Thursday, October 23, 2008


On the twenty-third day of Halloween, my boo love gave to me ... twenty-three silver wolfman-head walking canes!


Glorious black & white cinematography, a sober Lon Chaney, a wolfie-bashing Captain Renault, sizzling gypsies, a Tattooed Bela, a creepy Baskerville Hound-free forest, Mortimer Duke's bro, and a classic Universal monster.

More details here.


The Universal monster pantheon is comprised of the most horrifying first names in history: Victor, Imhotep, Vlad, and ... um ... Larry. Englishman Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney) returns home after a lengthy stay abroad and brings with him a load of guilt, a talent for fixing telescopes, and a heavy American accent. He reconciles with his estranged father (Claude Rains) and prepares to take over as caretaker of his family estate. Larry woos a local girl who works in an antique store (Evelyn Ankers), after spying on her with said telescope and creepily talks his way into asking her out. Later that night, Larry and the girl take a walk, but the girl has invited a girlfriend as a chaperon. Cockblocked! They visit a gypsy camp where the girlfriend gets her fortune read by a googly-eyed gypsy psychic (Bela Lugosi). Bela sees nothing but badness in the girl's future, so he asks her out for a bite. Bluah! Meanwhile, Larry and the girl have taken a walk in the scary woods to talk about junk and stuff. A scream breaks up the sexual tension and Larry goes to the rescue to find girlfriend being attacked by a giant wolf. Unfortunately, girlfriend doesn't survive but Larry beats down the wolf with a silver-tipped walking stick. Larry's luck worsens when he's bitten himself and the wolf later turns out to be Bela. The local constable (Ralph Bellamy) suspects that Larry is either a murderer or is going insane, or both. The were-gypsy's mother (Maria Ouspenskaya) informs Larry that he now bears the burden of a curse where he will turn into a wolf and gobble up the citizenry. The only way out of this predicament is death by silver, though Larry was probably hoping it'd be chocolate or booze. Larry doesn't believe a word but when he transforms into a snarling beast out for blood and offs a few townspeople, reality starts to set in. The constable steps up the hunt for the monster, Larry's girl stands by his side, and Larry comes to terms with his inescapable, hairy-footed fate.


Of all the Universal monster legends, the Wolf Man has always been the most lonely, most tragic and most depressing. I mean there's nothing the innocent victim of the wolf bite can do to save himself: no fix, no cure, no salvation. He hurts, he restrains himself, but eventually he must give in and succumb to the cursed destiny that's been thrust upon him. He's the ultimate victim who not only suffers alone, but spreads his suffering to his loved ones and strangers. This 1941 original version is the literal granddaddy of werewolf movies and is considered as a classic, and it certainly deserves that status, but only to an extent. The movie is indeed morose and atmospheric and represents the best aesthetics of the Universal monster movies: stark cinematography and lighting, creepy set design and groundbreaking make-up work. The first appearance of the wolfman sent chills up and down my arm, not so much because he's scary, but because of his iconic status. But the movie lacks a riveting narrative or character psychology to make it compelling or satisfying, regardless of the outcome. The story is too simple, lags in the middle between transformations, and wraps up a little too predictably. Lon Chaney is deservedly unforgettable in the title role with his deep-set eyes and sad sack face that conveys his inner turmoil and torture, aspects that would embody the man in real life. The Wolf Man's thrust-upon destiny will remain as the film that laid out the mythos and legend for subsequent multitudes of werewolf stories and films. And for that aspect alone, it should retain is classic status.

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