Wolf Man (1941) Horror Movie Review
Horror movies Review
“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…”
Sure, Dracula gave a face and a mythology to the vampire in the 1800s, but the werewolf didn’t get similar treatment for quite some time. It was only with “The Wolfman” that the werewolf got his due, creating the template for lycanthropes everywhere—a haunting, atmospheric story about a mildly creepy man who (through no fault of his own) turns into an unholy mixture of man and beast.
Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr) returns to his ancestral Welsh home after many years away, to reconcile with his estranged dad who looks nothing like him (Claude Rains). He immediately starts acquainting himself with his old home, including being rather creepy towards a lovely woman named Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers), who is working at her dad’s antique store. He even accompanies Gwen and her friend Jenny to a local gypsy camp to have their fortunes told.
But after having her fortune told, Jenny is horribly killed by a wolf; Larry beats it to death with his silver-topped cane, but not before being bitten. You can probably guess what happens next—the wolf turns out to be the gypsy fortuneteller (Bela Lugosi), and Larry’s bite mysteriously heals overnight. And after being warned by an aged gypsy woman (Maria Ouspenskaya) that he has now contracted the curse of the werewolf, Larry finds himself undergoing a terrible transformation at night… and killing.
It’s a sign of how good “The Wolfman” is that its dated special effects (hello, lap dissolve!) and prosthetics don’t hamper it as a story—it’s an intelligent, slowly-unfolding story about an ordinary man whose good deed backfires in a big way. It’s also less “boo! Scary!” horror than psychological horror—Larry is left wondering if the dead gypsy passed on his horrific curse, or if all the talk of werewolves has given him clinical lycanthropy. In other words—is he cursed, or is he insane? Not a fun choice.
And George Waggner wraps the movie in suitable atmosphere—lots of misty forests, quaint rural villages, shadowy chapels and the occasional outbursts of shrieking and offscreen violence. The beginning is a little awkward (enough canned father-son “reunion” conversations!) but kicks into gear when the characters go wandering off to see the gypsies—and after that, it’s a slow bloody build as all the scientifically impossible things come true, and Larry finds himself increasingly trapped.
And while some of the werewolf stuff (including the famous rhyme) was made up for the movie, it adds a note of mythological creepiness, as well as some lovely incantations (“The way you walked was thorny, through no fault of your own…”).
And Lon Chaney Jr. did an excellent job bringing a sympathetic edge to the werewolf, turning convincingly from a jovial engineer/aristocrat to a man haunted by his horrific change. The one problem: he isn’t very sympathetic at the beginning, since he basically stalks Gwen (looking in her window with a telescope?) and won’t get lost when she tells him to. Ankers gives a good performance as a local love interest, and Ouspenskaya gives a spectacular performance as the old gypsy lady—eerie, sympathetic to Larry’s plight, and with a dry sense of humor.
This special edition will be released just in time for the Benecio Del Toro remake, and as such they’re also giving it the two-disc treatment. Older features include a feature commentary, Wolf-Man Archives, “Monster By Moonlight”, and there’s also a disk full of new documentaries—one of Universal Horror movies, a documentary on the life and movies of Lon Chaney Jr, the life and art of Jack Pierce, and one on werewolf legends throughout history.
Despite a slightly creepy lead character, “The Wolfman” is still an enduring classic—it’s no longer exactly scary, but it is deliciously spooky. Definitely a must-see.
A practical man returns to his homeland, is attacked by a creature of folklore, and infected with a horrific disease his disciplined mind tells him can not possibly exist.
About Wolf Man (1941)
Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy
Runtime: 70 minutes
Director: George Waggner