CHILLING CLASSICS MONTH: Werewolf in a Girl’s Dormitory (1961)

This entry was written by Bill Van Ryn, who is behind the amazing Groovy Doom and Drive-In Asylum. Bill knows more about movies than probably anyone I’ve ever met before and teaches me something new every time we talk.

Did you ever wonder what it takes to be a member of law enforcement in a horror movie? If you ever saw the movie Pieces, then you may have questioned why a school that’s being plagued by chainsaw murders would be allowed to carry on business as usual. Seeing as the killer has not been apprehended and the police have no idea who’s doing it, why would the school officials and the police department allow the school to stay open? More importantly, why would students stay there?  The same goes for today’s film, Werewolf In A Girl’s Dormitory, an Italian movie from 1961 originally titled Lycanthropus. It was released with the new title in the US in 1963, on a double bill with Corridors of Blood, and a groovy bubblegum rock and roll jam called “The Ghoul In School” glued onto the titles in hopes of selling it to the young crowd. Check out the track on YouTube if you dare, it’s funny how the lyrics also include the phrase “corridors of blood” to help sell the double feature.

But what of the movie itself? While it’s no classic, it’s not bad for what it is, if you’re willing to ignore the ridiculous aspects of the story. For instance, it’s set in a school for “wayward girls” who all happen to be stunningly beautiful. In addition to the school staying open despite murders occurring there, the students are prone to wandering around outdoors at night, even though there’s a werewolf outside that has already reduced the student body by a few heads. Lead actress Barbara Lass is especially pretty and vulnerable in that European horror heroine kind of way, and the hero actually leaves her alone OUTSIDE the school one night after walking her home. None of these people are behaving as if the threat is legitimate, even though we see enough of the attacks to know that it really is a werewolf.  The identity of this werewolf is a mystery, or at least the filmmakers hope so, with multiple red herrings much in the style of a giallo. The problem is, the herrings are way too red, and once you scratch them all off the list, there is the werewolf. Although there’s not much surprise, there’s a lot of atmosphere.

There’s also an overabundance of characters, making the plot a convoluted tangle. New professor Julian Olcott (handsome Austrian actor Carl Schell) is immediately suspected when his arrival at the isolated school coincides with several mauling deaths of young students. There is a blackmail plot (again similar to a giallo) involving a creepy instructor (Maurice Marsac) who is having liasons with the female students, with a packet of incriminating love letters being the hot item it seems the werewolf will kill to protect (think of the revealing diary from Blood and Black Lace).

It’s sometimes difficult to take a film dubbed into English seriously — not that we should take a film like this too seriously, anyway. But actors who performed an English dub track were sometimes not the best performers, and it’s hard for any of the performances to seem convincing. We’re left with the film’s ability to create atmosphere on a visual level, and this one actually pulls it off. The sets are suitably creepy, including the bleak looking “school”, the outdoor wooded areas, and the black and white cinematography seems to be a lot better than any current transfer of the film reveals. Hopefully one day we’ll get a decent home media rendering of the original film.

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