With Van Helsing out this Spring Universal Studios has released a box set celebrating their groundbreaking monster movies of Hollywood’s Golden Age. My overview of the series (currently being updated as I get the chance to watch these films again) may be found here, and Bureau reviews of the Frankenstein and Dracula DVDS have been posted.
The final discs are dedicated to the Wolf Man.
Cast, Crew, and Other Info:
Universal adapts and develops the myth of lycanthropy.
Werewolf of London (1935) .
This is Universal’s first attempt at a werewolf movie, and it went a long way towards establishing the movie version of lycanthropy. It’s a superior period horror film.
The Wolf Man (1941)
Lon Chaney, Jr. gives life to the definitive Universal wolf.
Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man (1943):
As the first Universal crossover Monster Movie, this film establishes the fact of a Universal Monster series. It’s also the film that created the “stretch-armed” walk for the Frankenstein Monster.
She-Wolf of London (1946): This film is more a period mystery which makes use of the werewolf lore as established by Universal Studios. It’s not a great film, but it’s an interesting example of how the classic horror films influenced period movies.
These discs carry fewer features than the other two, but they include audio commentary on The Wolf Man, theatrical trailers for all films except The Wolf Man, a brief Stephen Sommers commentary on Universal’s classic and his own takes on werewolves, a documentary, Monster by Moonlight, and a Wolf Man mini-bust.
While hardly a great film Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man features every established Universal Monster cliché, from the opening decrepit graveyard (both fogbound and windswept) to the closing monster mosh. The attempt to maintain continuity with both The Wolf Man and The Ghost of Frankenstein meant that the Monster had to have Lugosi’s distinctive accent and a lack of sight (both effects of transplanting Ygor’s brain into the Monster). Test audiences could not buy a Frankenstein Monster speaking with Ygor/Lugosi’s voice, and the film’s second half was heavily edited before release. The consequences are often unintentionally comic. At one point, Lugosi mouths dialogue that has been muted. Throughout, he stomps around with his arms stretched out before him, because he was supposed to be blind. Of course, any explanation of this fact disappeared with the Monster’s dialogue. If this isn’t odd enough, the movie also features a musical number. It may not be great cinema, but it proves weirdly entertaining.
Listing every film save The Wolf Man as a “Bonus Film,” as if we paid the big bucks thinking that we were only getting that movie, and will be delighted when we learn that they’ve slipped on four others as a special favour.
Originality: 4/6 . Werewolf (and similar) myths are ancient, but Universal virtually invented the twentieth-century cinematic understanding of lycanthropy. Unless you’ve specifically studied such myths, what you know about werewolves derives from these films.
Effects: 4/6 These have to be viewed in the context of the time. The transformation are weak, but the make-up remains groundbreaking.
Story: 3/6: It’s not a bad story, but Universal uses it over and over and over….
Acting: 4/6. Lon Chaney, Jr. was a ham; the lesser-known wolves put in better performances.
Emotional Response: 3/6
This scoring system doesn’t quite do an eclectic DVD set justice, so I’m adding a +1 bonus for inherent coolness.
In total, The Monster Legacy Collection: the Wolf Man receives 28/42.
Universal Monsters drinking game, Rule #7: You must take a drink each time someone recites, “Even a man who is pure in heart/ And says his prayers by night/ May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms / And the autumn moon is bright,” or any variation thereof.