Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Wolf Man (1941)

Dir: George Waggner (Horror Island, South of Tahiti, Gunsfighters)
Cast: Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Maria Ouspenskaya, Bela Lugosi, Ralph Bellamy
USA, 1941

Seen: April 10, 2010

Reason to Watch & Review: For The Wolfathon *

After the Vampathon last year in anticipation for The Twilight Saga: New Moon and recently finishing the Sword & Sandals Marathon, I couldn't resist taking on a new marathon. Aptly titled Wolfathon will be a marathon of werewolf films in anticipation for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, to be released June 30, 2010.

Starting off classic, I decided to go to the roots with the 1941 version of The Wolf Man. Although not the earliest version out there, this feels like it's quite the touchstone. I do wish I had seen this one before the 2010 remake, but it wasn't in the cards. This version has all the makings of a classic horror film, with a strong leading character, a girl and a mysterious creature with it's own lore.

We hear that lore a lot. In fact, I was surprized at how clear the film was. Not picture quality clarity, but about the characters, story and lore. The actor who plays the Wolf Man is introduced as such even though we don't 'see' that until later in the film. The lore surrounding werewolves is re-iterated several times to us word-for-word. That felt totally bizarre to me, that there was little mystery left for the audience to unravel. But, one thing this does is have a clear plot for this film while allowing the opportunity to present ideas, or to even question, human nature. Themes of duality, good vs. bad, repression, even mental illness are all touched on. I wish they were explored more, but I'm sure it will be in more werewolf films that we will come to in the future. It did touch more strongly on guilt, worry and dealing with the fear of the 'monster within', which I'm sure will be a re-occuring theme in werewolf films. The idea of being aghast at your own nature, especially when it's new and thought to be irreversible, is a fascinating topic to explore.

One other key element of all werewolf films has to be the effects. What did the creature look like, how did they show the transformation? Without getting too spoiler-y, it's nicest to say that this one feels very 'of it's time'. Often creative editing is at play here, so we don't even always see anything. If the overall atmosphere was ramped up I think it would have worked more and that's the one thing I wanted more of: a creepy atmosphere. I didn't feel transported at all, or was ever scared. It plays mostly like a drama with creature effects but really does feel like it lays the ground work for films ahead.

I'm not seen tons of werewolf films, but so far can tell it's going to be a very different journey than that of vampire films which are often about seduction and power. Here we see full on primal nature and loss of control. Volatile waters ahead, me thinks!

Shannon's Overall View:
I enjoyed it
I'll watch it again
I'd recommend it to fans of classic horror films

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© Shannon Ridler, 2010

* The Wolfathon is a marathon exploring werewolf films in anticipation of the 2010 release of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

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