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Friday, 29 October 2010


They sure don't make em like they used to - The Wolf Man (1941) may seem creaky when viewed today but that's nothing to do with age. The film was always like that. The days when Chaney prowled the screen under Jack Pierce's make-up, terrifying audiences have long gone, and the modern viewer has seen so much blood and gore, not to mention CGI monsters, that it's difficult to ever imagine this movie being scary.

Though if you can put yourself in a certain frame of mind the film is terrific entertainment and at only 1 hour, seven minutes it delivers its story in a fast and furious rate.

Filmed on a Universal back-lot that is supposed to be Wales, the film is mostly studio bound - atmospheric mist is used to mask several sins but for all that the film still works and offers horror entertainment that can be enjoyed by anyone of any age, and besides these old monsters are far better than all the modern serial killers or teenage vampires.

"Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms and the moon is full and bright."

Lon Chaney Jnr plays the part of Larry Talbot, the doomed American educated Welshman who is bitten by a werewolf and then carries the curse himself. The actor manages to create enough sympathy within the doomed character to get the viewer rooting for him, even if at the same time we are eager for his next wolf  transformation. The make-up was done by the legendary Jack Pierce.

The make-up was based on Pierce's earlier creator for Henry Hull in the film, Werewolf of London, but this time the artist, for he truly was an artist, improved on his earlier creation and the look of Chaney's Wolf Man is awesome - virtually every werewolf make-up since has been in some way influenced by his creation here. And it's not only films that have felt the films influence but folklore too and many of the aspects of Curt Soidmak's script are mistaken for genuine folklore.

There are several different DVD editions available but by far the best is the set that was released under the Universals Original Monsters series. The film is in a double pack with earlier werewolf movie, Werewolf of London and there are some great extra features. There is a Monsters by Moonlight documentary hosted by John Landis, a commentary, an archive feature artwork, stills and lobby cards and the original theatrical trailer.

The second movie in the set, Werewolf of London holds the distinction of being the first sound film made based on the werewolf legend. The howling wolves heard in the film were actual animals recorded in Canada and then mixed in with actor, Henry Hull's voice to make the sound all the more convincing. It's not remembered as fondly as Wolf Man which is a shame because it is a great film that had the bad luck of being obliterated by a definitive werewolf film following so soon afterwards from the same studio.

Chaney went on the play the Wolf Man several more times, even meeting with other popular Universal monsters such as Dracula and Frankenstein's monster in what were the celebrity death matches of their day. But never did he better his first film as The Wolf Man.

Excellent stuff.

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