“There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who believe in flying saucers and those who don’t.” The pilot of this short lived, very underrated, TV series began with narration from a bounty hunter from Brooklyn, New York, who looks and sounds a lot like a cowboy. This show is so 1980s and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
A killer is on the loose. Someone, or something, stalks potential victims in a nightclub while “Silent Running” by Mike & The Mechanics plays. On his palm is a pentagram, which bleeds. In “The Wolf Man” (1941), a pentagram marked the next victim of the werewolf, here it serves as a warning to the werewolf that the transformation will soon occur. The show is vague as to whether or not the full moon has any effect. Eric Cord (John J. York) has everything going for him. He’s in love with his best friend’s sister, Kelly (Michelle Johnson), but she’s reluctant to tell her father about their relationship.
Eric, he cruises while listening to “The Future’s So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades)” by Timbuk 3, so you know that he’s loving life at the moment. What could possibly go wrong? Eric is roommates with said best friend, Ted (Raphael Sbarge). Ted has been disappearing every weekend, claiming to be job hunting. Eric returns home and finds his that his dog, Heathcliff, is on edge. Eric also finds Ted in the dark, acting peculiar. Ted confesses to being the serial killer, but Eric dismisses him. Ted explains that while as a dock worker in Baja, California, he was what attacked by a werewolf. He knows that he must die because he is losing his humanity and the beast within is taking over. Eric is worried, not that his friend is werewolf, but that Ted has lost his mind. Eric humors Ted and ties him up. This was also reminiscent of “The Wolf Man” and even “Monster Squad” (1987). Tying up werewolves never really works out. Eric watches over him, armed with a pistol. Ted loaded the gun with silver bullets, forged from a silver crucifix he had melted down.
After midnight, Ted transforms and breaks free from his constraints. He attacks Eric before being shot. Death frees Ted from his curse, but Eric was bitten, so now he will become a werewolf. While recovering in the hospital, Eric is tormented by nightmares, just like David Naughton in “An American Werewolf in London” (1981). He is facing murder charges. He doesn’t tell anyone that Ted was a werewolf, but does protest that he acted in self-defense. Only Kelly is willing to believe him because Ted left her a cassette tape, explaining the situation. Remember cassette tapes? Anyone? Heathcliff the dog snaps at his former master. It seems that animals can always spot a werewolf. Kelly is not wholly convinced until she locks Eric up in a self storage unit and she hears him transform. He spends the night in the unit, but the murders continue, so he deduces that the werewolf who attacked Ted must be in the area. If this alleged werewolf is the first in the bloodline, then Eric can break this curse by killing it. Every incarnation of the werewolf legend has its own variation of the rules, but I like that this series provided some hope for the protagonist. An ongoing TV series couldn’t be as bleak as most werewolf movies.
Since Eric skipped out on his court date, his bail bondsman hires a bounty hunter, Alamo Joe Rogan (Lance LeGault). Meanwhile, Eric tracks down the werewolf that attacked Ted, Captain Janos Skorzeny (Chuck Connors). A werewolf who wears an eye-patch? How freaking badass is that? Skorzeny can sense that Eric is of his bloodline and promises that tonight they will make the transformation. Skorzeny instincts are strong enough that he doesn’t need to wait for the sign of the pentagram. Eric has Kelly tie him up in a motel bathroom, which probably wouldn’t have done much good, then she is abducted by Skorzeny. Alamo Joe also arrives and takes Eric into custody. Eric’s only concern is saving Kelly. He transforms in the back of Alamo Joe’s truck and escapes. Alamo Joe shoots him several times, but not with silver bullets, so the beast isn’t even stunned. Alamo Joe will never be the same after being exposed to the supernatural.
Eric’s love for Kelly carries over into werewolf form. Skorzeny brings her to a shack in the woods, filled with rotted skulls, so this is likely where he feeds on a regular basis. Skorzeny seems to able to control his transformation and waits for Eric to arrive before he goes full-on werewolf. A fires breaks out and the two werewolves battle savagely in the flames while Kelly flees to safety. I wonder if this scene inspired the similar scene in the “The Wolfman” (2010) remake? Skorzeny throws Eric out of the burning shack and disappears. Eric wakes up the next morning and finds Kelly watching over him. He must now say goodbye to her and his life, leaving to hunt Skorzeny. Little does Eric know, but Alamo Joe is also hunting him and the bounty hunter knows to arm himself with silver bullets this time. We last see Eric hitchhiking, which calls to mind Bill Bixby on “The Incredible Hulk” (1978 – 1982). The pilot episode of “Werewolf” was a masterful way of launching a series. Heck, it could’ve have worked as a stand alone movie. “Nothing is worse than a nightmare, accept for one you can’t wake up from.”
“An American Werewolf in London”
This is one of my favorite films. Probably my favorite horror flick not directed by John Carpenter. “An American Werewolf in London” was the reason I went trick-or-treating as a werewolf in the third grade. I was really looking forward to seeing John Landis at New York Comic Con 2011, but he cancelled his appearance, but it was cool because I made a good friend while waiting in line.
David Naughton and Griffin Dunne starred as David and Jack, two American teenagers backpacking across Europe. Trekking across the Welsh moors, they enter a foreboding pub called the Slaughtered Lamb. They receive an unkind welcome from the locals and get booted when they question the pentagram etched on their wall. David and Jack are warned to stick to the road, advice they do not heed. They hear eerie howls and realize that they are being stalked by something unknown in the darkness. Such a scary scene. A beast attacks and Jack is savagely killed. David is badly injured, but gets rescued by the patrons of the Slaughtered Lamb, who had a change of heart. The beast is shot dead, but only the body of a nude man is visible to David before he loses consciousness.
David awakens in a London hospital. Despite being greeted by an attractive nurse, Alex (Jenny Agutter), he suffers from horrific nightmares. Then, he is visited by the mangled remains of Jack, who is quite jovial considering his circumstances. Jack informs David that their attacker was a lycanthrope, a werewolf, and that David is cursed to turn into a wolf during the next full moon. Jack will remain in limbo until the wolf’s bloodline is severed, meaning that David must die. A grim prognosis, but David is able to distract himself until the next full moon. Alex invites David to stay with her while he continues to recuperate and they hop in the sack almost immediately. Clearly, David has the best health insurance ever as very few hospital stays end with the patient being seduced by a sexy nurse.
Frank Oz, the voice of Yoda and Miss Piggy, cameos as a delegate from the American embassy. Dr. Hirsch (John Woodvine) takes it upon himself to investigate the validity of David’s story, making a pilgrimage to the Slaughtered Lamb. Hirsch is greeted with same surliness which David and Jack had received. Prominently featured in the pub are a chess player played by Brian Glover and a barmaid played by Lila Kaye.
Jack continues to pester David, looking more decomposed than he did before. David is still in his state of denial, shrugging off Jack’s appearances as a mental disorder of some kind. Alex is working the nightshift at the hospital when the full moon rises and David painfully transforms into a wolf, the most celebrated scene in the entire movie. Special makeup effects were designed and created by Rick Baker. *hold for applause* Baker’s hope was for a bipedal werewolf in the tradition of the Lon Chaney, Jr. makeup created by Jack Pierce, but John Landis insisted on quadruped, a demon dog, a hound from hell. David’s killing spree includes three hobos, a yuppie couple, and snooty businessman.
David finds himself in the wolf cage of a zoo the next morning and has a hard commute to Alex’s apartment (or flat as they call it across the pond) because he is buck naked. He hears about the killings and finally accepts the horrible truth. He decides to take his own life by slitting his wrists, but he cannot go through with it. He then meets up with Jack, who is practically just a skeleton at this juncture, in the back of a Picadilly Circus porno theater. All of David’s victims are present and stage an intervention of sorts, dependent on him to commit suicide. Apparently, he wouldn’t require a silver bullet to accomplish this feat. Too little, too late as the full moon rises and David transforms again, going on a rampage through Picadilly Circus. He is cornered in an alley by a S.W.A.T team. Alex races past the police barricade and tries to reason with the beast, but to no avail. Just as the werewolf is about to attack her, the police gun it down. Alex sees the wolf turn back into David and she breaks down in tears.
“An American Werewolf in London” proves that a horror / comedy can truly do justice to both genres. John Landis successfully provided the audience with laughs and scares. There was a pseudo-sequel in 1997, “An American Werewolf in Paris,” which could do neither. And, even though is was sixteen years later, the special effects were inferior to the original.
As I kid, I held “The Howling” in low regard compared to “An American Werewolf in London.” I needed to mature a bit before I could appreciate Joe Dante’s film based on the novel of the same name by Gary Brandner. Joe Dante initially pegged Rick Baker to create the special makeup effects, but Baker resigned so to work with John Landis on his lycanthropic opus, which he had committed to several years prior. Rob Bottin, who had previously worked on John Carpenter’s “The Fog,” playing Blake, the head ghost pirate, was a more than antiquate replacement. Rick Baker was still billed in the credits of this film as a “consultant.”
Karen White (Dee Wallace), a popular news anchor, is being used as bait by the police to apprehend her stalker, known only as Eddie, who they suspect is also responsible for a series of savage murders. Eddie (Robert Picado) uses smiley faces as calling cards and lures Karen to a peep show. Eddie undergoes a metamorphosis before being shot dead by the police. Karen suffers from post traumatic stress disorder following this encounter and cannot recall what she saw. Kevin McCarthy plays the real unsympathetic head of her network, who puts Karen on the air in hopes of boosting ratings, but causes her to have a public freak-out. Karen’s husband Bill Neill (Christopher Stone), a former collegiate athlete, is helpless to help her though this crisis. Dr. George Waggner (Patrick MacNee) recommends that Karen and Bill spend time at his wilderness self-help commune. This character was name after the director of “The Wolf Man.”
Chris (Dennis Dugan) and Terry (Belinda Balaski), romantically involved colleagues of Karen’s, are digging up dirt on Eddie. His full name is Eddie Quist. Terry’s last name is Fisher, named after Terrence Fisher, director of “Curse of the Werewolf.” Eddie’s body has mysterious disappeared from the morgue. They do further research and learn about werewolves from a bookstore owner played by Dick Miller. According to this version of the legend, a shape-shifter can transform day or night and is in no way reliant on full moons, but silver bullets are still effective, along with fire. “An American Werewolf in London” followed rules which were in direct opposition. Full moons were required, but silver bullets were not necessary. Any old bullet would suffice.
Karen and Bill are introduced to some bizarre folks up at the commune. John Carradine, who had portrayed Count Dracula back in the 1940s, plays a suicidal elderly gentleman. Marsha (Elizabeth Brooks) is the resident vixen, with eyes on Bill. Her borderline feral brother, T.C. (Don McLeod), drools over Karen. It is painfully obviously to Karen that they need to leave this place, but Bill is attacked by a wolf. Dr. Waggner advices them to wait until Bill recovers before they travel. Bill gets drawn by instinct to Marsha since she was the werewolf who bit him and they engage in the most unnerving love scene in cinematic history. The unbridled lust of these beasts was a strong theme in the original novel and meant to serve as the main appeal to life as a werewolf.
Terry visits Karen and Bill at the commune, which I think is the scariest sequence in the movie. Even as a kid, I had a strong feeling that Terry was not going to survive, so I just kept waiting for the moment of terror. She discerns from artwork left behind that Eddie Quist had spent time at this commune. She also learns that Marsha and T.C. are Eddie’s siblings. While on the phone with Chris, Terry gets attacked and killed by an enormous werewolf. This wolf turns out to be Eddie. Karen discovers Terry’s body, then she gets cornered by Eddie, who begins the transformation again. It’s hard to measure up to what Rick Baker created in “An American Werewolf in London,” but Rob Bottin still did an amazing job. Karen waits until the transformation is completed before she throws acid (?) in his face.
Chris comes to her aid, armed with silver bullets. His first confrontation is with Eddie, whose face is almost dissolved down to the bone. Eddie refers to Chris as “bright-boy,” a moment parodied in Kevin Smith’s “Dogma.” Next, Chris saves Karen from the rest of the werewolf colony. Dr. Waggner had tried using self-help techniques to modernize his brethren, but a revolt is underway. Chris backs them into a barn with his rifle, locks them inside, and sets the barn ablaze. Karen and Chris escape, but not before she gets bitten by a werewolf who turns out to be Bill. Karen opts to go out in a grand fashion, turning into a werewolf on live television. Unlike all the other werewolves in this film, Karen looked like a cute shih-tzu when in werewolf form. Chris shoots her with a silver bullet before the feed gets cut. Some viewers believed what they had seen while others thought it was just a hoax. It was left unclear whether or not Karen’s death was in vein, but Marsha is revealed to have survived the inferno in the barn.
Thus far, there have been seven sequels to the “The Howling” and they are all terrible. Joe Dante went on to make “Gremlins” while Rob Bottin worked with John Carpenter again on “The Thing.” Whenever I would see Robert Picado as the hologram on “Star Trek: Voyager,” it was hard to connect that performance with Eddie Quist, the deranged and perverted werewolf from “The Howling.”
*I was initially going to pen an article entitled “Werewolves of 1981,” which would have included “Wolfen,” starring Albert Finney and Edward James Olmos, but I could not get myself motivated to critique that particular film at this time. I also neglected to declare a winner between “The Howling” and “An American Werewolf in London” as each individual reader can reach their own verdict.
**Forrest J. Ackerman, the famed collector of movie memorabilia, cameos in “The Howling” during the bookstore scene. Ackerman also cameos in the Michael Jackson “Thriller” video, in the theater watching a werewolf movie. “Thriller” was directed by John Landis and special makeup effects were created by Rick Baker, the men behind “An American Werewolf of London,” so Ackerman has six degrees of separation thing happening here.
As I mentioned in my retrospective of “The Wolf Man,” this is not a remake of the Lon Chaney, Jr. film, but rather a loose adaptation of The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore. No Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing. Oliver Reed stars instead. Terence Fisher was in the director’s chair though, having helmed “The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll” with Oliver Reed and Christopher Lee the year before.
The opening credits are displayed over a close-up of Oliver Reed’s eyes, made up as the werewolf and he sheds a single tear. You better soak this moment in because you don’t actually get to see him as the werewolf until the climax. Keep an eye out for Anthony Dawson and Desmond Llewellyn from the 007 films in the opening sequence. A comely young chambermaid (Yvonne Romain) gets violated by a scruffy beggar who had spent decades locked away in a dungeon. She escapes, but passes away during childbirth. Her son, Leon, is raised by a sympathetic lord (Clifford Evans) and a servant (Hira Talfrey) who had cared for his mother during her final days. During his baptism, dark clouds and lighting forewarn that there is a terrible curse on this child. The holy waters boils and a demonic image is visible. The priest (John Gabriel) is disturbed by all this, but continues with the ceremony.
When Leon is a boy, his parents keep him in a room with bars on the window to protect himself and others. Leon sports fangs and a furry brow, but never goes full on wolf-boy. Goats are killed in the vicinity, but a poor dog gets all the blame and is shot dead. The curse doesn’t reveal itself again until Leon is grown and attending a party with gypsy girls. He becomes ill when the moon is full and excuses himself. A woman tries to take advantage of him in this vulnerable state and brings her back to her room. Her passion stirs the beast within and Leon finally transforms. Only his hands (paws) are shown to the audience as he goes on a spree, killing the woman, his friend, and the owner of the dog who’d been unjustly killed years earlier.
Leon returns to his surrogate parents, bending the bars on his window, and learns of his awful curse. The priest who’d baptized Leon offers him protection at a monastery, but Leon runs off in a panic. The priest informs Leon’s love interest, Cristina (Catherine Fellar), that Leon has likely taken life through no fault of his own. Leon is jailed, but his father knows he won’t stay locked up for very long, so he tracks down a silver bullet from the gentleman who killed the dog. Leon transforms in his cell, which is bad news for both his cellmate and the guard posted outside. The audience finally gets to see what the werewolf looks like, a cross between the Lon Chaney, Jr. makeup and a gorilla.
An angry mob follows from below as Leon flees across rooftops. Leon hurls a flaming hay bale into the crowd and it appears as if some of the extras were burned. Leon is then cornered in a bell tower by his father and is shot dead with the same silver bullet that was meant for him as a boy, but used on the dog instead. Unlike most werewolf movies, Leon did not turn human again after his death. The credits rolled and there was no sequel. Leon Corledo was no Lawrence Talbot, but Hammer Films still needed one werewolf to round out their monster stable. Terence Fisher went on to direct a remake of “The Phantom of the Opera” in 1962 and several Frankenstein and Dracula sequels.
The end of an era. The final Universal Studios film to feature Count Dracula, The Wolf Man, and the Frankenstein Monster. Though this was a comedy starring the famed team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, the plot is no more absurd than “House of Dracula,” while both Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. play their signature parts straight, adding to the humor of the film. It’s so important in a horror / comedy for the monsters to remain scary.
It’s great to see Bela Lugosi return as Dracula. It’s hard to believe that he only played the count in two films as he is so identified with the role. And what of poor Lawrence Talbot? I thought he was cured of his lycanthropy in “House of Dracula?” I guess it was only temporary. Nobody plays torment like Lon Chaney Jr.. Glenn Strange may have more screentime as the Monster in this film than “House of Frankenstein” and “House of Dracula” combined. He even has a couple lines of dialogue.
Bud Abbot is caught up in a love triangle, but the monsters get in the way. Lawrence Talbot wants Abbott and Costello, who played a pair of dim witted baggage handlers, to assist him in his battle against Count Dracula. Even though Lawrence and Dracula only crossed paths briefly in “House of Dracula,” this film implied that they were sworn enemies. Actually, this may have been the first film to establish the vendetta between vampires and werewolves.
Count Dracula has arranged for the Monster to receive a new brain, which belongs to Bud Abbot. If only Fritz the hunchback hadn’t stolen the criminal brain seventeen years earlier. All the characters gather in a laboratory and all hell breaks loose. Dracula and the Wolf Man fall to their demise and the Monster gets burned on the docks. Abbott and Costello flee, then in a nice cameo, we hear yet another master of horror, Vincent Price voicing the Invisible Man.
Abbott and Costello would also meet Dr. Jekyll, played by Boris Karloff, and a mummy in the follow up films. Meanwhile, Universal Studios added one more classic monster to their stable in the 1950s, the Gill Man from “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” in 1954. Luckily, all the classic monsters were not done for. They were merely dormant, waiting to be resurrected by Hammer Films.
Here we go again. Even though Count Dracula (John Carradine) and Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) were vanquished in “House of Frankenstein” a year earlier, they are both inexplicably resurrected for this third monster rally and coincidently arrive at the very same clinic in search of cures for their supernatural afflictions. Of course, this clinic is located in Vasaria. There seems to be a lot of villages called Vasaria in these movies.
Unlike all the mad scientists in the past, Dr. Franz Edelmann (Onslow Stevens) is kind and sympathetic. He is the first doctor to have the common sense to not try and revive Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange), who conveniently washed up in cave beneath the good doctor’s clinic. What are the odds? Lionel Atwill is again cast as an inspector and in a nice twist, the traditional hunchbacked assistant is now played by an attractive actress (Jane Adams).
Dracula does seem sincere in his intentions, but his lust for Doctor Edelmann’s other assistant (Martha O‘Driscoll) has him returning to his wicked ways and he infects Dr. Edelmann with vampire blood via a transfusion. Dr. Edelmann is able to stays sane long enough to destroy Dracula and cure Lawrence of his lycanthropy. A rare glimmer of hope for the Wolf Man.
Tainted blood of Dracula eventually morphs Dr. Edelmann into a “Jekyll & Hyde” type character and he goes on a rampage before reviving the Monster. The final scene of the laboratory burning to the ground was lifted from “Ghost of Frankenstein,” so that is Lon Chaney Jr. and not Glenn Strange thrashing in the flames. Though “House of Dracula” has some interesting variations of previously established hallmarks, overall it is not as fun as the previous monster rallies.
“House of Frankenstein” neglected any monster on monster action, but this film could have used some. John Carradine has more screentime as Dracula than he did in “House of Frankenstein,” but all the monsters played again second fiddle to a doctor. This was more acceptable when Boris Karloff filled that role, but this imitation Jekyll & Hyde character doesn’t quite measure up. It may have been different if Dr. Jekyll actually was a character in this film, but Universal didn‘t tackle Robert Louis Stevenson’s creation until “Abbott & Costello meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” in 1953. “House of Dracula” is probably my least favorite monster rally, save for poor Lawrence Talbot finally being liberated from his horrible curse… albeit temporarily.
Universal Studios was really starting to crank out monsters movies in the 1940s. This was the third consecutive film to feature the Frankenstein Monster, second in a row for the Wolf Man, and now Count Dracula was added to the mix. Working titles for this monster rally were “Chamber of Horrors” and “The Devil‘s Brood.”
Boris Karloff returns to the franchise that made him famous as Dr. Gustav Niemann, a deranged scientist who also claims to be the brother of an assistant to the original Dr. Frankenstein. It would have been more interesting if he was related to one of the bodies stolen by Dr. Frankenstein to create the Monster, explaining their uncanny resemblance. Dr. Niemann escapes from prison with a hunchback named Daniel, played by J. Carrol Naish. They murder and assume the identities of proprietors of a traveling chamber of horrors.
Dr. Niemann unintentionally resurrects Count Dracula, who is sadly not played by Bela Lugosi, but rather John Carradine. Carradine as the count is more subdued than Lugosi when trying to blend into society. He only reveals his true nature in private. It is in this first half of the film where Lionel Atwill pops up again as an inspector. Dracula and Dr. Niemann strike a bargain, but Niemann quickly betrays Dracula, causing Dracula to be disintegrated by sunlight when he cannot return to his coffin by dawn.
Dr. Niemann and Daniel continue to the village of Frankenstein to retrieve the Monster and the Wolf Man. This was a major continuity error as “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” was set in Vasaria. They then travel to Vasaria, where Dr. Niemann’s laboratory is located. I guess one has to assume that the villages of Frankenstein and Vasaria are close enough that the mad scientist lairs can be zoned in either? This is another monster movie with an oddly touching subplot in which Daniel the hunchback falls in love with a beautiful gypsy girl named Ilanka, played by Elena Verdugo, who is herself in love with Lawrence Talbot. What is it about Lawrence Talbot and his connection to gypsies? Lon Chaney Jr. is tragic as ever and is put out of misery when Ilanka shoots him with a silver bullet.
Glenn Strange plays the Monster for the first of three times. I really prefer Strange as the Monster when compared to Chaney Jr. and Lugosi in the previous two films. They were icons in their own right and looked peculiar with electrodes protruding from their necks. Boris Karloff was not well known before the first “Frankenstein” in 1931. The same can be said for Christopher Lee in Hammer Films’ “The Curse of Frankenstein” in 1957. Conversely, how bizarre was it for Robert De Niro to appear as the Monster in Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel? It’s better to have a lesser known actor portraying the Frankenstein Monster, so the audience cannot look past the makeup.
“House of Frankenstein” was Boris Karloff’s swansong to the Universal Frankenstein franchise and it was a fitting finale. Karloff is dragged to his death by the Monster while being chased by angry villagers, reenacting Karloff and Colin Clive in the climax of the original “Frankenstein.” Karloff’s journey from monster to mad scientist had come full circle. Even though the film’s title, “House of Frankenstein” doesn’t make much sense as the primary location is Dr. Niemann’s laboratory, it is probably the most heralded of the monster rallies.
The first of what is known as a “monster rally.” After playing the Monster in “Ghost of Frankenstein,” Lon Chaney Jr. reprises his signature role as Lawrence Talbot AKA The Wolf Man, while Bela Lugosi finally plays the part of the Monster after turning down the original “Frankenstein” twelve years earlier.
The first half of this film plays like a straight sequel to “The Wolf Man,” then midway it crosses over into the Frankenstein franchise. Maria Ouspenskaya returns as Maleva the gypsy, who is now a surrogate mother to Lawrence. The role of Elsa Frankenstein is recast with Ilone Massey, taking the place of Evelyn Ankers. This was a wise decision as Ankers had appeared in both “The Wolf Man” and “Ghost of Frankenstein,” so her presence as Elsa in this film would have been a bit confusing since she was far more recognizable as Lawrence Talbot’s love interest than Dr. Frankenstein’s granddaughter.
Lionel Atwill makes his third consecutive appearance in a Frankenstein film, playing the mayor of Vasaria, and the incomparable Dwight Frye was again featured as an angry villager. Patrick Knowles is upgraded from a thankless role of Lawrence Talbot’s rival in “The Wolf Man” to a compassionate doctor who is ultimately seduced by the legacy of Dr. Frankenstein.
Bela Lugosi’s performance as the Monster has been widely criticized. His dialogue, references to Ygor’s brain, and apparent blinding in “Ghost of Frankenstein” ended up on the cutting room floor, resulting in his very awkward posture and stumbling to be unintentionally comical. Though I greatly admire Bela Lugosi as an actor, I will admit that he was not physically imposing enough to be convincing as the Monster. In “Son of Frankenstein” and “Ghost of Frankenstein” the Monster is often referred to as a “giant.” The heavy brow and flat top head complimented Boris Karloff‘s features, but they don’t blend well with Lugosi at all. If Lugosi had originated the part in 1931, then monster makeup maestro Jack Pierce would have created a makeup that was unique to him.
The Wolf Man should have been the underdog in final scuffle, but Lon Chaney Jr. vs. Bela Lugosi seems to be a big mismatch in favor of Chaney. Even with suspension of disbelief, the cutting between Lugosi and his double is too apparent. It would have been a simpler if the filmmakers didn’t even bother casting an actor the caliber of Lugosi and just hired a stuntman to play the part.
I do enjoy that the villagers flood the castle as apposed to burning it down, which was already becoming a cliché. This historic clash of titans plays better as a sequel to “The Wolf Man” than it does the fifth “Frankenstein” film because that storyline was quite frankly becoming muddled.
“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.” My personal favorite of the Universal Classic Monster films and werewolves are, without a doubt, my favorite all time monster. I went trick-or-treating as a werewolf when I was in the third grade. They are way cooler than those Euro-trash vampires… My sister would get ticked if she heard me say that.
Curt Siodmak, the screenwriter of “The Wolf Man,” created the lore that is associated with werewolves. Transformations occurring during the full moon (though there are no shots of the full moon in this film), pentagrams as the mark of the werewolf, and silver being the only way to vanquish a lycanthrope. The first sequel, “Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man,” would reinforce the full moon aspect of the legend. Naturally, Jack Pierce was responsibly for the Wolf Man makeup just as he had been for the Frankenstein Monster and the Mummy. I find it ironic that Lon Chaney Sr. starred as the original Phantom of the Opera in 1925 and Claude Rains, who would play the Phantom in the 1942 remake, was cast as Sir John Talbot, the father of the Wolf Man, played by Lon Chaney Jr.. In an odd way, it’s like the Wolf Man is the son of the Phantom.
“The Wolf Man” also features a well done love story. In previous monster movies, you would have a mad scientist betrothed to woman who can’t understand his megalomania (“Frankenstein” and “The Invisible Man”) or an undead individual trying to claim the immortal soul of an innocent woman (“Dracula” and “The Mummy”). This is the only love triangle where you’re rooting for the leading lady, Gwen Conliffe played by Evelyn Ankers, to end up with the monster because he is a monster through no fault of his own. Lawrence Talbot is a hopeless romantic, who is sadly destined to meet with a bad end.
Lon Chaney Jr. won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Lennie Small in a film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in 1939. Chaney Jr. is unique from other Oscar winners in that he spent the majority of his career pursuing horror roles. He would also play the Frankenstein Monster, Kharis the Mummy, and Count Dracula. One can suppose that he was trying to live up to his late father, who was known as “the man of a 1,000 faces.”
Universal’s first werewolf movie, 1935’s “Werewolf of London,” starring Henry Hull, failed to inspire audiences. Contrarily, Lawrence Talbot became the next inductee into the pantheon of classic monsters. Lawrence Talbot was sired by a gypsy fortune teller, played by Bela Lugosi in an extended cameo. Maria Ouspenskaya plays the mother of Bela, who does her best to look after Lawrence when he is cursed to be a lycanthrope and gives him a charm which just might hold the beast within at bay. Lawrence instead chooses to give the charm to Gwen because her safety matters the most to him. A charm would also be used in 1994’s “Wolf,” starring Jack Nicholson. Sir John ties his son to a chair to help prove that there are no such thing as werewolves, but to no avail. Sir John kills his son with the same silver tipped cane that his son used to kill Bela the gypsy. Gwen was saved, but such a bummer of an ending. Werewolves are so tragic. Dracula is evil and needs to be destroyed. The Wolf Man, not unlike the Frankenstein Monster, is purely a victim of circumstance.
Unlike, “Dracula” and “Frankenstein,” the Wolf Man wasn’t based on a novel, so when Hammer Films got around to making a lycanthrope flick, they made “The Curse of the Werewolf” in 1961, which was loosely based on Werewolf of Paris, a novel written by Guy Endore in 1933. Oliver Reed starred and sported a werewolf makeup that had some simian features mixed in with Jack Pierce’s 1941 Wolf Man design. Keep an eye out in “The Curse of the Werewolf” for supporting actors would appear in the early James Bond films.
1981 was a big year for werewolves with the release of both “The Howling” and “An American Werewolf in London.” These films both paid tribute to “The Wolf Man,” but “An American Werewolf in London” was closer in tone to “The Wolf Man,” in telling the story of individuals in the wrong place at the wrong time, whose lives are destined to end in tragedy. “The Wolf Man” was remade back in 2010, with Benicio Del Toro cast as Lawrence and Anthony Hopkins as Sir John. Though not a commercial success, I do enjoy how this film tied plot devises from other werewolf movies together to create a sense of uniformity in the legend. Anthony Hopkins was bitten while on an expedition in the mountains like Henry Hull in “Werewolf of London” and Benicio Del Toro suffered from horrific nightmares in the vein of David Naughton in “An American Werewolf in London.” The Wolf Man in this movie was also running across the rooftops, wearing a bloodied white shirt, which was very reminiscent of Oliver Reed in “The Curse of the Werewolf.” (Credit goes to artist Phil Gormley for noticing the Hammer influence.)
Lawrence Talbot became the star of the 1940’s “Monster Rallies.” Count Dracula was always up to his wicked ways and the Frankenstein Monster was portrayed as a simple minded brute post-Boris Karloff, so by default, the Wolf Man had to be the protagonist. He battled the Frankenstein Monster to a draw in “Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man,” a gypsy girl fell in love with him in “House of Frankenstein,” he stopped a mad doctor in “House of Dracula,” and he teamed up with Bud Abbot and Lou Costello in “Abbot & Costello meet Frankenstein” for a final showdown with Count Dracula, played by Bela Lugosi. Lawrence Talbot is without question the hero of the Universal Studios Monster saga.