WEREWOLF WOMAN: A Werewolf Rape Revenge Movie

You're not going to want to mess with Daniela.

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The rape revenge subgenre is often troubling, not least because these films are largely made by men. But there's a thoughtfulness to Rino Di Silvestro's Werewolf Woman (La Lupa Mannara) that one might not reasonably associate with a 1976 Italian rape revenge werewolf movie. Though we spend some time with the investigators following Daniela's trail of slaughter, and some time with her loving father and the doctors who treat her, Werewolf Woman is undoubtedly Daniela's movie; it's about her history, her perspective. It's about her journey, and though that journey is a titillating one, the sexual gratification we're seeking is Daniela's. 

Daniela (Annik Borel) was raped when she was fifteen, and the trauma has affected her in ways both expected (she suffers from genophobia) and unexpected (she thinks she's a werewolf). Daniela has associated her own fate with that of her ancestor, a werewolf who was burned at the stake. Daniela dreams of her ancestor's carnage; she lives The Countess' experiences as she sleeps at night, allowing for a completely gnarly opening scene of the naked Borel dancing in a ring of fire before transforming into a powerful beast - an opening scene that is never quite matched by the rest of the film.

Daniela's years of sexual unfulfillment are beginning to build up inside her, and the frustration manifests itself as this fearless werewolf, a ferocious beast who takes what she wants and fears no sexual partner because she is the one to be feared. Outside of her dreams, there is no literal werewolf, only the transformation of Daniela from meek to monstrous, resting solely on an unhinged performance by Borel with no assistance from makeup. Everything schisms when Daniela's sister Elena (Dagmar Lassander) returns from her studies in the United States with a handsome new husband Fabian (Andrea Scotti). Daniela is attracted to Fabian and loathes her own attraction. She sees Elena and Fabian making love and she touches herself unhappily, the way she will not allow a man to touch her. She lures Fabian into the woods and seduces him, and then the werewolf breaks free. Daniela rips out his throat with her teeth, and her doting father (Tino Carraro) institutionalizes her until she escapes and spends the rest of the film on the road, gnashing her way through the Italian countryside. 

There are a lot of vaginal close-ups in Werewolf Woman. The sex in the film is all very hot until it goes south, and we get to know every inch of Daniela's lovely form. But the long, intimate glimpses of her vagina feel weirdly empowering in a world that often fears vaginas. Daniela herself never feels like an object of arousal but rather the subject. She attempts to find satisfaction in every partner, only to discover, again and again, that he (or she, as is once the case) isn't worthy. And then she punishes them.

Until she meets Luca (Howard Ross), a kind stuntman who offers her shelter with no design on her body, unlike literally every other man she's met throughout the course of the film. After a little time to heal, Daniela falls in love with Luca, and the werewolf inside her is quieted. And then four hoodlums break into their home, gang-rape Daniela and kill Luca. 

It's horrible. And in the final third of the film, Werewolf Woman becomes a troubling rape revenge movie like any other. Daniela spends the rest of the film hunting down the rapists and ripping out their throats, but the journey no longer feels like a thoughtful reflection on sexual trauma and the ways we search for fulfillment in an unfulfilling world. Daniela was given the gift of love, of loving sex, and then had it taken away from her in the most brutal way possible. Her revenge - bloody as it is - isn't satisfying. The Werewolf Woman has taken over completely, but where does that leave poor Daniela, who deserved a chance at a normal life?

Though Werewolf Woman takes this turn for the typical in its final act, it's still much more circumspect than a 1970s Italian exploitation film could be. It's beautiful - beautifully shot, gorgeously framed - and it's perfectly presented on Fandor, clean and bright and with very coherent subtitles, which isn't always the case with these movies. There's less literal werewolf than the title indicates, but the way Daniela adopts the werewolf to leave herself impervious to attack makes for a rather poignant metaphor. Trigger warnings firmly in check, Werewolf Woman is absolutely worth a watch.

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