Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory

January 5, 2011 at 2:42 am (6 Heads, 7 Heads, Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory) (, , , , , )

Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory – 1962 – Italy/Austria

Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory (AKA Ghoul in a Girls’ Dormitory/Lycanthropus/Monster Among the Girls) is a distinctly Italian gothic mystery. Despite a hokey title and “The Ghoul in School” teenybopper rock theme, Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory seeps atmospheric suspense with no shortage of clever twists, red herrings, and evil.

Primarily a whodunit, Werewolf in a Girl’s Dormitory (WIGD on out) is set in a castle-like girls’ reform school isolated in an ancient eerie forest and populated with dubious characters. A cynical girl balls her teacher and blackmails him. Her body turns up in the woods, apparently mauled by wolves. A handsome, smart, and tough student heroine seeks the real killer—a lycanthrope—but the school is brimmed with sinners, all hiding something. Is it the pervy teacher, his frigid wife, the Peter Lorre-esque groundskeeper, or the doctor with a shameful past? The suspect list narrows as the body count jacks up, but devilish (sometimes illogical) plotting sustains the mystery until its climax.

WIGD is great horror. Instead of werewolf clichés, the focus is on the emotional hotbox of the claustrophobic school. Adult themes (adultery, murder, suicide) are used well to powerful effect. Raw, charged scenes abound. In an evocative bit, a man’s wife is gored to death by a dog. Grief crazed, he savages the dog with a club. Also notable is a funeral scene electrified by the characters’ barely suppressed anger and suspicion.

Stylistically, WIGD recalls other Italian cheapies of the era with elegantly simple photography enhanced by oppressively dreary locations. The violence cuts quickly, minimizing the dull effects. The werewolf gets plenty of face time, interestingly featuring very unbeastly make up. His goblin-like face is intelligent and expressive, like Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf but cut-rate, and he forgoes the usual werewolf stalk. I’ll justify his understated performance and costuming by saying the werewolf’s humanity is integral to WIGD’s thematic content.

Mostly, werewolf flicks are boring. “The beast within” clichés have been thoroughly explored, but WIGD’s plot avoids staleness by detailing man’s sinister urges, not the monster’s. But philosophy and psychology aside, WIGD is a rousing mystery with sublime atmosphere and brooding emotion.

Rating: 7/10 Shrunken Heads. A new were-favorite.

2/19/2017 Update:

A reform school is a pretty good setting. Thankfully, Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory (what an awful title) strives for some realism, otherwise the whole film might have a “women in prison” kind of vibe.

Rating: 6/10 Shrunken Heads. Every character in the film has a dark secret. If only real life were this mysterious.

 

 

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