Assignment Terror (1970)
Do not ask how or why; simply enjoy Assignment Terror (1970.) I did… immensely. The set-up is incredibly fun, even if the result doesn’t take full advantage of it. Just think, an alien from a dying universe resurrects the classic monsters in order to seize control of the human race. We’ve got Dracula (well, Count Janos de Mialhoff)! The Mummy! Frankenstein’s (well, Farancksalan’s) monster! And, we’ve got…
…Waldemar Daninsky, the infamous Paul Naschy werewolf character (in one of his first appearances.) I don’t know that I ever intended to watch them in chronological order, but Assignment Terror is the first Daninsky film I’ve seen. (I’m not completely new to Naschy, though.) I understand the character is underutilized here, but my first impression is that he’s very quiet, barely speaking a word while in human form.
In his book, Human Beasts: The Films of Paul Naschy, author Troy Howarth leads me to believe there’s much more to the character and his adventures than delivered here:
One of the most troubling aspects of Assignment Terror is how utterly sidelined Waldemar is for the majority of the film. He has very little dialogue and one can’t help but get the impression that the best material he provided himself must have been left on the cutting room floor. …he really is awfully short-changed here and fans will likely be disappointed to see how little he really has to do in the picture.
This comes from Howarth, an expert on Naschy. For a neophyte like me, I didn’t notice. Other than being quiet, as I mentioned earlier, Naschy carries a presence that exceeds spoken word. Assuming it’s him in werewolf makeup, he perfectly embodies the physical character. And as a human, his smoldering eyes demonstrate the pain from which he must suffer.
Anyway, most of the monsters are going to be short-changed in a movie with four of them (and an alien.) There’s just not enough time in 85-minutes to highlight each one. Like most monster rallies, we’re not going to see them together in one battle; instead, we’re going to see a couple mini-fights. Assignment Terror could have used one more, though. There’s a lot of putting the pieces in place and then not moving them.
I was sold on the movie when, during the first post-opening credits scene, a carnival barker is, well, barking about the vampire skeleton propped against the wall of his tent. Shades of House of Frankenstein, anyone? It’s odd, then, that Naschy doesn’t call out that Universal classic as inspiration for Assignment Terror. In a 2007 interview with Shade Rupe, Naschy said,
Universal horror films premiered in Spain many years after its original release, so the only movie that I have seen in my childhood, when I was eight, was Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. I had only seen that one, and after that, when I grew older, I could see all the Universal horror films on DVD, but in my time it was very difficult to see those films. It was more about reading about them in magazines and books than actually seeing the films on the big screen. So I had the idea and I did it, because everything I have made is really my own, a product of my inspiration.
If he didn’t admit to House of Frankenstein being an influence, you can see the influence of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man in the mini-battle between Farancksalan’s (fear of copyright issues) monster and the werewolf. There is a lot of tossing each other about in the lab, hitting equipment that shoots sparks, until, ironically, the force that revives the monster, electricity, ends up killing him.
Michael Rennie (The Day the Earth Stood Still) plays Dr. Odo Warnoff, the alien, which lends Assignment Terror some sci-fi cred. He’s assisted in the lab by “reincarnations,” Maleva Kerstein (Karin Dor) and Dr. Kerian (Angel del Pozo.) The plot points are a little wonky for me, but that’s why I wrote not to ask how or why. You must move beyond any logic or reason to enjoy the film.
Howarth criticizes the performance of Craig Hill as Inspector Tobermann and how he distracts from the action every time he appears. I tend to disagree. He’s charismatic and adds a befuddled humor to the goings on that might be shared with the viewers. Plus, he’s the romantic interest of Ilsa (Patty Sheppard) that contributes to the overall defeat of the aliens.
I really like the idea that the passion the aliens believe is mankind’s greatest weakness is actually its greatest strength. Granted, I don’t know that I would have discerned that had it not been spelled out for me during the climax, but I think it’s an admirable theme to drive the plot. Plus, it could have provided some sexy Euro-horror footage if Naschy had gone a little less family friendly in this one.
Written by Paul Naschy
Directed by Tulio Demicheli
Starring Michael Rennie, Darin Dor, Craig Hill, Patty Shepard, Angel del Pozo, Paul Naschy, Manuel de Blas, Ferdinando Murolo, Gene Reyes
RT 85 min.
Release Date Feb 24, 1970 (France)
Home Video Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray)
Troy Howarth, Human Beasts: The Films of Paul Naschy (Color Edition)
2018, United States, WK Books
pp. 40-45, 307-309