Universal Monster Marathon – Werewolf of London (1935)

This film has been completely overshadowed by the 1941 remake which starred Lon Chaney Jnr. as the doomed Larry Talbot who finds himself turning into a werewolf during each full moon. It’s a pity because Werewolf of London deserves rediscovery – Jack Pierce provided the make up for both movies and although his work here is far more basic than his definitive work on the  remake, it is nonetheless eerily effective, even to a modern audience.

Werewolf of London holds the distinction of being the first sound film made of the werewolf legend – there had been at least three silent movies dealing with the legend, with the most well-known being the 1913 Canadian production, The Werewolf.

When the movie was originally released it was considered too similar to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with Fredrick March which had only been released three years previously, and it was something of a flop but over time the film has become to be regarded as an imaginative classic of the genre. Initially Jack Pierce’s make up was identical to that used later on Lon Chaney for The Wolfman, but Henry Hull felt his performance was inhibited by the lack of facial movements, and so a more minimalistic make up was selected, which was something of a mistake, as the make up, although effective when in shadow, looks bland in comparison to later efforts. Henry Hull also plays a less sympathetic character than Lon Chaney, and this results in the audience finding it difficult to empathise with the doomed botanist who has been cursed with the bite of the werewolf.

The sounds of the werewolf howling in the movie is still effective today and was created by recording the sound of an actual Timber Wolf and mixing this in with the howls of actor, Henry Hull.

It’s a pity that Werewolf of London is one of those movies that has been obliterated by a definitive remake, because it has many merits and is essential viewing for any serious student of the genre. Without this movie there would have been no Lon Chaney Jr’s The Wolf Man, and it did prove that Jack Pierce was correct with his original make up. The werewolf in this movie often looks like a man who hasn’t shaved for three months, rather than the half man, half beast he is supposed to represent. Still it’s a great movie and Henry Hull dead serious performance makes the whole thing believable.

The film is available on DVD, doubled with 1941’s The Wolf Man as part of the Universal Monsters Series, and as always the discs come with a wealth of special features, though most of the emphasis is on the Chaney movies. It’s an excellent transfer of the original negative to digital disc though and I can not recommend this release highly enough.

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One Response to “Universal Monster Marathon – Werewolf of London (1935)”

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