A: Assignment Terror (1970)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: aliens from a dying world plan to invade the Earth, and decide to start raising the dead to conquer our supposedly inferior race. Except this time the dead being raised are classic monsters, and the aliens are once again represented by Michael Rennie, in his last film role as “Doctor Warnoff”.

To aid him, Warnoff has two more of his alien pals inhabiting recently dead Earthers who have skills he requires: Maleva (Karin Dor), a biochemist, and Kerian (Angel del Pozzo), a soldier. It took me two viewings to figure out that particular part of the plot, thinking during the first runthrough that his two henchmen were simply raised from the dead. And, eventually that Warnoff himself is seemingly an alien in a Earth suit. I think.

This is not the least confusing part of the plot, either.

Warnoff starts off by pulling the wooden stake out of the skeleton of Count Janos (Manuel de Blas), a nod to the classic Universal monster mashes of the 40s, specifically House of Frankenstein. There will be enough of these nods to wear out your neck gimbal as the movie progresses. Warnoff’s plan is to infect humanity with vampire blood, which, like a lot of Warnoff’s plans, will not come to anything. Count Janos will occasionally wander around unsupervised and cause problems.

Next up, and the real reason we are all here, is the infamous lycanthrope Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy), whom they revivify by surgically removing the silver bullets from his still-beating heart (real open heart surgery footage – the 70s, everybody!), while Warnoff explains that the idiots back in Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror did it wrong, and helpfully informing the aide who will eventually betray him the proper way to go about killing a werewolf.

Not-Drac’s feeling much better.

Oh yeah, that’s right: Warnoff is kidnapping local women and brainwashing them with his Super Annoying Sound MachineTM. This sort of thing brings the attention of the police in the person of Inspector Toberman (Craig Hill), who seems to be the sole person in the employ of the Commissioner… no, wait, there’s a guy who brings in a file folder. So Toberman is the other cop in whatever strange land this takes place. As is traditional in these flicks, the Police are a hapless lot.

A treasure trove of information!

While Toberman meanders through his investigation, Warnoff also racks up a living mummy (George Reyes) and the Monster of um, Farancksalan. Naturally, all these personages will gather at the local creepy castle owned by Warnoff, so there will be more unrealized plans and more importantly, inter-monster carnage, while the Commissioner shows up with the Army just in time to see the castle blow up.

This is actually Paul Naschy’s second outing as Daninsky (it was supposed to be his third, but a French co-production never happened). Assignment Terror exists mainly because his first, Las Noches del Hombre Loco, was an enormous hit. Promised a healthy budget, Naschy (under his given name of Jacinto Molina) wrote a script that drew heavily on his love of the Classic Universal monsters (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man being a particular favorite of his). Then the budget did not materialize, a whole lot of plot got dropped (including the Golem of Prague and some flying saucers), production stopped several times, and there were at least three directors involved over time.

Waldemar has looked better…

Naschy himself was not very kind to the flick, being especially disappointed in the makeup effects by Francisco Ferrer. Given that Assignment Terror bends over backwards to avoid any possible legal problems with Universal (Farancksalan? Really?), I was surprised to see that the makeup for the Farancksalan Monster is a direct quote of Universal’s, kind of like a comic book simplification. Though I also note that it looks like the Monster is blind, only directed by Warnoff’s psychic guidance, which continues a thread from Ghost of Frankenstein on through Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

I mean, you remember that, right? Ygor had his brain put in the Monster’s body, but the blood types didn’t match, so he went blind? And the Monster was still blind in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man? Naschy sure did. How the hell Naschy managed to become such a serious Monster Kid in Franco’s repressive Spain is probably a fascinating story.

This really is a confusing jumble of a movie (small wonder). The timeline is twisted, unknowable, and extremely elastic. Although we see the beginning of his plan, Warnoff will later take credit for actually creating the monsters over thousands of years. Which is a really long time to figure out that human emotions will eventually resurface in the aliens occupying Earthly bodies, causing Plan 10 from Outer Space to ultimately fail. Warnoff’s terrible management skills must also take some of the blame.

Assignment Terror is surprisingly restrained for a Naschy script – this could have easily been shown as part of a monster double or triple feature where all the movies were rated PG at most – I could really imagine it on a bill with The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant and Twilight People. There is little blood, no sex (Count Janos will paw Maleva’s boob, in a bit that could have been easily cut)… it’s all pretty mild stuff. And yet, because of the heavy nostalgia riffs, I found myself quite enjoying it. There are several instances of lovely, moody cinematography, particularly when a tomb is involved, which is at least three times.

Despite its shortcomings – and there are many – it’s just so darned eager to please. I can see Naschy cackling because Universal never got the Mummy into their monster mash movies, and he was going to rectify that matter! And he got to do his Farancksalan vs the Wolf Man fight. That’s not nothing.

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