FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Feb 1, 2024

Chilling Classics Cthursday: WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS' DORMITORY (1961)

It used to be that when I would sit around fantasizing over what I'd teach were I a film professor, I would picture a syllabus with Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes written over and over and over, as if it was a document that Wendy Torrance found in her husband's typewriter. Now that I've seen Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory, however, I think I would shift, like, two of the Amityville 4 credit hours to covering it. I was not anticipating this outcome when its number came up and I pulled it from the 50-pack, that's for sure. But then, I didn't know it'd be a little treat with some feminist ideas sprinkled in here and there, and it'd be a...well, maybe not a prime example, but an example nonetheless of the ways in which localized film distribution can really do a movie wrong.

Its schlocky title alone recalls other sock hop screamers and drive-in fare from the era, à la 1959's Attack of the Giant Leeches or The Blob (1958); Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory even features its own catchy Blob-esque title tune, "The Ghoul in School," which would go on to be released on 45rpm. 

Side note: the Chilling Classics version of this movie omits both the song and the kooky/monstrous opening title card featuring a Dr Seuss sleep paralysis demon. Mill Creek does it again!

While all those goofy gewgaws serve to set up expectations in the viewer's mind, the movie very quickly undoes all of them by revealing its true nature. Why, this isn't a Gene or Roger Corman joint! Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory was released in the US in 1963, but it's--gasp--an Italian-Austrian film from 1961, née Lycanthropus! This wasn't directed by some "Richard Benson," it was Paolo Heusch at the helm. Meanwhile, writer Ernesto Gastaldi wasn't credited at all, English pseudonym or otherwise. But he's maybe best known as the co-writer of Bava's The Whip and the Body and Sergio Martino's Torso. Oh, and of course Ruggero Deodato's rip-off of The Concorde...Airport '79, appropriately titled Concorde Affaire '79.

It's possible that I am the only person who didn't know all of the truth behind Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory, especially as a super-deluxe, 2-disc uncut version of the film was released by Severin a couple of years ago. Yes, another film in the Mill Creek Chilling Classics to fancy pants edition pipeline! So sure, everyone else may have been on the Lycanthropus train long ago, but the shock of this information gave me a white streak in my hair, like Nancy Thompson at the end of A Nightmare on Elm Street.

The titular dormitory, as it were, is a sprawling, gothic "institute" set deep in the woods that serves as a kind of reform school, one that hopes to set the wayward girls on the right path without the punishing nature of the judicial system. "They've found out about the bitterness of life much too early," one character explains, to which I responded (in my head...I'm not a weirdo) "Was this movie formative at all for The House That Screamed, which I fucking loved?" Three more white streaks immediately manifested in my locks. Should anyone ask why I look like a zebra from the neck up, I will happily tell them it's because I found out all at once that Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory is lit.

A student named Mary sneaks out one night to meet the much-older Sir Alfred in the woods. They have a sexual relationship, but Mary is only in it in the hopes that Alfred can get her out of the institute, as he sits on the school's board. He has no reason to make this happen quickly, obviously, and Mary is fed up and threatening blackmail. On her way home, she's chased through the dark by a man-shaped monster before being attacked and killed in a way that certainly makes this all seem like a sexual assault. "Is this movie...an allegory?" I said (again, in my head). Cue another coif streak.


While I love little more than seeing subtext and meaning in any ol' film in front of my eyeballs, Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory indeed makes the subtext text. "You're a beast, not a man," says Alfred's wife Sheena as they discuss his propensity for taking advantage of the girls. 

Or take this exchange between the new science professor (who studies wolves on the side) and Priscilla, the student who takes it upon herself to find out who--or what--really killed Mary:

"I'm fixing traps to save the forest from wolves," the professor boasts.
"In a certain sense, we're doing the same thing," Priscilla replies.

Mary and Priscilla were friends before they came to the institute as well; Priscilla garnered a charge of attempted murder and landed in the reform school when she nearly beat to death a sailor who was attacking Mary. Priscilla, the Protector and Avenger of Women! Priscilla is a hero for the ages, we could all use a Priscilla, I would die for Priscilla, etc etc. 

Polish actress Barbara Lass was married to Roman Polanski around the time this movie was filmed

So who is the werewolf? Is it the hunky new science professor, who has a shady past as a doctor and as I mentioned, studies wolves? 


Is it the sleazy Sir Andrew, or the school's sleazy caretaker, who sets up all of Sir Andrew's "dalliances" and reminds me of Peter Lorre?


Is it Sir Andrew's wife, who, as seen in this stylish shot, is cool?


Maybe it's any of the other teachers, or possibly even a student?

Well, I won't spoil it for you even though this movie is literally over 60 years old. But you'll know who it is the first time you see the werewolf's face, because despite the prosthetics you can tell which actor it is.

But that's okay! Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory is a whodunnit mystery with some gothic and giallo touches more than it is your typical werewolf-flavored horror flick. In fact, a more apt title for this than Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory or Lycanthropus might be Love and the Ethics of Lycanthropy. Or maybe Priscilla Rules.

Man, what a total surprise and a treat this was. Hokey drive-in monster movies are fun, and if that's all this film ended up being it would likely have been a fine time. But ultimately Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory Priscilla Rules is something meatier than that, deserving of a spot...well, surely somewhere in the annals of Italian horror. 

5 comments:

Steve K said...

Over on Bluesky, Alex West said yesterday "If you like someone's work, tell them." So I'm following that advice, and saying: I like your work! Thank you for all of your time and effort (not to mention watching washed out films for science when Severin or Vinegar Syndrome has made them all pretty).

Stacie Ponder said...

Aww, thanks so much, Steve! It's really appreciated and it's always so nice to hear. I'll take it anytime :) And it's great advice from Alex, as expected!

matango said...

The Peter Lorre looking guy is Luciano Pigozzi, often credited as "Alan Collins," who is in like every other Italian exploitation movie.

Stacie Ponder said...

Nice! Now I will never forget him, he'll be like the Italian Victor Israel for me.

Kristina said...

Sounds good. last year I saw this same director’s sci fi movie The Day the Sky Exploded, cool idea, so-so execution. Amazing how much stuff Ernesto Gastaldi wrote, and fun fact, in the movie he directed, Libido, his real wife Mara played Pigozzi’s wife.