31 Weeks to Halloween: The Wolf Man (1941)
Night monster! Prowling...killing...terrifying a countryside...with the blood lust of a savage beast!
Our weekly countdown to Halloween night continues as we move on to our next Universal Monsters movie for the week! It's been a few weeks since we've gotten one of the "big six" monsters, but that changes with today's movie: THE WOLF MAN from 1941! This film is the second werewolf film in the Monsters franchise - following up to 1935's less successful Werewolf of London - but it's the beginning film that would spawn four sequels starring Lon Chaney Jr., the star of The Wolf Man. The film became seriously successful and popular during it's time, and the effects of the movie are still felt today: The Wolf Man character has had a pretty significant impact on Hollywood's depiction of the werewolf in the years that followed. So if you couldn't tell, this film was a major success, and for good reason: the film tells one of the most fun yet sinister tales of the Universal Monsters franchise - one of a man who turns into a werewolf and stalks the woods! The makeup and design of the Wolf Man are significantly improved from Werewolf of London, and he just looks way more terrifying, feral, and dangerous. And Lon Chaney Jr.'s character - Larry - has no control over his scary transformation, and that just makes it that much more terrifying. But before I get ahead of myself...
The Wolf Man tells the story of Larry Talbot who returns to his home of Wales after the passing of his brother. After doing some light spying on a beautiful girl across the street using a telescope, he makes his way over to her job to flirt, and he ends up buying a cane with a silver werewolf head on top, not even knowing what a werewolf is. The love interest Gwen (played by Evelyn Ankers) tells him the tale of the supposedly mythical creature, and he pretty much blows the legend off... until later that night, when Gwen, her friend Jenny and him wander into the woods to meet with gypsy fortune tellers (one of whom is Bela Lugosi!). It is there that Jenny (Fay Helm) is attacked by a werewolf - and Larry comes to her rescue, but not before being bitten by the ravenous beast. And so begins Larry's reign of terror over the village as he transforms into a werewolf by the moonlight, and haunts the woods looking for his next victim. While the rest of the villagers mock and laugh at his suggestions, deep down Larry knows there's an evil brewing inside of him that awakens when the moon is bright. Will Larry be able to break the werewolf curse, or will he be doomed to terrifying transformations and brutal killings for the rest of his days?! Find out in THE WOLF MAN!
What's great about almost all of these Universal movies we've seen during this countdown is the simplicity of the plot, the simplicity of the sets and acting, and the simplicity of the resolutions. Films today insist on taking you on these extravagant rollercoasters of emotions, mindfucks, and twists and turns - which are awesome, don't get me wrong - but the sheer simplicity and effectiveness of these early monsters movies from the '30s and '40s definitely speak to its legacy. The Wolf Man is such a simple film - dude gets bitten by a werewolf protecting his love interests friend, he becomes a werewolf and haunts the woods until the townsfolk band together to try and hunt the beast down, not knowing there was a human deep down inside all along. Like I mentioned before, The Wolf Man looks absolutely incredible when he's fully transformed, and for a monster movie, that's obviously very important. But what's equally important for werewolf films in particular are the transformation scenes themselves, seeing as that's just as scary as the final product itself. And while there aren't exactly many scenes with it, the main one where the viewer sees Larry's feet get progressively hairier and hairier I'm sure was enough to make audiences in 1941 lose their minds. The real transformation highlight for the film, however, is at the end when Larry transforms back from werewolf to human, as you see the layers of hair begin to disappear and the skin underneath returns to normal human skin. And it's a pretty awesome show, I gotta say!
I love everything about The Wolf Man, even down to the massive holes in the story (like why is the first werewolf in the film an actual, walk-on-all-fours beast while Larry is moreso a hairy man who walks up right). The story has a lot to do with legend and lore - two things I've grown up loving - and the public's take on the truth behind the folklore. Werewolves in general have always been such awesome legends on the big screen, but it's gotta be acknowledged that this is where a lot of those other great films got their basis! Mix that with some cheap humor and awesome woods scenes, and The Wolf Man was destined for classic horror greatness. The Wolf Man has easily become one of the most identifiable characters in all of horror history, and he has easily become one of my favorite monsters ever. This film screams simplicity yet effectiveness, and the story and execution are just so fucking good. I think The Wolf Man is one of the strongest monsters movie we've hit on our countdown so far, and I'm eagerly awaiting the sequels to make their way into our countdown in the coming weeks. This is seriously not one to skip out on!