While at my parents house this weekend my Father and I spent a few hours watching Werewolf films from his Universal Monster's Wolf Man collection. Werewolves have never been my thing, I'm a Zombie gal, but my beloved father loves em, can't get enough of them. He told me while we were watching these that he remembers walking to the Del Mar theatre with his parents to see The Wolf Man when he was 8 years old. That would be in 1943. He said that he always liked the Wolf Man because "he didn't want to be a Monster. He fought and fought and fought, but he couldn't help himself." Of the Big Four Universal Monsters, perhaps the Wolf Man is the most sympathetic. After all, he was bitten trying to save the life of a girl and then he was bludgeoned to death by his own father. Heavy stuff. That is the original Wolf Man. We watched the sequel, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, starring Lon Chaney Jr as Larry Talbot and Bela Lugosi as Frankenstein's Monster. This film takes place 4 years after the original. Some unfortunate grave robbers "resurrect" Larry Talbot from his resting place in a spooky old cemetery in Cardiff (I love me some spooky cemeteries.) Larry remembers who he is, and more importantly WHAT he is, and sets out to destroy himself. Frank meets the Wolf Man is a "Quest for Death" film. "Show me the way to die" Larry asks anyone who will listen. He reunites with Maleva, the gypsy woman from the first film that knows his secret. Maleva knows who could end Talbot's life: Dr Frankenstein!! Off they go to some vaguely familiar foreign village to find the good Doctor. What they find are ruins and a frozen in ice Frankenstein's Monster. Larry thaws out Frank's Monster, meets the Doctors daughter Elsa, endures a horrible musical number by the drunks in the village (I'm serious) and enlists a young Doctor to "reverse" Dr. Frankenstein's experiment to drain the life out of him. Mayhem ensues.
Two things about this film. After watching it I was officially in love with Lon Chaney Jr (real name: Creighton Chaney.) He plays a poor sap like no one's business. And he is so damn likable. You can't help but feel for the big lumbering ox. The other thing about this film is that Bela Lugosi is a TERRIBLE Frankenstein! Thank god he turned down the original film! Of course, he was 60 when he filmed this. Most of the shots were achieved using stunt doubles. All he does is lumber around and growl like a WOLF!! Some think Lugosi's interpretation is brilliant. I have to say NO!
By the way, Chaney is the only actor to portray all of Universal's Big Four Monsters!
The next film we watched was She-Wolf of London (1946). This film has nothing to do with the Chaney films. In fact, it's not even a horror film. It's more like a Hitchcock wannabe suspense film. That doesn't mean its bad, its actually quite good, even though both my Father and I guessed the big secret about 15 minutes into the film. The big distraction for me was June Lockhardt in the main role. She is quite good and very beautiful, but I couldn't quit thinking of "Leave it to Beaver" or whatever damn show she was on. There is also some kind of Lesbian/Fear of Losing one's Virginity/Mother Complex subtext to this film, which I don't feel like getting into now or ever.
Finally! The last film we watched was also the oldest: Werewolf of London from 1935. This film bombed when it was released, which is why it was essentially re-made a few years later with a more sympathetic protagonist. The film begins with a respected Botanist searching for the rare Mariphasa plant in Tibet. I don't speak a word of Tibetan, and I knew they were not speaking the correct language. The "Tibetans" are speaking Cantonese and the lead actor, Henry Hull, is speaking pure gibberish. Anyway, the Botanist (Hull) finds the plant but is bitten by an Asian Man Wolf in the process. He returns to England with his find and the Werewolf on his tail (hee hee, tail.) Hull's Werewolf is a refined wolf, putting on his coat and hat before killing everyone in his path! Things don't end well for him, as you can imagine. Jack Pierce did the make-up for this film which surprised me. Pierce was the Universal Make-up master, doing the make-up for Frankenstein and the Wolf-Man. The make-up job on the Wolf in this film is strange. Just some hairy hands and tufts of hair around the face. Turns out Hull didn't want to sit through the long make-up process and convinced Producers that his performance as the Wolf would better if the audience could see more of his face. Or the Producers thought it would be better. Whatever. That's why Chaney is forever linked to the Wolfman and not Hull.