31 Weeks to Halloween: Werewolf of London (1935)
"Beware the stalking being! Half human - half beast!"
Another week close to Halloween, another weekend to celebrate the classic Universal Monsters of the first half of the 1900s. Last weekend, we saw true terror meet its mate in The Bride of Frankenstein, but this Saturday we're focusing on the mindblowing transformation of Wilfred Glendon (played by Henry Hull) from man into beast in Werewolf of London. The film was released in 1935 through Universal Pictures and was the first mainstream Hollywood film to feature a werewolf; a pretty notable achievement because many people unfamiliar with this film would assume that title would go to The Wolf Man - which wouldn't be released for another six years. Although Werewolf of London may not be the first werewolf film ever made (that goes to The Werewolf, a silent film from 1913), it's the first one of its kind to hit big Hollywood and be seen across theaters nationwide on that caliber. Like all of the classic Monster movie stories, the plot to Werewolf of London is very simple and basic, but don't let that make it sound like it's not great; what's great about these movies are the simplicity and the ease of watching of them. Modern day cinema is filled with these crazy twists and turns and mindfucks - which are awesome - but the classic Universal Pictures films did an equally great job at telling a story without all the extra. And that's just what Werewolf on London did: it tells a great story with fascinating characters. The only downside to this film - and a reason I feel it has a bad reputation - is that there's just not enough action to it. The movie has its fantastic transformation scenes, fun character exchanges and lovable story but there's just too much dialogue and not enough action to pair with it. Take a look at The Invisible Man: there's plenty of dialogue in the film but it's matched with enough action scenes to go with it. In the parts when Werewolf of London lacks action, the film feels drawn out and slow - leading the film to feel like it's way longer than it's 75 minute runtime. But with that said, I truly do love the plot to this movie and I love the way the story unfolds.
Wilfred Glendon is a botanist who travels to Tibet in order to seek out and bring home the rumored mariphasa plant - a plant known as the wolf flower that takes it life from the moon. The mythical property surrounding the plant is that a blossom from the plant can delay the effects of lycanthropy. While in Tibet, Glendon is attacked and bitten by what is later revealed to be a werewolf. Glendon returns to London where he succeeds in growing the wolf flower in artificial moonlight; but not before being "introduced" to Dr. Yogami who claims to have met Glendon in Tibet. Dr. Yogami warns that if his bite was indeed from a werewolf, then Glendon should know that he would transform into a werewolf and that the mariphasa plan could be used to delay the reaction, at least temporarily. Sure enough, Glendon eventually transforms and wrecks some havoc, and as he goes back for the mariphasa blossoms to treat the side effects of the bite, it seems the flowers have been cut from the plant. Who could have stolen the flowers, and for what purpose?! And how is Glendon to deal with his inhuman demise to transform into a bloodthirsty, ravenous creature at full moon?
I totally can't do justice to how great of a little story this film has, it really is clever, simple, and fun. But what's better is the actual werewolf scenes! While there aren't many (or enough) of them, the scenes are an absolute blast and the transformation scenes in particular are just flat out fucking awesome. Unlike modern horror where the whole transformation is done using CGI and all that, these special effects would literally involve adding or removing bits of the hair (like on the hands, for example) at a time and shooting a quick shot to create a timelapse. It's fucking sweet. While the transformation scenes aren't as intense or brutal as An American Werewolf in London or Wolfcop, I can't help from falling in love with them anyway. And the build up to those scenes are also pretty awesome, making this movie a truly fun watch. I just wish it was more. But if you're the type that can appreciate "less is more," then you'll probably think this movie is yet another kick-ass Universal monster movie!
So far in our countdown to Halloween, all of the previous Universal Monster movies we've seen have been nothing short of absolutely fucking amazing. Werewolf of London feels like it falls short of the high expectations the films predecessors set, which I would assume is the reason most horror fans go to The Wolfman for a werewolf film instead of this one. I totally get it - and while this movie is far from bad, it just feels like it isn't quite up to par with many of the other films in the classic monster roster. But if you haven't yet seen it, it's a must-see just once, even if it's just to see how werewolves were portrayed eighty five years ago versus how they are portrayed today. I think, in the very least, everyone can appreciate that!