Lon Chaney Jr
Unlike other Universal Horror icons like Dracula and Frankenstein, the Wolf Man was essentially a brand new creation and many influential ingredients can be found here, including full moons, silver bullets and of course Lon Chaney Jr. as the lycan himself. With the help of Jack Pierceís brilliant makeup, Chaney does a lot with a little, from the little paranoid mannerisms to the beastly movements, helping to live up to the standards of his famed father while setting himself apart as a performer.
Like a lot of the classics, rewatching it recently may surprise you. At a quick 70 minutes, the film seems a bit slight and rushed, but what is there definitely works. Itís a little cheesy in tone, but the atmosphere of the town, the gypsy camp and the forest still help to set up a feeling of dread throughout, which culminates nicely with the filmís climactic hunt. You may also be taken aback by the amount of screentime the werewolf actually gets; for the majority of the film Iíd say itís more of an existential crisis than a monster movie. Thatís not a knock against the film by any means. Even the ďhumanĒ parts of the movie still work thanks to a surprisingly impressive cast, including CASABLANCAís Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy (who I remember best from TRADING PLACES, and even the great Bela Lugosi in a quick but vital cameo. You canít argue with a pedigree like that.
THE WOLF MAN is definitely a product of its time, so if youíve never seen it and youíre expecting something like a modern werewolf movie, you might be surprised. Itís still by all means an entertaining movie and a classic for what it represents to the genre, but with enough influential archetypes that a remake isnít as blasphemous as it sounds.
Commentary by film historian Tom Weaver: Weaver no doubt knows his stuff about this movie, presenting tons of trivia and useful information you probably didnít know. And while itís incredibly informative, Weaver talks quite fast and itís pretty obvious heís either reading everything or using extensive notes, which becomes a bit tedious as it goes on. If you can make it through, you just might learn a thing or two.
Monster By Moonlight (33:35): John Landis, who has plenty of experience with werewolves, hosts this documentary on the myth of werewolves throughout history, folklore and film. There are plenty of interviews from people of interest, including screenwriter Curt Siodmack and make up artist Rick Baker, who tells some great stories.
From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth (10:07): More interviews with werewolf experts and filmmakers like Joe Dante, Mick Garris and of course Rick Baker again, about the iconic status of the Wolf Man and what he represents, from escapism to a symbol of puberty.
The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney Jr. (36:50): A comprehensive documentary about the manís life and the difficulty of following in his fatherís footsteps. Youíll get some funny, intimate stories from biographers and horror experts, including one about Chaney Jr. being born dead until his dad dunked him in ice water and brought him back to life.
The Life and Art of Jack Pierce (25:00): Similar to the above doc, but focusing on the makeup designer who brought to life almost all of the famous Universal monsters. A unique look at the life and career of one of the unsung heroes of the genre
Universal Horror (1:35:17): An amazing feature length documentary (narrated by Kenneth Branagh) chronicling the history and impact of the golden age of Universal horror and the studio itself, with interviews from the stars and/or family of those involved. Itís pretty much a detailed look at every major film released during the period with insightful comments.
Wolfman Archives: A gallery slideshow of art from the film set to the score.
And a Trailer Gallery.
Extra Tidbit: Lon Chaney Jr.ís make up took over six hours to apply and three hours to take off.