Cheese Magnet is proud to be a part of the Paul Naschy blogathon, the brainchild of the Vicar of VHS at Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Movies. Be sure to head over there to join the celebration of the father of Spanish horror.
It’s generally accepted that Bram Stoker’s Dracula character was inspired by the real life historical figure Vlad “The Impaler” Tepes and the many female vampire legends were heavily influenced by 16th century Hungarian countess Elizabeth Bathory. What’s less well known is that the Wolfman legend was also based on a real life figure: Waldemar Daninsky, a Polish nobleman and contemporary of Tepes and Bathory. By some accounts he served Bathory, procuring victims for her bloodthirsty crimes, either willingly or possibly under some kind of spell cast by Bathory. This may be a modern day embellishment however; by many accounts Daninsky was an honorable man who met with some truly horrific circumstances. You see, Daninsky fell victim to the curse of the lycanthrope. He became El Hombre Lobo.
It’s unclear exactly how it began; some say he was cursed by a witch he was charged with executing. Others say he was enslaved and transformed by the Countess Bathory. There are even rumors that he was transformed by the bite of a Yeti. One thing is clear however: with every full moon Daninsky was condemned to transform into a snarling man-beast with a lust for blood and human flesh. His basic decency and humanity was subsumed beneath the ravenous instincts of the supernatural beast, only to be further tortured by the memory of his evil deeds when he returned to human form.
Paul Naschy remains the only actor to portray Waldemar Daninsky, and rightly so. No other actor could portray the combination of the wolfman’s ferocity and the tragedy of Daninsky’s curse with the skill and athleticism of Naschy. More importantly, the romanticism of the Daninsky saga must have resonated with Naschy given how many times he took up the role and how strongly he became identified with it. In fact, much like our idea of Sherlock Holmes is so strongly influenced by Basil Rathbone, our image of Daninsky is indelibly colored by Paul Naschy’s to the point where we think of them as one and the same.
Perhaps the definitive Daninsky movie is is 1981’s El retorno del Hombre-Lobo, aka Night of the Werewolf. It tells the story of the power struggle between Waldemar Daninsky and Elizabeth Bathory, both reawakened in 20th century Europe. Featuring the Daninsky wolfman vs. Bathory’s female vampires with a beautiful maiden caught in middle, Night came at the tail end of the golden age of Spanish horror and is perhaps the ultimate expression of Naschy’s ideas about Daninsky and the redemptive power of the love of a good and pure woman.
Paul Naschy played Waldemar Daninsky in 13 films, starting with Las noches de Hombre Lobo in 1968, a film that was lost and has never resurfaced. The earliest available Daninsky film is Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror, also from 1968 (Correction: a reader has pointed out that Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror actually came first. Thanks Shane!). Known as La marca del hombre Loco in Spain, it has nothing to do with Frankenstein but it’s a good place to start catching up on the Daninsky saga.