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Director: Amando de Ossorio
Writer: Amando de Ossorio
Cast: Tony Kendall, Helga Liné, and Silvia Tortosa
Length: 85 min
Region: Region Free
Release Date: 5/23/2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: German: DTS HD 2.0 English: DTS HD 2.o Spanish: DTS HD 2.0
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Alternative Spanish Opening and Closing Credits
While Spanish horror director Amando de Ossorio is known for his Blind Dead series, beginning with Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972), he made a number of other worthwhile horror films. One of the more obscure entries, Las garras de Lorelei (1974) aka The Loreley’s Grasp, has been restored and released on Blu-ray by Germany company Alive. This fun, gory, and unusual monster flick will please fans of both Jess Franco and Paul Naschy, as it falls somewhere between Franco’s jazzy, softcore musings and Naschy’s loving, if low budget riffs on Universal horror.
A reptilian monster begins attacking people–mostly attractive young women–and ripping out their hearts in a small German village. There are rumors that the Loreley–a creature of legend who lives in the Rhine–is responsible. The headmistress of an all-girls school, Elke (Helga Line), panics and hires someone to guard the isolated women. Sigurd (Tony Kendall) is an experienced hunter with obvious sexual appeal for the girls, but Elke won’t give him the time of day. Meanwhile, the killings continue and Sigurd meets a scientist (Luis Induni) who insists that the beast is the Loreley from legend. He explains that she transforms into a chameleon-like monster by moonlight and must devour fresh hearts to keep herself alive. He also claims to possess the only weapon that will kill her–an irradiated dagger–but Sigurd is skeptical. Will he believe the old man before it’s too late?
Directior Ossorio made this in the middle of his Blind Dead films and it provides a nice contrast. If you’re expecting something atmospheric and doom-laden, think again. This blend of horror and fantasy is a lot of fun, with some nice scares and decent effects. The monster’s attacks are surprisingly fast-paced and vicious, and the gore–mostly torn flesh–rises above the film’s meager budget.
The plot is a creative, a mish-mash of werewolf tale, Norse/Germanic mythology, and Universal horror. The Loreley monster is a reptilian version of the werewolf: she is impossible to kill with the exception of one secret weapon—instead of a silver bullet, a radioactive knife is used—and she transforms by the light of the moon. There is an absolute meshing of German mythology on display here. Sigurd–an improbable name for a character in a Spanish horror film–is the name of a primary hero of Norse and Germanic mythology. He is the lead character in the Völsung Saga, the Nibelungenlied, and Wagner’s Götterdämmerung opera, among other things. Traditionally, he’s a powerful hunter and dragon slayer, eventually becoming near-invincible.The Loreley (often spelled “Lorelei”) is a mythological female water spirit that lives in the Rhine (there is a massive rock with the same name) and whispers to sailors, leading them to their deaths, basically a Germanic version of the siren. In the film, she states that her father is Wotan (Odin) and that she will return to Valhalla upon her death. While the script is a total mess, it’s also refreshing. It’s frustrating that German mythology is used so infrequently in cinema, particularly horror, though anyone interested will want to check out Fritz Lang’s two-part fantasy epic, Die Nibelungen (1924).
It’s sometimes used effectively here, but is also quite messy. Sigurd, for instance, meets and falls in love with the Loreley, not realizing that the mysterious, red-haired, bikini-clad babe that can breathe underwater is one and the same as the Loreley. Ossorio has been criticized for his misogyny, but what’s presented here is pretty standard Eurohorror fare. Though there are a bevy of sexy school girls, they are collectively not a day under their mid-20s, adding some unintentional humor. There’s a particularly hilarious scene–a similar one would appear in Animal House (1978) a few years later–where the school girls all change into sexy night gowns right in front of their open windows. As with a lot of other Italian and Spanish films from the period, the overt sexual tension is a little hilarious–think a lighter version of House of Psychotic Women (1974) or What Have You Done to Your Solange (1972)–but inevitable, since much of the film takes place at a girls school.
The performances are decent, basically what you would expect from a ‘70s Spanish horror film, and Tony Kendall (Return of the Blind Dead) is likable as the heroic Sigurd. He’s sort of a poor man’s stand-in for Paul Naschy, who played many similar roles throughout his career. Kendall is overshadowed by the film’s many beautiful women, including Helga Line (Horror Express, Black Candles, Vampires’ Night Orgy) as the sexy Loreley, or the ravishing Silvia Tortosa (also Horror Express) as the uptight school marm who makes a sexy transformation.
Luis Induni (Night of the Howling Beast, Dr. Jekyll and the Wolf Man) puts in a nice appearance as sort of a Spanish Dr. Van Helsing. He is likable and endearing, despite the fact that his methods are absurd. The “science” involves Professor von Lander injecting a dismembered hand with some mystery chemical and then subjecting it to “moonlight rays,” which transforms it into a Loreley hand. He also happens to have an irradiated dagger on hand and has somehow figured out that only this can kill the Loreley. It’s never explained why the Loreley turns into a crazy lizard monster, but anyone expecting that level of rationalism is better off avoiding Spanish horror all together.
The film looks amazing in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio mastered in 1080p HD from the original negative. The colors are bright and the contrast looks better than a ‘70s films has any right too, though there is also an acceptable amount of grain present. The only noticeable flaw is that some of the daytime long shots of the fabulous German and Spanish scenery look a bit faded and washed out, in contrast making certain shots look like matte paintings.
The available audio is provided in mono, with Dolby Digital German 2.0, English 2.0, and Castilian 2.0 tracks. All sound great and there is a nice blend between the dialogue and score. Antón García Abril was Ossorio’s regular collaborator and provided the amazing, memorable score for Tombs of the Blind Dead. His work here is a mix of Jess Franco-style wild, jazzy-sounding work and something eerier and more ominous. Unfortunately, the disc doesn’t include subtitles other than German, so English speakers will be be forced to listen to the English track only.
Initially released in the U.S. as When the Screaming Stops, the major bonus of this release is that the film is uncut and includes both English and Spanish audio options. The only included special features are a U.S. trailer and Spanish opening and closing credits sequences. It would have been nice to see a commentary track, but it’s unsurprising that a film this obscure doesn’t have a lot included.
Though this is a German Blu-ray release, it is all-region, so U.S. fans should not hesitate to pick it up. Anyone who enjoys more unusual monster films will definitely want to seek this out. As I said earlier, The Loreley’s Grasp has things in common with the two giants of Spanish horror, Jess Franco and Paul Naschy, but fans of Hammer’s more unusual films–like The Gorgon (1965) or The Reptile (1966)–will find a lot here to love.