Friday, October 29, 2010

Reader Recommendation: The Wolf Man

"Fuck Remakes. The original Wolfman is a classic for a reason! It really is THAT good. Lon Chaney Jr. is so charming and sympathetic. The atmosphere is flawless. A true representation of Classic Monsters and Classic Horror."--Eric

Let’s do this.

Quick Plot: Prodigal son Larry (Lon Chaney, Jr.) returns home after the death of his brother. With nothing else on his agenda, he takes a liking to his pretty next door neighbor Gwen, who looks especially good in the not-at-all-creepy view of Larry’s suggestively aimed telescope.
But putting inappropriate stalkeriness aside, Larry is a charming enough man who takes Gwen out on a romantic walk through the woods. Along the way, the pair encounter a spooked tribe of Gypsy fortune tellers with ominous warnings.
Silly Gypsies. Like they ever matter.

Oh. Right.

Before you can say Spider Baby, Larry is wrestling with a puppet werewolf and doging Gypsy murder accusations. The next day, he’s baffled to find no scars to prove his fateful evening, though he does discover his feet furrying up during the next full moon.

I did not grow up with The Wolf Man, which is something of a shame. What terrified my mother on basic cable showings never really had the chance to trouble my mind, especially considering my general aversion to werwolf cinema is only mildly stronger than my disconnect with giallo.
And yet, I heartily enjoyed The Wolf Man in all its black and white soundstage glory. Universal Horror has undeniable charm that simply works, seventy years old or not. 
High Points
Sure, it’s occasionally strained and overdramatic, but the instrumental score is also glorious and grand

There’s something quite refreshing about a horror movie not relying on a token bad guy. While the Wolfman is of course the villain of the tale, he’s also a figure of sympathy. Similarly, despite place for it, the film doesn’t cast any of the hunters in annoyingly Gaston-like roles as a plot convenience
Low Points
For a fairly short film, there seems to be an awful lot of downtime in The Wolf Man that makes it feel so much longer than its 70 minute running time
Lessons Learned
The best way to beat a wolf puppet is by using a wolf cane
Not all peeping toms are necessarily bad people, but that doesn’t really make them any less creepy 
Listen to the Gypsies. Always, with no exceptions whatsoever, listen to the Gypsies

Fans of classic Universal horrors will be happy to own the deluxe DVD, which includes special features AND three bonus films. Casual fans who prefer their lycanthropes dripping in crimson blood may be slightly bored, but everyone owes it to themselves to at least pay tribute to one of the classics with a watch, preferably when the moon is full.


  1. "There’s something quite refreshing about a horror movie not relying on a token bad guy."
    I think this is the appeal of the werewolf genre. With vampires and zombies, at least in the classic sense, once a person is turned they permanently become an entirely new creature. Their human self is gone forever and they are bloodthirsty with a single-minded goal of carnage. Werewolves are only evil and dangerous during their transformation but they return to their human form which causes tension in how we feel about them and their fate. The character is usually conflicted and guilt-ridden about what they have become and what they find they are capable of.

    I really liked the original Wolf Man, the new one was pretty disappointing. As far as werewolves go, American Werewolf in London is my favorite and probably in my top 20 movies of all time if I had to narrow it down.

    Great review!

  2. Great point. I've never been huge on werewolf cinema, but on a psychological/moral level, they are quite interesting. That's definitely one of the highlights of American Werewolf, where the lead is constantly advised (by dead friend/conscience) to just kill himself to save others. It's a really sad situation to be in. I'd love to see THAT aspect tackled a little more, though such a choice runs into winy troubles quite easily.

  3. Don't forget about the gypsies in Thinner...Kari Wuhrer can put a spell on me anytime!

    The Wolf Man is a favorite of mine, but so aren't the other Universal films from the era, so take that as you may. Glad to hear you enjoyed it, though I am not surprised that you did. For me it's all about the atmosphere, and this is a film that has it in spades. I do agree that it does drag at moments, but I do somewhat appreciate the slow moments in contrast to so much that cinema has to offer us these days.

  4. How did I forget Thinner? HOW DID I FORGET THINNER?!

    I actually LOVE Thinner, especially as a prime example of '90s horror. Curse me with a Gypsy diet!

    Yup, the atmosphere is rocking here. Love those fog machines and fake forests! It totally makes me want to get transported, STAY TUNED style into this world.

  5. The fat make-up in Thinner alone is worth the price of admission!