VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI
Paul Naschy (born Jacinto Molina Alvarez) is a cult icon and one of the most significant figures in the history of Spanish Horror cinema. He is best known for his twelve “Hombre Lobo” movies, a collection of unrelated stories that all feature the character of tragic werewolf, Waldemar Daninsky (played by Naschy himself). The Werewolf and The Yeti AKA Night of the Howling Beast AKA Curse of the Beast AKA Hall of the Mountain King, is the eighth in the series, and was directed by Spanish exploitation devotee, Miguel Iglesias, under the alias M.I. Bonns. Made at a time when Spanish horror films were starting to fade out of popularity after their ‘Golden Age’ in the early Seventies, The Werewolf And The Yeti would be the last Daninsky picture for several years, until Naschy returned in 1980 with El Retorno del Hombre Lobo/Return of the Wolf Man; one of his own personal favourite films.
The Werewolf And The Yeti’s pre-cert VHS release was banned in the UK by the BBFC under the Video Recordings Act of 1984, and was featured on the “Video Nasties” list. Interestingly, although the film would be one of several titles quickly dropped from the Video Nasty list, and despite many of the titles on the original list finally achieving release anyway, The Werewolf and the Yeti has never been released in the UK – it remains unavailable to this day. The version I watched was acquired online and had no English subtitles or dubbing, but the quality of the film was surprisingly good. Hey, the dialogue isn’t that crucial in a film called The Werewolf And The Yeti! My Spanish isn’t great, but I was still able to follow what was going on for the sake of this article…
The plot revolves around intrepid anthropologist and doomed werewolf-to-be Waldemar Daninsky as he joins an expedition led by Professor Lacombe to Tibet in search of Yetis. Becoming stranded at a hotel during a snowstorm Waldemar and a guide who claims to know a secret path through the mountains, decide to chance it and head out into the storm. They eventually become lost in the snow-covered terrain and the guide does a runner, leaving poor Waldemar to the mercy of the elements.
Wondering about in a snowstorm-induced daze, it isn’t long before he happens across a cave in which he takes shelter. Exploring its Mario Bava-lit depths, he happens upon two sisters who ‘revive’ him by performing various sexual acts. Unfortunately, they also turn out to be cannibalistic vampire-witches who feast on the flesh of their lovers. Waldemar manages to dispatch them, though not before he is bitten by one of them, and subsequently infected with ‘the curse of the beast.’ Meanwhile, Professor Lacombe and his expedition group have been taken prisoner by uber-bandit, Sekkar Khan. Lacombe’s totally hot daughter Sylvia manages to escape and is pursued by Khan’s men into the snow-swept wilds. As her pursuers catch up to her, with rape on their minds, Waldemar – who has turned into a werewolf – slaughters her attackers and saves her. Sylvia faints and when she awakes she encounters a disorientated Waldemar. They seek sanctuary in an abandoned monastery where they are told how to break ‘the curse of the beast’ – either by stabbing the werewolf with a silver dagger or administering the blossom of a mystical flower. Their stay at the monastery comes to a sudden end when they are captured and taken to the mountain fortress of uber-bandit Sekkar Khan. Hey, that’s where that bizarre title Hall of the Mountain King must come from!
Waldemar is chained up and made to watch as a captive woman is flayed alive, the skin from her back used to treat an unusual skin condition Khan suffers from. A sadistic sorceress called Wandessa, who also tries to seduce Waldemar, carries out the flaying, but he resists her evil charms. Meanwhile, Sylvia manages to escape from her cell along with several other scantily-clad women and free Waldemar, who then defeats Khan in an action-packed, leap-attack fuelled tussle. Realising that he is turning into a werewolf again, Waldemar attempts to abandon Sylvia for her own safety, only for the poor girl to wind up getting herself captured by the eponymous, and hitherto elusive yeti. Finally, we get to the battle of the title, as Waldemar turns into a werewolf and has an action-packed, leap-attack fuelled tussle with the yeti. Needless to say, Waldemar kicks yeti butt, but is wounded in the process. As luck would have it though, Sylvia suddenly finds the magic flower that will save him. Talk about great timing! She mixes the blossom with her own blood and lets Waldemar sup it, transforming him back into human form, presumably breaking the curse. He and Sylvia then do what most folk in their position would do: wander off misty-eyed and hand in hand into the sunrise… Natch.
Naschy was apparently not particularly happy with The Werewolf and The Yeti, citing the likes of Miguel Iglesias’ direction, and the lack of brooding intensity and tragic malaise that permeated the prior Daninsky films as its major flaws. While it apparently fell short of the grand scope Naschy envisioned, The Werewolf and The Yeti is a much sought after rarity amongst fans, and Naschy even received the best actor award at the 1975 Sitges Film Festival for his performance.
The flaying scene where Melody has the skin stripped from her back is actually pretty graphic, especially when one considers when the film was made. The sex scene in the cave is perhaps another reason why the film found its way onto the video nasty list. Aside from the rather graphic two-on-one action, there’s also some just-out-of-camera-shot oral pleasuring that most likely pushed the BBFC right over the edge. In comparison with today’s standards these scenes seem quite tame, kitsch even, but at the time such scenes would have proved too provocative for censors. Wimps. Quite why the film has still never been released in the UK is a mystery though. Given that Naschy sadly passed away last year, and the huge cult following he has, the time for a release of his work in remastered form, maybe presented in a box-set, laden with extra-features – including a release of this title – is now.
According to www.naschy.com two English-language tapes are the sources of copies currently available; the now out-of-print Super Video release of Night of the Howling Beast (US/NTSC format) and the Dutch PAL on Sunrise Tapes release The Werewolf and The Yeti. The former is apparently the superior copy, despite claims by ‘reputable’ video copiers that the Dutch PAL tape contains ‘uncut’ scenes of torture, sex, nudity, cannibalism, etc, not found in other versions. Aside from the language used in the credits (the titles in the NTSC version are in Spanish, while the Dutch tape’s credits are in English), there is only one difference found between the two, and this takes place in the pre-credit sequence featuring a pan of the wintry landscape. The sequence is a few seconds longer in the Super Video ‘cut.’
VHS TECHNICAL DETAILS : VIDEOTAPE FORMAT WAR
The first home VCR to become widely available was the Philips Video Cassette Recording system, released in 1972. However, the first system to be successful with consumers was Sony's Betamax in 1975. This was quickly followed by the competing VHS (Video Home System) format from JVC, and later by Video 2000 from Philips. Subsequently, the Betamax-VHS format war began in earnest. Other competitors, such as Sanyo's V-Cord and Quasar's "Great Time Machine" quickly disappeared.
Sony had demonstrated a prototype videotape recording system they called "Beta" to the other electronics manufacturers in 1974, and expected that they would back a single format for the good of all. But JVC in particular decided to go with its own format (despite Sony's appeal to the Japanese Ministry of Trade and Industry) thus beginning the format war.
Manufacturers also introduced other systems such as needle-based, record-style discs (RCA's Capacitance Electronic Disc, JVC's Video High Density disc) and Philips' LaserDisc. None of these disc formats gained much ground as none were capable of home recording; however, they did hold small niche markets. CED's inexpensive record-like format (using a fine keel-shaped stylus to read an electronic signal rather than mechanical vibrations) made it attractive to low-income families during the 1980s, and LaserDisc's 5 megahertz/420 line resolution made it popular with discerning videophiles until circa 1997 (when DVD-Video became the new standard for high-quality)
According to James Lardner's 1987 book Fast Forward: Hollywood, the Japanese, and the VCR Wars, Sony had met with Matsushita executives sometime in late 1974/early 1975 to discuss the forthcoming home video market. Both had previously cooperated in the development and marketing of the "U" format video cassette, with Sony marketing under the U-Matic brand. Sony brought along a Betamax prototype for Matsushita's engineers to evaluate. Sony at the time was unaware of JVC's work. At a later meeting, Matsushita, with JVC management in attendance, showed Sony a VHS prototype, and advised them it was not too late to embrace VHS "for the good of the industry" but Sony management felt they were too close to production to compromise.
While VHS machines' lower retail price was a major factor, the principal battleground proved to be recording time. The original Sony Betamax video recorder for the NTSC television system could only record for 60 minutes, identical to the previous U-matic format, which had been sufficient for use in television studios. JVC's VHS could manage 120 minutes, followed by RCA's entrance into the market with a 240 minute recorder. These challenges sparked a mini-war to see who could achieve the longest recording time.
RCA had initially planned a home video format around 1974, to be called "SelectaVision MagTape," but canceled it after hearing rumors about Sony's Betamax format, and was considering Sony as an OEM for an RCA-branded VCR. RCA had discussions with Sony, but RCA felt the recording time was too short, insisting that they needed at least a 4-hour recording time (reportedly because that was the length of an average televised U.S. football game). Sony engineers knew that the technology available to manufacture video heads wasn't up to the task yet, but halving the tape speed and track width was a possibility. Unfortunately, the picture quality would be degraded severely, and at that time Sony engineers felt the compromise was not worthwhile.
Soon after, RCA met with execs with the Victor Corporation of Japan (JVC), who had created their own video format christened "VHS" (which stood for "Video Home System"). But JVC also refused to compromise the picture quality of their format by allowing a 4-hour mode. Ironically, their parent corporation, Matsushita, later met with RCA, and agreed to manufacture a 4-hour-capable VHS machine for RCA, much to JVC's chagrin.
RCA would go on to market "4 hours, $999", forcing a price war and also a "tape length" war. Betamax eventually achieved 5 hours at Beta-III speed on an ultra-thin L-830 cassette, and VHS eventually squeezed 10.6 hours with SLP/EP speed on a T-210 cassette. Slower tape speeds meant a degradation in picture quality, but the consumer didn't seem to mind. From the consumer perspective, buying a single 10-hour VHS tape was cheaper than buying two 5-hour Betamax tapes.
When Betamax was introduced in Japan and the United States in 1975 its Beta-I speed ( 1.5"/second ) offered a slightly higher horizontal resolution (250 lines vs 240 lines horizontal NTSC), lower video noise, and less luma/chroma crosstalk than VHS and was later marketed as providing pictures superior to VHS' playback. However the introduction of B-II speed, 0.8"/sec (2-hour mode), to compete with VHS's 2-hour Standard Play mode ( 1.3"/sec ) reduced Betamax's horizontal resolution to 240 lines. The extension of VHS to VHS HQ increased the apparent resolution to 250 lines so that overall a Betamax/VHS user could expect virtually identical luma resolution and chroma resolution (~30 lines) wherein the actual picture performance depended on other factors including the condition and quality of the videotape and the specific video recorder machine model. For most consumers the difference as seen on the average television was negligible.
Another improvement would be SuperBeta (sometimes called High Band Beta) in 1985. SuperBeta allowed for a gain of 20% to 290 lines in horizontal resolution and some mechanical changes to reduce video noise but Betamax's American and European share had already dropped to less than 10% of the market.
For PAL versions time was less of an issue. Betamax's longest tape (L-830) could record for 3 hours and 35 minutes, compared to VHS's 4 hours. For the European markets the issue was one of cost, since VHS had already gained dominance in the United States (70% of the market), and the large economy of scale allowed VHS units to be sold at a far lower cost than the rarer Betamax units. (See market share below.)
In the mid-to-late 80s, both formats were extended to Super Betamax and Super VHS. Super Betamax offered a slight improvement from 250 to 290 lines horizontally, which could make near-identical copies of broadcast or cable television. Super VHS offered up to 420 lines horizontal (in modern digital terms, 560 pixels edge-to-edge) that surpassed broadcast-quality and matched the quality of laserdiscs. However, the "super" standards remained expensive niche products for a small minority of videophiles and camcorder hobbyists.