Pregnant with another man's child, Maryna (Iwona Bielska) endures a bloody abortion just as her despised husband Count Kacper Wosinski (Krzysztof Jasinski) returns home. After cursing Kacper for a lifetime of hatred and abuse, she dies. Outside a wolf howls ominously. To Kacper's horror he finds a witch's talisman hidden under her pillow. Realizing Maryna made a pact with the powers of darkness, Kacper and Doctor Goldberg (Henryk Machalica) bury her with a stake through her heart. However, consumed with hatred over Maryna's infidelity, Kacper refuses to pray for her soul to be at peace. Plagued by nightmares where Maryna returns from the grave as a werewolf, Kacper goes to stay at the mansion of his friend Count Wiktor Smorawinski (Jerzy Prazmowski). The meek and weak-willed Smorawinski has a flighty French wife named Juliet (Iwona Bielska again, this time as a blonde) who disdains him as much as Maryna loathed Kacper. Over the course of events Kacper discovers a vicious wolf stalks the grounds and that Juliet is having an affair with arrogant German cavalry officer Otto von Furstenberg (Olgierd Lukaszewicz). Has Kacper's wife taken possession of a new body to torment him further or has he gone crazy?
Wilczyca (which translates as: "she-wolf") was a big domestic hit back in 1983 and now considered a classic horror film in Poland comparable with the British-made Hammer horror films. In fact the tone is similar to vintage Hammer fare, right down to a rousing score by Jerzy Matula that evokes James Bernard at his most bombastic. However, the film achieves its own distinctive identity with its bleak and desolate wintry landscape and offbeat mix of werewolf legend and vampire lore plus a dash of witchcraft. Lead actress Iwona Bielska looks suitably lupine without makeup, less a satanic seductress in the Hammer mould than a breathless, unhinged nymphomaniac oddly akin to Annik Borel in the cult favourite Naked Werewolf Woman (1976) only more restrained and tasteful. She also periodically morphs into a Linda Blair look-alike demon witch for scenes where director Marek Piestrak, who made the interesting science fiction thriller Test Pilot Pirx (1978), blurs the line between reality, dream and hallucination.
Hammer films' ambiguous treatment of female sexuality, torn between desire and suspicion of beautiful women, is here taken a step further into outright disgust. Smorawinski is aghast at the mere sight of his wife in makeup and a lovely dress. The only two female characters in the film, played by the same actress, are drawn as selfish, sneering sluts which has the unfortunate side-effect of casting a barking macho misogynist anti-semite as the hero. Wilczyca's total lack of sympathetic characters (everyone is snippy and rude) proves a drawback. Still it is worth noting the plot exhibits equal disdain for the male and female characters and its refusal to take a clear moral stance adds to the sense of unease. Based on a novel written by Jerzy Giaraltowski, who co-wrote the screenplay, the plot unfolds at a point in history when Poland was under German occupation. As such Kacper's preoccupation with Juliet's infidelity could be interpreted in multiple ways through political allegory, psychological thriller or plain supernatural horror. Is he out to uphold Polish patriotism and punish Juliet for consorting with a German, tortured by the memory of his wife's infidelity or simply trying to slay a monster? The strongest scene reflects such ambiguity when Kacper follows the trail of blood left by the injured wolf only to happen upon the grinning Countess who calmly rides away on her horse.
After a strong start the film plods through a meandering plot with only mid-level intrigue. Low on visceral thrills but strong on atmosphere the film is too vague to capture the imagination as a cerebral suspense thriller though the gory finale packs a punch. Still given the ending merely confirms what we have known all along the closing shot lacks power. Several years later Piestrak made a sequel, Powrot Wilczycy (1990) that is supposedly not that good.