Starring: Claude Rains, Lon Chaney Jr, Bela Lugosi, Warren Williams, Evelyn Ankers
Director: George Waggner
Part of the Universal monsters cycle, The Wolf Man is an enduring horror classic. While there had been werewolf movies before this, this was the one that grabbed audiences by the throat and made them sit up and take notice.
It stars Lon Chaney Jr as Larry Talbot, who has been educated in the US and is returning to Wales where his father (Rains) remains in their family home. Warned about strange creatures in the night, he ignores them as being local superstition, until he is attacked by a strange beast and finds himself changing into something mere science cannot explain.
This film was hugely popular and Chaney Jr would do several more Wolf Man films, setting some of the tropes that remain in werewolf horrors today. The costume is iconic and actually looks very little like a wolf, and more like a shag pile rug with legs, but it certainly has it’s charms. This films brooding imagery, it’s damsel in danger and it’s vibes of ancient evil curses make this one a delight to sink into and just go with.
The performances are all really delightful. There’s something about Claude Rains that just screams that he knows more than he’s telling and he’s out for himself, and yet he’s also very likable. A rare quality. Lon Chaney Jr seems to really relish is role as a tortured man coming to terms with the unthinkable. But there’s also a host of side characters. Bela Lugosi makes a showing, there’s damsels in distress, not all of whom will make it out alive, and there’s also a gypsy fortune teller, just to amp up the sense of magic and malevolence.
There is a point to be made that this iteration of werewolves made them more sexy, according to popular film theory. Like Dracula, it’s not just about killing for sustenance but about a sexual thrill too. Here, there’s a desperate frenzy to that emotion, that under the spell of the full moon, a werewolf cannot stop himself and is no longer in control at all. I have to agree with this, and it adds a lovely layer to this film, and yet I think it’s the melodrama and that costume that make this film a true classic for me.
Women, beware! Don’t go out at night…
See It If: classic late night horror fare, this film is often laughable by modern standards, but also genuinely entertaining.