Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory (Lycanthropus)

A handsome Professor with a mysterious past transfers to a girls’ reformatory. Soon after, bodies begin turning up, the victims of savage animal attacks. Is the new Professor a werewolf, or is someone using his arrival to cover their own horrible curse?

WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS’ DORMITORY is an Italian-Austrian film originally entitled LYCANTHROPUS. Dubbed for American release, it was given a more exploitative title and a tacky new opening title song (THE GHOUL IN SCHOOL by Marilyn Stewart, Frank Owens and Adam Keefe) in order to be marketed alongside the popular teenage horror epics of the late 1950s and early 60s. In reality, WEREWOLF is a soap opera-style melodrama that is more tawdry murder mystery than adolescent fright fest.

Set in a halfway house for rebellious young women who are one offense away from state incarceration, the story gets rolling with an illicit meeting between one promiscuous student and a lecherous, adulterous professor who pays for her affections. Frustrated that she isn’t getting what she really wants out of their arrangement, the girl threatens to expose her teacher and storms off into the woods. Before she can make it back to campus, however, she is slaughtered by something in the woods (a remarkably long and suggestive scene in which the beast sits astride the moaning, writhing, breathless young woman, clutching her throat with clawed hands), setting in motion an investigation that uncovers more double dealings, prostitution, murder and conspiracy. Everyone in the film has a secret, and everyone is a potential suspect.

The dubbing hurts the rather intricate plot considerably. While synchronized as well as can be expected, the voice actors deliver their lines in that flat, staccato fashion common to dubbed films and devoid of the emotion necessary to drive this kind of melodrama. Further weakening the film is the silly werewolf make-up, which is of the community theater or high school play variety. It is neither scary nor particularly wolf-like.

Though perhaps a bit tame by today’s standards, the film is certainly lurid enough to hold the viewer’s interest throughout. From the Peter Lorre-esque caretaker (Luciano Pigozzi) who “arranges” the affairs between professor and student to the jilted wife (Anni Steinert) who just might resort to murder to keep her husband faithful, the histrionics here are worthy of any good daytime soap opera. Director Paolo Heusch also does a fine job of keeping the werewolf’s true identity a mystery through most of the narrative, giving us plenty of reason to suspect most of the major players but never offering enough to make it obvious who is guilty. The cast is attractive (especially leads Barbara Lass and Carl Schell), and does a far better job than the English-speaking voiceover cast of selling the tension and suspicion inherent in the premise. It would be interesting to see a restored, subtitled release at some point.

Despite its youth-oriented marketing, WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS’ DORMITORY is more akin to DARK SHADOWS than I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF. It is so loaded with seedy subplots and clandestine cover-ups that it almost doesn’t need a werewolf to be a worthwhile (if minor) diversion. Well-acted and well-staged, this is a film that really doesn’t deserve the “bad movie” reputation it has garnered over the years, and definitely deserves a look.

 

Official Score