligatory police investigations (detectives played by Czech-born 1960s spy film star Frederick Stafford, OSS 117: MISSION FOR A KILLER, and Andrea Scotti, ATOM AGE VAMPIRE). The wild escapades and hallucinations (including a horny lizard) of Borel's character keep things lively, and she's quite intense and unpredictable with a the high level of sensuality is offset by the disturbing psychotic behavior. It's a wonder that the shapely, statuesque and somewhat talented starlet didn't get better roles in her heyday (she served as leggy background furniture in films like BLOOD ORGY OF THE SHE-DEVILS and TRUCK TURNER). She appeared on American television (on “The Odd Couple” and “Police Story”) and her last film, Jean-Marie Pallardy’s EROTIC ENCOUNTERS (1978), had her playing a transvestite (in a movie which cast transexual Ajita Wilson as a “woman”). After that, the actress disappeared altogether. The synth-driven score by Coriolano Gori (the Italian version of DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS) and Susan Nicoletti sounds more akin to a 1970s adult film, which is appropriate enough since WEREWOLF WOMAN is chock full of nudity and simulated sex.

When Media Blasters/Shriek Show released WEREWOLF WOMAN on DVD in 2003, it was the uncut version (rather than the heavily-truncated U.S. theatrical cut), but the transfer was cropped on all sides and missing vital picture information (e.g. nudity). Although the company promised to fix the problem and re-press the disc, that never happened, not surprisingly. Raro now presents the film transferred from the original uncut 35mm negative, and the 1.85:1 aspect ratio presented here looks totally the way it should be, without the unnecessary cropping. For a film that’s always looked rather cheap and shoddy, WEREWOLF WOMAN now appears far better than previous home video editions. Presented in 1080p, colors looks consistent, with good contrasts and black levels, and detail is fine. Some of the night-time scenes, particularly muddy in previous transfers, are not overly problematic here. It’s apparent that little or no artificial sharpening or DNR filtering has been done, resulting in a nice natural-looking picture with occasional softness and a few sheetings of grain. Both linear PCM 2.0 Italian and English tracks are included here. Both tracks are post-synced (Borel is obviously speaking her lines in English), and both come off clear without any noticeable problems. A well-done English subtitle option is on hand for the Italian language version.

Supplements include a video interview with director Rino Di Silvestro (19:23). Di Silvestro, who died in 2009, enthusiastically discusses the film, and that he wanted it to be titled “The Female Lycanthrope”, but admits it needed the more viable commercial title. He describes the film as psychotic and pathological culture mixed with the werewolf legend, that it did very well competing against concurrent releases from major studios, and that he really did some heavy searching before casting Borel, and that he subjected her to some intense screen tests before being convinced she’d be good for the lead. For a man who exclusively made exploitation movies, Di Silvestro always seemed overly serious when discussing his work for these video interviews, and this is no exception (at least he didn’t look down upon what he did, and he definitely acknowledged his fanbase). Here, the late director gets quite philosophical about the lead character’s motivation and sexual nature. Also included are the Italian trailer and an English language trailer (an “international” one, not the Dimension Pictures LEGEND OF THE WOLF WOMAN trailer). A booklet is included with affectionate liner notes by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander. (George R. Reis)