This is the first film in the Waldemar Daninsky cycle. It could also have been the last, had its success not prompted Paul Naschy to bring his creation back from the dead after he apparently killed by the traditional silver bullet at the film's close.
Like other great horror cycles, this move isn't particularly objectionable insofar as Naschy would develop the character and the mythos as the series went on.
As it is, for the first film in a series Mark of the Wolf Man presents a curious combination of elements that at times seems less indebted to its direct model of Universal's The Wolf Man than the monster rallies which followed it.
For while the film shows how Daninsky became infected with the curse of lycanthropy it also features vampires, albeit masquerading as humans and offering to help treat his condition. The only one of the triumvirate of classic monsters thus absent is Frankenstein's monster. Amusingly, however, the film was released in the US as Frankenstein's Bloody Terror. Being obliged to deliver a Frankenstein film and having a film without either the monster or his creatror, the distributors added in an animated title sequence which purported to explain how the Frankenstein family had been cursed with lycanthropy and became the Wolfsteins.
Part of this is true
This, however, isn't
We begin with a ballroom sequence that nicely establishes its romantic aspects along with the fact that there was a decent budget for the film, some prints of which were actually release in 70mm and with stereo sound.
A masked ball is being thrown for the engagement of Countess von Aarenberg to Rudolph Weismann, with all the local nobility and bourgeois in attendance. Daninsky dances with the countess, who is instantly enchanted by his enigmatic if somewhat sinister presence.
Zurakowska and Naschy...
and the guy playing Rudolph
The next day they are formally introduced at an antique shop before meeting by chance in the grounds of Wolfstein Castle. Daninsky, who explains he often retreats there for peace and quiet, tells the Countess and Rudolph the history of the Castle and the Wolfsteins. Imre Wolfstein was cursed with lycanthropy and, as such, could only be truly killed by being shot with a silver bullet by a woman who truly loved him. As he was stabbed through the heart with a silver dagger, Imre is not truly dead, only prevented from rising from his tomb.
Rudolph is sceptical and drives off with the Countess, forcing a gypsy wagon into a ditch as he unthinkingly speeds past them.
Daninsky helps the gypsy couple get back on the road, but with a storm brewing they ask if there is anywhere they might shelter for the night. Despite its history, Daninsky suggests Wolfstein Castle.
The gypsies approach the castle
The gypsies get drunk on the vintages in the Wolfstein's cellars, find the family tomb and pull the silver dagger out of Imre Wolfstein's remains. He thus comes back to life and kills them, followed by a couple of peasants.
Learning of the latter deaths the locals organise a hunt. During this Daninsky and Rudolph happen upon Imre. Daninsky manages to plunge the silver dagger back into the werewolf's heart to save Rudolph, but is himself bitten. The distinctive star-shape of the wound, the mark of the wolf man, tells him that is fated to become a werewolf himself.
Imre Wolfstein, back from the dead
Rudolph agree to help Daninsky, who tries to keep his distance and his secret from the Countess. Predictably he does not succeed. Going through Imre Wolfstein's papers, the Countess then discovers a forty-year old letter from one Doctor Janos Mikhelov, intimating that he might have found a cure.
It seems like a long shot, but is also the only promising avenue that the trio have found, with Daninsky becoming increasingly despondent that the only cure for his condition is to be a silver bullet.
They thus make contact with Dr Mikhelov – or rather his son. He agrees to assist Daninsky and arrives with his wife, Wandesa. The thing is that far from being the benevolent figures Daninsky was hoping for, they are in fact vampires intent on using him and Imre for their own nefarious purposes...
There is a lot to like about The Mark of the Wolfman: The cast, which includes Rosanna Yanni, Dyanik Zurakowska and Julian Ugarte alongside Naschy; the impressive sets and production design; stylised, painterly compositions and cinematography in the vein of Mario Bava or Jack Asher, and a score that is often more than just serviceable and which sometimes even approaches the heights of Krysztof Komeda's work on Dance of the Vampires.
Classic imagery and a beautiful composition
Above all it's the way these pieces fit together as a whole and the overriding sense that not only Naschy but everyone else involved believed in the value of what they were doing. Maybe it wasn't Bunuel, Saura or whoever the ciritics liked. Maybe they had misgivings about aspects of it. Maybe they were just out to collect their pay-cheques. But, if any of this was indeed the case, the point is there is no real evidence of this on screen.
If only more contemporary horror films were like this...