Quote of the Day: Werewolf By Night

This is from Guy Endore’s The Werewolf of Paris, an epic and perverse gothic novel. Aymar has come to Paris in search of his nephew, Bertrand, an uncontrollable werewolf, whom he plans to stop at all costs. But Aymar gets caught up in the Paris Commune and its brutal suppression:

“The Commune shot fifty-seven from the prison of La Roquette. Versailles retaliated with nineteen hundred. To that comparison add this one: The whole famous Reign of Terror in fifteen months guillotined 2,596 aristos. The Versaillists executed 20,000 commoners before their firing squads in one week. Do these figures represent the comparative efficiency of guillotine and modern rifle, or the comparative cruelty of upper and lower class mobs?

“Bertrand, it now seemed to Aymar, was but a mild case. What was a werewolf who had killed a couple of prostitutes, who had dug up a few corpses, compared with these bands of tigers slashing at each other with daily increasing ferocity? ‘And there’ll be worse,’ he said, and again he had that marvelous rising of the heart. Instead of thousands, future ages will kill millions. It will go on, the figures will rise and the process will accelerate! Hurrah for the race of werewolves!”

~ Guy Endore, 1934.

Rather a terrific piece of pulp nastiness, with weird philosophical undertones. I’d compare it to Matthew Lewis’ anti-clerical masterpiece The Monk. Endore wants to have his cake and eat it, though, and his defence of witch-burning is frankly offensive, although it’s hard to know how seriously he means it.

Endore wrote in Hollywood, contributing to Tod Browning’s THE DEVIL DOLL and MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, Karl Freund’s MAD LOVE, and the goofy Karloff-Lugosi THE RAVEN, which I wrote about here. And then, when he was still alive in 1961, Hammer films used his werewolf classic (which predates Henry Hull in WEREWOLF OF LONDON, Lon Chaney Jnr in THE WOLFMAN, and the Holocaust) as the basis for Terence Fisher’s CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, scripted by John Elder, perhaps Britain’s worst screenwriter
Wait, isn’t that his mother? Who dies in childbirth? Publicity stills can be SO IMAGINATIVE.
The film was initiated to make use of Spanish sets built for an Inquisition romp that had been nixed by the censor. Instead of doing the logical thing and turning to The Monk (too anti-Catholic), Elder took Endore’s story and transposed it from the historical background which is so central to it. While he could certainly have found equally bloody events in Spanish history, I guess he was forbidden to do so. But I can’t forgive the systematic ripping out of all of Endore’s best conceits. The author is purposely ambiguous right to the end about Bertrand’s lycanthropy. Does he really transform into a wolf, or only imagine it due to his uncontrollable cannibalistic impulses? And while Endore starts with a horrific account of a man entombed alive in an oubliette, Elder has his equivalent character locked in a jail, where he still has sympathetic human contact, yet somehow loses the power of speech. The chap goes mad and rapes an INSANELY busty wench and as a result, Oliver Reed is born with werewolfism. I always found that a pathetically stupid idea, and it’s a gross distortion of the book.
Even a slightly silly novel like Werewolf of Paris has a certain dignity in its perversity, and it deserves a more sympathetic adaptation. It’s not great literature or anything, but there are enough ideas in it for ten movies — all of them better than CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.
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15 Responses to “Quote of the Day: Werewolf By Night”

  1. True, but one of the unalloyed joys of Hammer was is “INSANELY busty wenches.” See also Horror of Dracula (an especially delight of my heterosexually incluined teenage friends, longing to “get to second base” with any girl who was willing.)

    Your post immediately brings to mind three things

    1) Oliver Reed’s triumphant performance in Ken Rusell and Derek Jarman’s masterpiece The Devils (you can find its amazing “making of” Hell On Earth on You Tube.)

    2) Peter Watkins’ La Commune (de Paris 1871) — the greatest political film ever made; easily reducing Godard to the level of Stanley Kramer.

    and

    3) My favorite werewolf movie — Alain Resnais’ Providence.

  2. I’ve got a paperback copy of “Werewolf of Paris” which I’ve yet to start. Got as far as the modern-day prologue, at one point, but that was it.

    I’ve only seen “Curse of the Werewolf” once, decades ago on television, and did not enjoy myself. My impression was, simultaneously: 1) it’s prime Hammer/Fisher; and 2) it’s slow, not to mention *dull*.

    One Endore credit that you pass over is the Preminger-directed “Whirlpool,” which came from an Endore novel. Does anyone have a good word to say for it?

    *

    For me, the H.B.W. (Hammer Busty Wench) will always, always be exemplified by Valerie Gaunt, the vampire in the library in “Horror of Dracula” and the maid behind the arras in “Curse of Frankenstein.”

  3. Oh, yes, and somebody-or-other once remarked in Sight & Sound that the person who came closest to capturing Matthew “Monk” Lewis on screen was Roger Corman in his “Pit and the Pendulum” years.

  4. Whirpool is teriffic, and both Cahiers and Movie had good things to say about it.

  5. I quite like Whirlpool. An initial reaction to any Preminger-Tierney collaboration might be “Laura this ain’t,” but once over that, Whirlpool is delightfully delirious.

    Werewolf of Paris is slow to start but gets quite extreme quite quickly. Graphic and quasi-pornographic and psychologically deeply peculiar, it combines psychopathy with sado-sexual folie a deux, and resembles that other Parisian fairy-tale, Monsieur Verdoux, in its balancing of individual and mass crimes.

    Oliver Reed, a very interesting, intense actor, transcends all previous limitations in The Devils. It’s an incredibly moving performance, I find.

    The Commune is on my to-do list. I love the early Watkins and haven’t seen enough of the late.

    The first Hammer Dracula did indeed cement the importance of the busty wench. Curse of Frankenstein has the healthily-built Hazel Court, but Dracula attaches sexiness to anxiety and depravity, allowing for that sensationalistic-yet-moralistic tone which informs all the studio’s vampire films.

  6. watkins ! I met Billy Wolf ex President of the SNP who produced a vast feature about Nuclear Terror or threat or somesuch thing for Peter Watkins I think it was 24 hours long.

    Have a retrospective feeling coming over me… doesn’t he now live in somewhere odd like Denmark?

  7. He was in Sweden for years, but is now in France, according to Wikipedia.

  8. THe film you’re thinking of, M, is <i.THe Journey. It’s in many parts and takes several days to project (not all at once of course).

    He’s not in France anymore. His son (and script collaborator) told me a few years back that he’s emigrated elsewhere, but I forget where at the moment.

  9. A mistake on Wikipedia??!!?
    I have a feeling it might be Latvia or somewhere odd like that (sorry, Latvia).

  10. I believe you’re correct. It’s somewhere in the former “Eastern European Block”

  11. Christoph Huber Says:

    The master resides in Lithuania, for a while now (there is a half-hour interview film with him from early 2000s, methinks, with him standing in some surreal prto-Soviet theme park near Vilnius, the capital. Seeing that certainly perks up instant memory access).

  12. Christoph Huber Says:

    That should be proto-Soviet, obviously. Tho I am curious what this mysterious prto might mean.

  13. PRTO must be Park Recreation Trakai Oasis — the theme park near Vilnius.

  14. odder and odder …. Culloden is great .. I’m not quite sure I could sit through something that lasts a few days though

    My limit 8 hours for Fragmrents: Jerusalem

  15. “I’m not quite sure I could sit through something that lasts a few days though”

    Ah, that’s what you said about last week! And you loved it in the end.

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