Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Loreley’s Grasp (1974)

The Loreley’s Grasp (Las garras de Lorelei) is a 1974 Amando de Ossorio movie. Which pretty much tells you all you need to know. You know it will be delightfully trashy but quite entertaining and surprisingly original.

He was a Spanish film-maker who tended to avoid werewolves and vampires, preferring to lace his gothic horror trashfests with more offbeat ideas (like the blind zombie Templars of his Blind Dead series).

This time he takes on the legend of the lorelei (or loreley). The Lorelei is actually a large cliff in a bend of the Rhine which has been associated with a legend of a female water demon. Heinrich Heine turned her into a species of siren, fittingly since it was quite common for boats to be wrecked there so the idea of a siren luring boatmen to their doom made sense. What de Ossorio does with the story is actually even more interesting.

In the movie the lorelei is a beautiful mermaid-woman who is the daughter of the god Wotan. At the full moon she turns into a hideous monster who kills people and eats their hearts. She needs the hearts to maintain her eternal life. He gives this a vaguely scientific spin by introducing an eccentric scientist with a theory about mutations and metamorphoses.

The scientist has developed the one weapon capable of killing the lorelei -  a radioactive dagger! Which nicely blends pseudo-science with a suitably legendary kind of motif.

The movie has a contemporary setting in theory but in practice it exists in a kind of time warp reminiscent of Hammer’s gothic horror movie. We have radioactive daggers and a hero who rides a motorcycle (and wears the latest 70s fashions) but the village and the villagers are straight out of Hammer world, a kind of blending of the medieval and the 19th century.

The lorelei is terrorising the teachers and students of a girls’ boarding school. It’s a typical gothic horror movie girls’ boarding school - the teachers and pupils all look like models. An experienced local hunter is assigned to protect the school. The women are expecting a grizzled old greybeard but what they get is a hunk called Sigurd on a motorcycle. Which pleases them considerably. This being a horror movie the girls are all man-crazy.

Senior teacher Elke Ackerman (who also looks like a twenty-something model) initially dislikes Sigurd but we all know she really likes him and that romance is going to blossom. There’s also a blind hippie street musician on hand who makes predictions about the lorelei’s activities, but at first no-one believes him.

There’s enough blood and guts on display here to satisfy most gorehounds. There’s also quite a bit of nudity although by 1974 eurohorror standards the nudity is fairly tame. Of course being a Spanish movie it’s possible the movie existed in various versions with varying amounts of nudity and sleaze.

What gives the movie considerable coolness value is the way the lorelei legend is intertwined with the legend of the Nibelungs. We even have Alberic (the dwarf from the Nibelung saga) as the lorelei’s henchman. Plus we have three scantily clad young women who are presumably Rhine maidens, and this gives de Ossorio the opportunity to treat us to a Rhine maiden cat-fight. This is not an opportunity he’s going to let pass.

These two legends prove to be a surprisingly good fit. If you happen to be a fan of either Wagner’s Ring cycle or Fritz Lang’s great movie Die Nibelungen (and I’m a fan of both) you’ll get even more out of this movie.

The set representing the treasure-laden lair of the lorelei is quite impressive. With the bodacious Helga Liné as the lorelei this movie has everything to keep eurotrash fans happy.

A thoroughly enjoyable movie that manages to remain trashy while also being imaginative and original. Highly recommended.

BCI’s DVD is light on extras but does include both Spanish (sub-titled) and English-language versions. It was also released in a two-movie set paired with a Paul Naschy movie, Horror Rises from the Tomb. That’s the edition I have and the transfer on The Loreley’s Grasp is widescreen and extremely good. Whether it’s uncut I can’t be certain, given the possibility it may have originally existed in multiple editions.

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