AWESOME-tober-fest 2010: Watching Universal’s Wolf Man movies

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So here we are, Day 19 of AWESOME-tober-fest. We are in the middle of werewolf movie week. Yesterday I discussed The Howling and on Monday I talked about Silver Bullet. All of these were books I read and reviewed during werewolf novel week. Today, I go back to the beginning. The Universal Studios Wolf Man movies. This is where the current model for the modern werewolf was born. Universal made three werewolf centric movies. Although the Wolf Man would appear in several other “monster rally” movies, there were only three movies starring Wolf Man and included the Wolf Man in the title. Here are those three movies.

Werewolf of London
Werewolf of London (1935) – Contrary to what you might think, this was actually Universal Studio’s first “wolf man” movie (and widely considered the first mainstream werewolf movie).  It was released a good 6 years before the now famous Lon Chaney Jr vehicle, The Wolf Man, and starred Henry Hull as the title monster.  The legendary Jack Pierce created the wolf man makeup for use in this movie, however Henry Hull hated it and refused to wear the full wolf makeup (pansy).  Pierce would create a “less hairy” version for Hull, but then go back to the “full hairy” version for use with Chaney (who was a badass).
In this movie, Hull plays Dr Glendon, a world renowned botanist who travels to Tibet to find the elusive Mariphasa plant which only blooms in moonlight.  While there, Glendon is bitten by a creature that he leans later is a werewolf.  Glendon returns to London with his Mariphasa sample and then we meet his wife who is WAY too hot for him.  I mean, not only does Glendon look like he could be her father, but he’s also kind of a douche bag.  He doesn’t pay any attention to her and keeps himself locked away in his lab.  While sequestered in his lab Glendon keeps doing all these weird experiments to create artificial moonlight (how useful is artificial moonlight besides causing the Mariphasa plant to bloom?). Anyway, Glendon is visited by another creepy scientist, Dr Yogami, who knows all about the werewolf affliction he keeps calling Lycanthrophobia (which actually means “fear of werewolves” and not “is a werewolf”). Yogami says the Mariphasa plant can temporarily cure Lycanthrophobia (he keeps using that word) so Hull keeps trying to create his “artificial moonlight” when he finally (after about 45 minutes) turns into a damn werewolf (finally!).  This happens a few more times until he finally attacks his hot wife and is killed by police officers.  While dying, Glendon apologizes to his wife (you know, for trying to maul her) and thanks the police for killing him.
Not exactly the most “action packed” monster movie I’ve ever seen. Hull is a bit of an elitist a-hole as the main character, especially to his wife. And his obsession with creating “artificial moonlight” makes little sense. There is a good scene in the middle of the movie during a party at Glendon’s personal botanical gardens. Well, it’s good in that you see some ridiculously awesome plants including one that looks like a miniature version of the Sarlacc pit from Return of the Jedi. I read somewhere that this plant was supposed to eat a child during that scene but it was deemed too graphic (or too awesome, maybe).  I say avoid this and start your werewolf journey with our next movie…

The Wolf Man
The Wolf Man (1941) – This is the movie everyone thinks of when you say “Wolf Man” or you are talking about the “original” Universal Monster movies.  Lon Chaney Jr stars as Larry Talbot who returns home after his brother’s death.  While fixing his dad’s telescope, Talbot happens to “peep” on the chick next door, Gwen.  He goes over and puts some creepy stalker moves on Gwen, who at first denies his advances. Later on, for no reason whatsoever, she caves and agrees to go on a date.  So Talbot escorts Gwen and her friend out to some old gypsy’s to have their fortunes read.  Lo and behold, the gypsy turns out to be Dracula!  Well, it’s Bela Lugosi playing the gypsy.  Anyway, turns out Bela is a werewolf, attacks and kills one of the ladies and Talbot beats him to death with a cane, but not before getting bitten.  This, of course, curses Talbot with werewolfism (and having the “werewolf poem” recited to him by every character in the movie every 5 minutes).  Talbot’s Wolf Man goes on a rampage and is finally beaten to death by the same cane that beat the gypsy Bela to death earlier in the movie.  Only Talbot gets beaten to death by his own father, The Invisible Man…or, Claude Rains, who played the Invisible Man.
Comparatively, this movie is much better than Werewolf of London. While Chaney’s Talbot does start off a bit lecherous when he puts the moves on Gwen, for the majority of the movie, he is a sympathetic character. You feel bad that he is cursed with this affliction (werewolfism). And the “full hairy” makeup by Jack Pierce is fantastic. Much better than the version used on Hull six years prior. The lady that plays Gwen, Evelyn Ankers, is really pretty. She makes a perfect scream queen and you like her character very much. It’s easy to see why this movie is still considered a classic and it also reaffirms why Wolf Man is my favorite Universal Monster.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) – This is the third Universal Wolf Man movie.  It’s actually a pretty good horror movie.  Boris Karloff had retired as Frankenstein’s Monster by this time so Bela Lugosi (Dracula), who was originally offered the part back in 1931,  played him.  However Bela was in poor health and many of Frankenstein’s Monster’s scenes had to be shot with Lon Chaney in the green makeup.  As written this movie served as a sequel to The Ghost of Frankenstein and The Wolf Man.
Larry Talbot’s tomb is broken into by grave robbers during a full moon (of course it’s a full moon). When the full moonlight shines on Talbot’s corpse, he is resurrected as The Wolf Man (now a zombie wolf-man, I guess). Talbot believes that if he finds Dr Frankenstein’s notebook, he can discover the cure for his lycanthropy. So Talbot travels across Europe on a killing spree before arriving at Frankenstein’s castle. Talbot “accidentally” awakens the monster. When the monster can’t take Talbot to Frankenstein’s notes, Talbot seeks out the doctor’s daughter, Elsa. Elsa gets him the notes but not before another doctor tries to fully revive the monster. Talbot transforms, the monster and wolf man fight and finally both drown in a flood caused by the townspeople to destroy the castle.
Like I said, this is a pretty good movie, and a great concept. It’s a bit misleading however as The Wolf Man is the focus of the movie for nearly the entire first half. The Monster comes into the story at the end and is only around for a short while. Otherwise, this is a worthy entry into the Wolf Man stable of movies.

She-Wolf of London
She-Wolf of London (1946) – This is the unofficial fourth Universal werewolf movie. The title is obviously patterned on the first movie in this list. It stars June Lockhart from Lost in Space and Lassie.  However, I can’t believe I wasted an hour watching this complete and utter debacle of a movie (yes, the movie is only 61 minutes long and it STILL felt too long).  It’s overly melo-dramatic and it’s NOT a horror movie.  It’s more of a thriller. The main character, Phyllis is about to be married.  However Phyllis believes she is the victim of a family curse that causes her to change into a murdering werewolf at night.  When bodies start piling up with their throats cut, she believes her curse is the reason why.  The movie makes sure to get every gut wrenchingly boring episode of guilt Phyllis goes through on film.  It really wants you to get how upset this curse makes her.  I get it, she’s upset, let’s move on.  And when you finally get to the end and are awaiting the glorious arrival of the “She-Wolf”, all you get is a “twist” ending (surprise, there’s no werewolf at all) that leaves you feeling betrayed.  And pissed.  W. T. F, Universal?  Now I see how the Universal Monster movies came to a crashing halt in the late ’40s.

Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.


2 Responses to “AWESOME-tober-fest 2010: Watching Universal’s Wolf Man movies”

  1. Pax–I gotta admit, I’ve been waiting for you to do an assessment on that recent Wolf movie with Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins (can’t remember the name). Ohhh, and the one with Jack Nicholson. Or is the focus vintage? Though, the vintage ones do have cooler posters….

    • The Jack Nicholson movie, Wolf, very nearly made the list this year. I’m not a huge Nicholson fan but I enjoy that movie. I wanted to do Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf from the 60s but I couldn’t get a copy of the movie.

      I review The Wolfman starring Benicio Del Toro on Thursday. Click the link above this article. It originally was a part of this article but when Curse of the Werewolf fell through I had to move it.

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