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Assignment Terror/Review

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Review of Assignment Terror

Paul Naschy carved an important niche for himself during Spain’s fledgling exploitation movie production period when he produced La Marca del Hombre Lobo in 1968; this successful film featured Waldemar Daninsky, a man desperate to rid himself of a lycanthropic curse turning him into a bloodthirsty beast when the moon is full. Paul Naschy became synonymous with his on-screen portrayal of the doomed Daninsky, building a successful movie career around his popular character and making several appearances as the grief stricken beast in a handful of movies throughout his long career. Los Monstrous del Terror marks the second appearance of Paul Naschy’s Waldemar persona; although the conflicted wolfman is relegated to one of several supporting roles among a handful of classic monsters captured by aliens. Los Monstrous never received theatrical release in the United States, but played for years on late-night horror shows as part of American International’s direct-to-tv package deals made available to local network channels.

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Rulers from the planet Ummo discover that their sun is dying, temperatures necessary to sustain life are rapidly falling. While searching for a suitable foster planet, Ummo’s research team learns that various monsters documented by the inhabitants of a certain planet Earth are not merely the thing of legend, but actually exist. With the knowledge that these beings are real, scientist Odo Varnoff (Michael Rennie) is chosen to prepare planet Earth for the relocation of Ummo’s entire population.

Varnoff arrives on Earth, takes human form, and sets up his laboratory in an appropriately Gothic castle from which he coordinates the location and capture of the Mummy, Vampire, Wolfman, Dracula and Frankenstein. Odo has been instructed to clone these famous creatures several hundred times before unleashing them en masse on Earth’s population; a dastardly plan dubbed “Assignment Terror,” concocted to clear the way for the arrival of Ummo’s inhabitants to their new, human-free home. A pair of recently-deceased Earth scientists are reanimated and used as host bodies by aliens accompanying Odo, allowing them to complete their mission of monster resuscitation undetected. Female scientist Maleva Kerstein (Karin Dor), the victim of a fatal car accident, is chosen for her dark eyes and subtle curves, helpful attributes used occasionally to seduce male Earthlings; Kirian Downa (Angel del Pozo), a young war surgeon killed in action, is selected for his surgical skill.

Varnoff first targets Dracula for regeneration, the Prince of Darkness currently having his skeletal remains displayed from his coffin by a traveling gypsy couple hawking palm reading as part of their local carnival display. Standing among the wandering crowds one evening, Odo instructs Maleva to “Promise to read his future tonight…” (wink, wink) as she approaches the man and makes googley-eyes in his direction. Meanwhile, Odo sizes up the young female gypsy, intent on making her the first of “a group of beautiful women who will blindly obey my orders…..” revealing that men, humanoid or alien, all share the same innermost fantasies.

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Later that night, Dracula is freed from his carnival side-show gig. Odo removes the wooden steak lodged between Dracula’s bony chest and rams it into the back of the male gypsy who is wholly distracted by Maleva. Dracula’s subsequent regeneration is revealed in a fantastically campy scene depicting a series of squishy internal organs slowly appearing behind Drac’s bony exterior. Dracula and the gypsy girl then accompany Odo back to his lair.

After Dracula’s resurrection, wolfman Waldemar Daninsky is secreted away from his family crypt amidst howling winds and claps of thunder. Back in the aliens’ operating room, the silver bullets that ended Waldemar’s curse are extracted from his chest in a graphic operating scene consisting of stock footage of open heart surgery . Next, a comically quirky Asian mummy with wet, bulging eyes is resuscitated from its tomb in Egypt. The Mummies spindly bandage-wrapped frame belies tremendous strength as he searches for freedom and crashes through the stone entrance of his burial chamber. A wonderful loping organ theme, resembling a low-octave ascending/descending scale run, cues up each time the bandaged one appears on-screen.

Finally, Frankenstein’s monster, called something like “Frankstonnen” to avoid lawsuits, joins the group, depicted as the classic square-headed behemoth from the Universal Studio films with green skin, the requisite black sportcoat, and a disproportionately large nose. Frankie is brought to Odo’s castle laboratory and fed huge zaps of sparkly electricity which gets his motor running once again.

Paul Naschy, who aside from acting as the werewolf, also wrote Assignment Terror’s screenplay. Naschy crams as much gothic atmosphere into his story as possible, capturing an olde world ambiance at odds with his “visitor from a faraway galaxy” plot. Banks of blinking computer gadgetry lining the walls of Varnoff’s lab compete with his gothic castle full of carved stone, skeletons, cobwebs, dark passages, a fully-functioning torture dungeon, and those loveable squeaking bats with inanimate wings suspended by fishing line. This juxtaposition of genre conventions is oddly endearing, a variety of sets resemble a confusion of Aurora monster-model kits cobbled together by an enthusiastic horror fan.

Odo Varnoff has his hands full once he corrals all of the monsters into his castle’s dungeon. Loathe to follow direction, the creatures prove an unruly bunch with Dracula finding his way into Maleva’s bedroom for a bite of her delectable neck, and Waldemar Daninsky escaping during his full-moon tantrums, wandering dimly lit streets, attacking passersby, and drawing the attention of local police.

Police inspector Henry Toberman (Craig Hill), is called in to piece together an ever-growing puzzle involving one dead gypsy, a missing Ct. Dracula skeleton, and the hairy, fanged monster described by Patty Shepard after she survives a late-night attack that kills her boyfriend. Inspector Toberman isn’t convinced that any type of monsters are to blame, until he visits the local library and discovers the body of the librarian, and an ancient book titled something like “Where the Monsters Are” lying on the floor with several important pages ripped out. As Henry’s investigation continues, love blossoms between Patty and the inspector, leading to scenes of hand-in-hand walks through local parks as lovers in films so frequently do.

Now imagine this super-intelligent race of aliens seeking out the local library to find a book that describes exactly where the legendary monsters of Earth are located? Good thing no one ever thought to use the book beforehand. Imagine traveling half way around the galaxy only to discover empty holes in the ground where monsters were supposed to be. Of course, aliens don’t carry library cards, so they tear-out the pages they need (turn left at the second gnarled tree) and stuff them into their pockets!!

Los Monstrous falters midway through, losing the brisk pace and entertaining atmosphere established during its monster resurrection scenes, as inspector Toberman gobbles up screen time snooping around and igniting his relationship with Shepard. Thankfully, the final third of the film speeds up again, after the filmmakers realize that several loose ends need addressing in a short amount of time.

Back at the castle, Maleva Kerstein confides to Dr. Varnoff that she “experienced a strange sensation when I touched Waldemar’s body.” Consequently, Maleva and fellow scientist Kirian start holding late-night appointments in her bedroom to further explore those “strange sensations.” Maleva isn’t the only one getting aroused by the awakening of latent emotions stirring in her human skin. Dr. Varnoff hangs out at a local go-go club checking out frugging girls on the dance floor; he also enjoys spying on Maleva from his laboratory via hidden camera, laughably blatant developments meant to illustrate Odo’s personal emotional/sexual awakening once he begins interacting with the people of Earth while in his human form. Indeed love is in the dank, musty air of Varnoff’s castle hideaway, even Waldemar Daninsky finds affection from the abducted gypsy girl, who falls for Daninsky’s woeful expressions while experiencing his dire predicament of full-moon angst.

Varnoff eventually succumbs to jealousy after discovering Maleva and Kirian in flagrante delicto via his hidden camera. Unable to control his rage, Varnoff sics Frankenstein on the amorous couple, who bursts into their bedroom and strangles Kirian before being commanded back to the lab. Maleva is then strapped into an electric chair-type gadget and fed huge doses of electricity; ostensibly, Varnoff’s “punishment” for allowing human emotions to get the better of her and jeopardizing their assignment. Ill-fitting scenes located in an abandoned churchyard are spliced into Assignment Terror when Naschy roams free as the werewolf, a sequence obviously left-over from previously filmed footage intended for an earlier, failed production. Waldemar eventually returns to the castle after his full-moon hiatus, roaming the dusty hallways of Odo’s lair in another remarkably gothic scene of stone arches and cobwebs. Daninsky stumbles across the mummy in the castle’s dungeon and a fierce fight breaks out between them. Waldemar rises victorious after thrusting the bandaged fiend inside what resembles a giant wooden hampster wheel while setting it on fire with a flickering torch; a weird spectacle resembling some kind of morbid Rube-Goldberg contraption.

Driven by a personal vendetta against those who resurrected him, Waldemar Daninsky wanders further into the castle in search of his captors. Breaking into Odo’s laboratory, the wolfman discovers Frankenstein’s monster, Varnoff, Maleva and the gypsy girl sequestered away from an impending raid by Inspector Toberman and his police battalion. Waldemar jumps the monster, the two titans grappling and destroying every piece of equipment in a cloud of flame and smoke. After electrocuting the monster, Daninsky turns quietly towards the abducted gypsy, anticipating his death at the hands of the girl who loves him. Stepping slowly towards the beast, the gypsy girl fires a couple of silver bullets into Waldemar’s chest to end his torment.

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Ummo’s dignitaries address Varnoff via their spacey computer screen of warped stars and planets, announcing disgustedly what an utter failure Varnoff has become and what a mess he has created as the castle walls come crumbling down around him and a screaming brigade of police cruisers pull up in front of the castle. Revealing the positive influence of human emotion, Odo reveals his compassion towards Maleva when he addresses his superiors with a request that the young scientist be pardoned from the ultimate punishment of being buried alive beneath piles of rubble. Ummo’s leaders retort mockingly, as though delivering a punch-line, “You forget, that she is already dead!!” at which point Maleva vanishes into thin air and the castle continues to collapse on Dr. Varnoff’s head.

Assignment Terror barely had a chance; Odo spending way too much of his precious time obsessing over his lab assistant or hanging out at the go-go bar while the monsters run rampant. Imagine the distress Ummo’s scientists felt while helplessly watching all of these ridiculous complications slowly spoiling years of careful planning and hard work; monitoring the progress of their mission from millions of miles away from their remote tv/phone contraption, helpless to intervene while Dr. Varnoff feeds his libido and extracts personal revenge, “No, no, no, Varnoff you idiot!!”

Aside from depicting Dr. Varnoff as a high-tech Peeping Tom with a penchant for go-go girls, Naschy works little else into the storyline to allow his interesting ideas about human emotions and their affect on rational thought to evolve more gracefully as the story develops. At the very end of the picture, Ummo’s intricate plan goes totally awry and Naschy uses the grand finale as a platform to quickly get his point across; the alien dignitaries provide a long monlogue explaining the element of human emotion that infiltrated their alien visitors and how that trait imbued them with an individual strength and devotion not anticipated by Ummo’s great minds; a critical oversight which ultimately defeats them.

Los Monstrous del Terror is a peculiar, yet entertaining monster yarn showcased as an atmospheric homage to the classic Universal monsters that Paul Naschy loved so much. Naschy is truly a fan of his own creations, an enthusiasm that permeates all of his productions with a child-like earnestness to scare and entertain; motivations fueled by his love for traditional gothic ambience populated with beautiful maidens in distress, rampaging monsters, and of course, his favorite cursed werewolf.

Reviewed by Nate Miner

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