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Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory
Tonight's Feature Presentation

WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS' DORMITORY (1961)

Starring: Barbara Lass, Carl Schell, Curt Lowens, Maurice Marsac, Maureen O'Connor

Written By: Ernesto Gastaldi Directed By: Paola Heusch

The Short Version

Not quite the exploitation flick the title suggests.

Plays very much like someone took a standard murder /blackmail story and slapped some werewolf stuff on to sell it.

What’s with the pointless sugar pop that got added to the opening credits?

The red herrings and great circles are just too much.

Too unexciting even to make fun of; better luck looking into a different dorm room window.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

SHREDDED MOZZARELLA.

The most popular thing for North Americans to do with that most famous of Italian cheeses.  The pizza that’s made with it is better than this movie.


Pairs Well With...

DIRTY GIRL SCOUT.

In honor of the naughty dorm girls; I guarantee the drink is better than the movie.  One ounce each of vodka, Kahlua, white crème de menthe, and Irish cream.  Serve over ice; or, mix the first three, put the Irish cream in a shot glass, and drop it as a bomb shooter.

“We can’t be concerned with the institute’s good name at a time like this.”


You’d think that just about anything worth filming about a girls’ dormitory would be way more exciting than this dog turns out to be.

Originally shot in Italy, this film began life under the title of Lycanthropus.  American distributors didn’t think that title was sexy enough, so they changed it to the now-familiar Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory.  Still not satisfied, some marketing putz decided to ante up on the cross promotion and slapped the sugar pop tune “Ghoul in School” on the US opening credits, further adding the song’s name as a subtitle for the movie, so when all was finally said and done, the name on the poster was Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory (The Ghoul in School).  The first name change certainly sold some tickets, and has definitely been a primary factor in keeping this flick alive in the era of home video.  The second?  That was just plain stupid.  That’s like buying a serial killer movie, throwing on some Britney Spears, and calling it The Chicks Are All Dead (Oops I Did It Again).

Besides, everyone who knows anything about horror knows that ghouls and werewolves are two different things. 

But anyway.  On to the movie itself.

The “Girls’ Dormitory” in question is a reform school, referred to only in the abstract during the film as “this institute.”  After some confusing descriptions that may simply be the result of poor translation from Italian to English, we figure out that this is a private institution to which its girls are sentenced by the courts as an alternative to what we assume are harsher publicly run reformatories.    (“Well, young lady, I could sentence you to Chained Heat, but since this is your first offense, I’m remanding you to Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory instead.”)  A time stamp to the movie comes up when you learn how two of the primary characters were sentenced here: one girl was attacked by a drunken sailor, and another girl beat the attacker to get him away from her.  (Didn’t kill him, mind.)  Now, we call that “self defense,” and today both girls would be on their way home.  Here, though, saving oneself from being a rape/murder victim gets one sentenced to reform school.  Go figure.

Not that these girls are pure as the driven snow, mind.  Indeed, that becomes central to what the real plot of Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory is.

Early on, one of the girls (Mary McNeeran, in her only credited role) sneaks out in the night.  (Apparently, this is a really minimum security reform school, because this is as simple as walking out the front gate.  Lock?  What’s that?)  Once outside in the woods, she meets a man we will soon learn is Sir Alfred Whiteman (Maurice Marsac).  What Sir Alfred’s actual relationship is to the reform school (aside from being a source of problems) is never really made clear.  Maybe he owns it.  Maybe he’s just its chief benefactor.  Regardless, he’s been having an affair with this girl (and she isn’t the first he’s ever done this with, either, apparently), and now she’s blackmailing him.  If he can’t use his influence to get her out of the school by the following night, she’ll take a stack of love letters she has from him and make a scandal of it.  (She doesn’t even know yet about the extra threatening one waiting for her in the post.)

As you may have guessed, she never makes it back to her bed.  Once she storms off from having made her ultimatum to Sir Alfred, she becomes the werewolf’s first victim.

We’ll get back to the werewolf in a bit.  After all, he’s only of secondary importance in this story.

For as things unfold, it becomes reasonably clear that the main thrust of our story is going to be Sir Alfred’s philandering, the attempts to cover it up, and the hunt for his missing letters.  (By the time it’s over, you will not want to hear the words “The Letters” again for at least a week.)  Indeed, I would not be surprised to learn (though I have no such knowledge; I merely speculate here) that the script started as a straight up blackmail and murder story and just had a half hour’s worth of werewolf stuff slapped on to give it runtime and make it sell.  It’s a less than compelling story, made worse by the fact that Sir Alfred is a whiny ass, plus the further fact that the audience always knows where the letters are.

It does, however, allow the opportunity to arise for a priceless exchange wherein our heroine, Priscilla (Barbara Lass, who was married to Roman Polanski at the time, just for the sake of fun trivia), confronts Sir Alfred’s wife, Sheena (Annie Steinert), about the blackmail plot.  Haughtily, Sheena tells Priscilla that “To me, you are another common slut, just like the others.”  Priscilla’s response?  It boils down to her saying well, yeah, all the girls sell themselves for money, but at least they’re not killers!

Wow.  Just wow.

As for the whole werewolf thing, the movie’s secondary mystery, of course, is to figure out who the werewolf actually is.  Not to provide a spoiler or anything, but the screenwriters for Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory have given the audience a fabulous process-of-elimination tool for discovering the answer.  Specifically, as soon as someone has suspicion cast upon them, either openly or in sidelong fashion, you can safely eliminate him or her as a suspect.  A red herring or maybe two is one thing, but the constant flow of fish here becomes actively annoying very quickly.  After a while, it feels like being beaten with a Nerf bat.  You just want it to stop.

And then there are the marvelous coincidences and great circles of convenience.  It turns out that one of our characters knows all about werewolves because his girlfriend used to be one.  (She only stopped by becoming dead after overdosing on something she’d hoped would be a cure.)  This is in a setting that doesn’t lend itself to even accepting that werewolves are real in the first place, mind.  It’s also just amazing how many people suddenly are noticed having injuries in the exact same place where the werewolf is known to be hurt.  Can we retire that ploy now? Worst of all, though, comes shortly after the identity of the werewolf is revealed, and said werewolf is just half a moment from being cured, when out of the blue something pops up out of nowhere and ruins everything.  Come to think of it, can we retire that ploy, too?

And as for that werewolf…

I know the budget is low, and I know we’re talking 1961, but seriously, you can get exactly the same effect from a rubber mask you can buy from a Halloween store at your local shopping mall.  This werewolf is cheap.  What’s more, the werewolf doesn’t actually act like a werewolf.  Werewolves slash and bite and tear and leave gaping wounds where they’ve bitten out hunks o’throat; that’s part of the whole “acting like a wolf” thing.  This werewolf, though, goes pretty much exclusively with the “strangling” option.  Surely you’ve seen the National Geographic shows about the wolves that reach up with their front paws and choke Arctic hares to death, haven’t you?  No?  Nor does this werewolf do anything more with his victims once they’re dead; the strangulation over, the werewolf takes off.

See, this is another reason that I suspect the werewolf element got written in later, because it’s obvious that the writers have no idea how a damn werewolf is supposed to act.  Werewolves are supposed to bite people!  You know?  Teeth!  They sprung for the plastic fangs for the getup; you’d think they’d make some use out of them.  But no; just make sure the strangler forgets to shave for a month and we’re off to the races!

This is made all the more frustrating for the fact that Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory is just so damn slow.  The direction is flat, and so is the acting.  (The English dubbed version borders on being a self-hypnosis video, but even without hearing the cast members’ original voices, their body language makes it pretty clear that they’re not doing much more than phoning it in, either.)  The musical score, while an improvement over the dumb sugar pop of the credits, is so overblown that it becomes more of an irritant than a mood setter; its cues are always over the top and are always played like they’re leading to something horrific, even when nothing of any consequence is occurring.  It’s as though someone just bought “Random Horror Music Tape #3” and let ‘er rip.

Bottom line, despite the fun title given to it by North American distributors, Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory just isn’t any fun at all, on any level.  Unlike many other bad horror flicks, this one’s badness doesn’t translate into anything that can be appreciated on a funny level, so it doesn’t even work as popcorn material.  I suspect that its title alone has kept it alive this long, and caused a lot of people to misremember it as being better than it really is.  After all, stuff that happens in a girls’ dormitory is supposed to be fun, right?  Right?

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2011


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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