"It's a mythical beast," says Exhumed Films cofounder Harry Guerro, though he's not talking about any of the creatures on the screen in Frankenstein's Bloody Terror. Instead, he's referring to the film itself — at least, the incarnation that Exhumed will screen at International House on Saturday. This 3D version of the American edit of a Spanish movie originally titled Mark of the Wolfman — more on the switch of titular monsters shortly — was screened a handful of times in 1971 and hasn't been seen since, becoming a holy grail for horror fanatics.
The tale of how Mark of the Wolfman became Frankenstein's Bloody Terror is convoluted. The original film, released in Spain in 1968, was the first in a 12-film, nearly 40-year series featuring filmmaker/actor Paul Naschy, a popular cult/horror figure, as Polish nobleman/werewolf Waldemar Daninsky, who in the film runs afoul of various creatures of the night (except, of course, Frankenstein).
A few years later, producer/distributor Sam Sherman of exploitation specialists Independent-International Pictures found himself in a bind: he'd booked dates at a string of (mostly drive-in) theaters for a film called Blood of Frankenstein, but the negative was being held up at the lab. In need of a Frankenstein movie to fulfill his obligations, he began searching through available titles. One called Assignment: Terror filled the bill but proved unavailable. Besides, Sherman recalls, "it was an atrocious picture" — not that that was a deal breaker.
He then screened Mark of the Wolfman, which he loved, but it had one drawback — no monster. "When you say Frankenstein, people are always thinking of the Frankenstein Monster," Sherman, 77, says with a shrug over the phone from his Freehold office. "But there was a coffin in this old castle, so I decided to call it Horror of Frankenstein's Coffin, because then there was no indication that there was a monster in the film, but there was Frankenstein's coffin."
That brainstorm proved short-lived when a rival producer announced plans for a soon-to-be-released Horror of Frankenstein, so he went back to the drawing board. "I came up with Frankenstein's Bloody Terror, which everybody liked but had to come up with, why would it be that?"
Fortunately, Sherman had been down this road before. Often in partnership with frequent collaborator Al Adamson, he'd retitled or even reshot many a film to cater to the changing tastes of the drive-in market. A motorcycle thriller called Screaming Angels became the women-in-action film Angel's Wild Women; with the addition of three words and a few horror inserts, a "sexy nurse picture" became The Possession of Nurse Sherri once Brian DePalma's Carrie took the box office by storm. So a short animated prologue was added to Mark of the Wolfman to explain that the character of Wolfstein was actually Frankenstein, now cursed with lycanthropy.
"I felt that once the people got into the picture, they would like it so much they'd forget about the weird title," he says. "We only had one complaint, when some guy yelled out in the middle of the picture, 'Where's Frankie?' "
Based on that success, Sherman partnered with a Los Angeles distributor eager to market its own 3D lenses to screen the three-dimensional version of Frankenstein's Bloody Terror, but those lenses proved to be disastrous and he pulled the prints after only a few screenings. The 3D prints sat in his archives for more than four decades, and many horror fans thought they would never get to see the film in its 3D form. Then Guerro approached Sherman with a plan to strike a new 35 mm print and employ custom-made 3D technology that will have the film looking better than it ever had. Guerro found an optics company to build a custom lens to show the film. It will make its Philly debut this weekend on a double bill with Adamson's infamous Dracula vs. Frankenstein — originally known as Blood of Frankenstein, the film that began this whole saga.
Guerro calls the shift from the flat Frankenstein's Bloody Terror to 3D "a revelation. The film is beautifully shot for depth and framed to make excellent use of 3D. There's a great sequence where the vampire woman is seducing a young man in the film and makes a come-hither gesture; it's a simple scene, but in 3D you notice a spiderweb in the foreground that turns her into a spider ushering the fly into her web. It's not gimmicky 3D — you don't see a lot of werewolf claws coming off of the screen. It's used for atmosphere."