31 Days of Horror: Film 22: Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory (1961)

It’s time for the 31 Days of Horror: 2014 Edition. For those of you who weren’t around for last year’s journey, the plan is to watch at least 31 horror movies I’ve never seen before and review them all. So sit back, strap in, and enjoy my journey down the rabbit hole.

The original title of Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory was Lycanthropus, a term that is used several times throughout the film to explain why the creature in the film isn’t really quite a werewolf. Frankly, it’s a silly word and explanation that the film doesn’t need. The creature sure looks and acts just like almost every other movie werewolf to that point, so why confuse matters with unnecessary attempts to turn a purely supernatural premise into some pseudo-science hokum? Besides, Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory is a much better title.

Filmed in Italy, using Italian, Austrian, and Polish actors, the movie is badly dubbed into English, so I have to wonder how much of the plot was changed due to a poor translation of the script. But it doesn’t really matter how bad the dubbing or translation; the direction by Paolo Heusch (credited as Richard Benson) is haphazard at best/shows a blatant disregard for the basics of visual film grammar at worst.

Priscilla (Barbara Lass) is a student at a reform school for female criminals. A little more thoughtful than the other girls, she doesn’t buy the explanation that her best friend Mary (Mary McNeeran) was killed by a werewolf. Finding proof that Mary was blackmailing someone, she sets out to determine who the killer might be—never mind the fact that Mary was obviously killed by some kind of wild animal.

While the audience is privy to the knowledge that there is a werewolf on the loose, its human identity remains a mystery. Is it the handsome new science professor (Carl Schell), the school’s director (Curt Loewens), a local nobleman and benefactor of the school (Maurice Marsac), or the creepy school grounds caretaker (Luciano Pigozzi, billed as Alan Collins)? The mystery is fairly easy to unravel, but Heusch and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (credited as Julian Berry) try to tease out the reveal until the film’s final ten minutes, resulting in the most tedious movie ever made about a werewolf stalking beautiful, young female delinquents.

Oddly enough, through the bad dubbing and direction, a few glimmers of a promising movie still shine through.

Priscilla is an appealing heroine. Through the constraints of bad dialogue and dubbing, Lass somehow manages to give Priscilla an air of intelligence and humor. Who knows, maybe if I heard her actual voice, I would feel differently. It’s hard to judge a performance when a film has gone through as many hands on both sides of the Atlantic as this one.

The makeup effects, while crude, are a little bloodier and more graphic than usually seen at the time and a shock cut to Mary’s corpse is actually startling. Her eyes frozen open in shock and her face twisted in pain, she is a sight to induce shudders.

Side Note: The reveal of Mary’s corpse with the horrifying expression frozen on her face reminded me very much of a similar visual in Brian De Palma’s Raising Cain. I seriously doubt De Palma ever watched Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory, but if did, he definitely lifted the film’s best moment.

There is not much else to say about the film. It’s exactly what you expect from a film of this title. Any enjoyment outside of Lass’ performance or the reveal of Mary’s corpse is of the unintentional variety. Personally, I had fun with “The Ghoul in School,” the pop song added to the opening credits by the American distributor. It’s hilariously out of step with the film that follows it.

You can contact me at obsessivemovienerd@gmail.com and read all the extraneous crap that goes through my head by following me on Twitter.

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