Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released in Italy on November 9, 1961 and in the US on June 5, 1963
Directed by Paolo Heusch (as Richard Benson)
Written by Ernesto Gastaldi (as Julian Berry)
Cast: Barbara Lass, Carl Schell, Curt Lowens, Luciano Pigozzi, Maurice Marsac, Michela Roc, Mary McNeeran, Grace Neame, Annie Steinert, Joseph Mercier, Herbert Diamonds, John Karlsen
I know what you’re thinking: with a title like Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory (or any one of its other tantalizing titles, including I Married a Werewolf, Monster Among the Girls, The Ghoul in School, and El Terror de los Lobos), how in the name of Larry Talbot could I have awarded this thing such a decent rating? Surely, this low-budget Italian horror thriller—about a women’s reformatory with more than just a werewolf problem on its hands—couldn’t possibly possess the cinematic components necessary to secure more than a one-star rating, could it?
Surprisingly enough, it did. I went into this endeavor—along with Lindsey over at The Motion Pictures—expecting your typical schlocky drive-in fare, something to be mocked and taunted without mercy, and before watching the film I went as far to type a fairly disparaging opening paragraph for this review, anticipating nothing more than…well, nothing more than schlocky drive-in fare. But I’ll be honest: this movie held my attention and held it well, and it not only entertained me, but offered a few smarts, some unexpected twists, and a reveal that was so far out of left field, I wasn’t even in the ballpark when it came to predicting who the culprit was.
The story started out innocently enough, with a man arriving at a castle-like correctional facility to become the staff’s new science professor, while a cadre of female students (or prisoners, depending on how you look at it) engage in calisthenics and flash hungry eyes at their welcome male instructor. However, later that night, one of these students makes a midnight rendezvous with another faculty member, who she also happens to be blackmailing, and after a disagreement between the two, she finds herself alone outside the school grounds; soon, she’s attacked and killed by some sort of crazed man-beast who many suspect is actually a werewolf.
For me, there were quite a few reasons why this movie was a step above, most of all its multi-faceted plot, the atmospheric black-and-white photography, and the Kim Cattrall-like beauty of lead actress Barbara Lass, who alone was eye-pleasing reason enough for me to stick it out to the end. Strangely, the film and its storyline played out more like a murder mystery than a horror movie, and this was definitely to its advantage; you couldn’t help but be drawn into the guessing game of who or what (or both!) was responsible for these apparently random series of deaths.
So which was it? The pack of wolves that prowled the nearby forest, the man-beast we’d seen earlier, the caretaker’s wolf-hating dog named Wolf, or the lecherous faculty member who was being blackmailed: in short, a wolf, a werewolf, Wolf, or the wolf? Perhaps it was somebody else entirely, like the aforementioned caretaker, a Peter Lorre doppelgänger with a mangled hand and an equally-mangled haircut, who had ‘obvious suspect’ written all over him. Or maybe it was our hero, the handsome new professor, who not only carried a dark secret from his past, but who also had scientific knowledge of the werewolf sickness, and knew where to get the serum to cure it.
But remember, after all this heaping of high praise, this was first and foremost a grade-B movie, with commendable but routine direction, its fair share of cheesy elements, and quite a few dramatic stare-downs. But I truly appreciated the fact that it took itself seriously, and didn’t take the lazy route when it came to the screenplay, whose themes oddly brought to mind those of two basketball films, Hoosiers and Teen Wolf (and no, I’m not kidding). Considering the limitations of its budget and well-traversed subject matter, this little film did all right, and in the end its five-star rating was something it could be proud of. I just wished they’d stuck with the original Italian title, Lycanthropus, which had a much more exotic—and sinister—ring to it. (5/10)