Friday, November 5, 2010

Fright Flix presents - "Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory"! (1962)

I have a confession to make – I love cheesy old movies. I’m not talking the coming attractions for old Universal or Hammer movies here. I mean the real stuff, authentic schlock: ‘50s Sci-Fi, ‘60s Horror and Spaghetti Westerns, ‘70s Blaxploitation and Kung Fu pictures. Still, watching these delightful cinematic artifacts is a bittersweet experience. It compels one to dwell on how boring movies have become in the last couple of decades.

The powers-that-be that allowed such films to flourish developed an amusing, but effective system. First of all, the producers would first come up with a marketable title. Then the poster art would be created around said title. Next the poster art would be run by film distributors. Only if they showed interest in booking such a film would the actual movie be written and produced, resulting in films like The Beast With A Million Eyes (1955) and I Married A Monster From Outer Space (1958). Of course, such titles are still being produced, but now it’s for camp value, like Snakes On A Plane (2006), Kids Go Into The Woods, Kids Get Dead (2009), or The Lights Have Gone Out, Let’s Split Up. In our enlightened era such titles are uttered with tongue firmly implanted in-cheek. Not so in the golden era, back when the films tended to be a straightforward presentation of what the title promised.

Arguably, one of the greatest of such titles was Werewolf in a Girl’s Dormitory. It’s all there, isn’t it? In terms of boiling down the traditional lures of violence and sex into one short formulation, it’s perfect. The movie itself is one of those monster/cheesecake flicks ground out in early ‘60s Europe. Such films as Playgirls and the Vampire or Horrors of Spider Island would mix scantily clad hotties and mayhem. Served up, it should be noted, with somewhat greater explicitness than their contemporary American counterparts. Soon after this European films would become more unabashed, presenting nudity, sex and gore so perverse as to cross over into misogyny and misanthropy. (Although more of the former than of the latter.) In the brief period that we will now examine, though, the films remained oddly innocent. Buxom gals meandering around in elaborate, none-too-revealing lingerie and being rather chastely mauled by goofy monsters was the order of the day.
Other common elements of these flicks are on display here as well. For instance, there’s the mystery element to be found in all those German Edgar Wallace adaptations. You know, the ones starring Klaus Kinski and featuring hunchbacked, hooded killers decapitating hordes of victims and that sort of thing. (When did they stop showing those on TV?) So pretty much every character in our movie is constantly acting in a suspicious manner. This is so as to keep us guessing at the werewolf’s identity. It also means that the werewolf could be pretty much anybody with equal validity. Therefore, the only practical way to figure out who it is to wait until everyone but the hero, the heroine and the villain have been killed off.

Next, of course, there’s the stilted, poorly dubbed-in dialog. For the connoisseur, each region of the world’s dubbing has its own charms. The most famous here in the States is the Americanized dubbing as seen in old Godzilla movies. The Japanese language doesn’t really match up well with English in terms of meter. Hence the much-remarked upon and obvious mis-syncing of dialog to lip movement. Japanese speech also tends to be much more terse than its American counterpart. This is what causes so many affirmative ‘hmm’s and stuff to be looped in, replacing the original ‘hei’s.

On the other extreme are films from Mexico, like those translated by our old friend K. Gordon Murray. Unlike the Japanese, Mexican films tend to be extraordinarily dialog heavy. This is at least in part because nothing’s cheaper than having actors stand around and talk. Mexican Spanish also tends to be spoken at a quicker cadence than English. Even better, the dubbed dialog in films like The Brainiac or Santa Claus often sounds like it was translated directly from the original Spanish. This results in long, wordy exchanges in which the grammar is humorously askew.

The rhythm of language in German and Italian films, with this being the latter, tends to be closer to American English. Yet while all the typical dubbing quirks in this picture might be (wait for it) less pronounced (ha, I’m so funny), they are still identifiable. Spoken dialog regularly mismatches lip movements. The volume of speech seems just a shade too loud, as if everyone thought everybody else a bit hard of hearing. Long, inexplicable pauses abound, often in mid-sentence. And the dialog tends to sound overly stiff and formalistic.

I have a some affection for this film, and consider to be a bit of a minor gem. For instance, the film runs a scant 83 minutes (although the missing song indicates a greater length), so there’s little time to get boring. Also, the filmmakers do put in some work. The picture supplies a comically large assemblage of werewolf suspects and makes sure that everybody’s acting suspiciously at all times. This is augmented by the nearly continuous playing of the ‘menacing’ score throughout the first half of the movie. The stilted dubbed dialog helps. As does the pacing. The film keeps getting progressively sillier with admirable momentum, climaxing in the hilarious lab scene where Leonor keeps getting mauled like a character out of a Monty Python sketch.

There’s a couple of obvious and amusing plot holes, too. For instance, how did Swift become a werewolf? When? Was he killing folks before the events shown here and nobody noticed? Actually, considering the quality of the local police, this seems possible. Again, what possible motive could Sheena have had not to blow Swift’s cover? And why didn’t the police ever search Mary’s effects? And why were they so sure Priscilla was lying about the letter? Was Swift supposed to know he was a werewolf? Isn’t it a little weird that of the bountiful six corpses the film provides, only one was the work of the werewolf?

Ahh, what’s not to love?

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