Full Moon Features: Wilczyca (1983)

Some things are such a novelty that it’s noteworthy when one encounters them in the wild. A Polish werewolf film is such a thing. A werewolf film set in a wintry landscape is another. Both are combined in 1983’s Wilczyca, also known as The Wolf or She-Wolf, which was released by Severin Films late last year as part of its well-curated folk horror collection, All the Haunts Be Ours. (It’s also streaming right now on Shudder for those who have the service.)

The title character is Mary (Iwona Bielska), wife of steward Casper Wosinski (Krzysztof Jasinski), who has turned to witchcraft during one of his long absences and curses him on her deathbed. “I’ll find you,” she hisses, clutching a wolf’s paw, and expires, after which Casper and his brother Matthew (Jerzy Prażmowski) hear a wolf howl in the distance. So far, so lycanthropic. Duly unnerved, Matthew is intent on staking Mary while they’re taking her to the cemetery and does so at the grave site. (He also calls her a witch, which means screenwriter Jerzy Gierałtowski and director Marek Piestrak are playing fast and loose with their monster lore.) It clearly doesn’t take, though, because it’s not long after — when Casper has moved away to go to work for a count he fought alongside “during the insurrection” — that he spots a she-wolf and mutters, “What the devil? She’s found me…”

The visitations from Mary — not only in what Casper takes for granted is her wolf form, but also in his daydreams — continue when he is charged with looking after the count’s property and his wife Julia (also played by Bielska) when he’s forced to flee the Hussars. And while the count is away, the countess definitely will play — not only with a Hussar officer from her past (seen in a flashback feeding a caged wolf to impress her and getting his hand bitten for his troubles), but also with Casper, whom she teases coquettishly. As the she-wolf (which is described as “no ordinary wolf” and “as big as a calf”) shows no signs of leaving him be, Casper begins to think Mary has taken possession of Julia, a belief bolstered by the scene where he shoots the wolf, follows its bloody trail, and finds Julia at the end of it with a freshly injured hand. Only then is the need for a silver bullet cast in holy water mooted, and since only one is made, that means Casper has to make it count.

Since Piestrak opted not to go the wolf-man (or -woman) route, this saved his crew from having to go overboard on the makeup effects. Instead, they ladle on the atmosphere and period trappings, which serve to heighten the drama when the time comes for Casper to act. Even if the results aren’t horrific in the traditional sense — one obvious lift from The Omen aside — Wilczyca provides a window into another world and culture.