John Ary here with another installment of Ain’t It Scary Reviews. Today, a werewolf botanist terrorizes the streets of London.
The Wolfman with Lon Chaney Jr. wasn’t Universal Studios first try at turning a werewolf into a bankable hollywood star. 6 years earlier there was Werewolf of London. It has just about everything you could expect from a classic werewolf movie... excellent transformations, lots of screams from damsels in distress, a little bit of humor, strong cinematography and Jack Pierce’s legendary makeup work.
The story involves a botanist in search of a rare flower in Asia. When he finds it in a secluded mountain passage, he also discovers a strange beast, a wolf dressed in human clothes. The botanist fights off the animal, but not before suffering a large bite on his forearm. When he returns home to his laboratory in London, we see all of the rare plants he’s collected over the years, but he is fascinated by this new plant; so is another man who introduces himself as the fury attacker in Asia. He warns our botanist that he will turn into a werewolf at the next full moon, but the rare plant can stop his transformation temporarily. From there the botanist succombs to his new disease, and stalks his fellow Londoners at night.
The movie is effective and just as good, if not better than The Wolfman. For one, I like this version of the werewolf better. He’s more human. Jack Pierce wanted to give our protagonist played by Henry Hull the full fur treatment, just like the one he would later use on Lon Chaney Jr., but the makeup was scaled back for the sake of the actor and production costs. With less fur on the face, the actor is able to make more use of his expressions. Also, he’s less animalistic. The first night he changes into the beast, he stops to put on a coat and hat before leaving his house. It also seems like the animal side allows him to play out his inhibitions. Instead of going strictly after random people, his jealousy and disdain for those close to him propel his attacks. The camera work is really good as well. The director uses lots of movement and a shallow depth of field in several scenes to create a strong mood. I also like how humor is sprinkled throughout the picture to lighten the mood in between werewolf kills. It keeps the piece from becoming too depressing and makes the werewolf scenes more impactful.
It’s difficult to feel too much empathy for the protagonist though. He’s kind of a dick. He doesn’t listen to the warnings from his fellow werewolf, he puts his work before his marriage and he just isn’t very likable. Lon Chaney Jr. made for a much more sympathetic character, one that we could root for. In the end, this master botanist deserves much of the blame for the atrocities committed by his fury alter-ego.
This film bombed at the box office. Some say it too closely resembled Paramount’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from a few years earlier. It’s easy to make those comparisons as some of the transformation effects and the story structure are very similar. Taken out of that context though, the film stands on its own as an excellent Universal Monster story; one that could be paired with the Spanish version of Dracula as double-feature of classic Universal Monster movies that deserve more love.
Werewolf of London is currently streaming on Netflix. It’s also available with She-Wolf of London on DVD here.
Check back in tomorrow for another Ain’t It Scary Review as we watch an anthology of terrifying tales aimed at young African-American men.
Here’s a look back at the Ain’t It Scary Review installments that you might have missed:
The Ground Rules to the Project
#1 Son of Frankenstein
#2 Scream, Blacula, Scream!
#3 Black Sabbath
#5 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
#6 Invisible Invaders
#7 The Mummy’s Curse
#8 Lord of Illusions
#9 Night of the Demons
#10 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
#11 The House of the Devil
#12 Dr. Phibes Rises Again!
#14 The Catman of Paris
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