By ROBERT TINNELL
Rather than raid their vaults to bring to light previously
unreleased horror pictures, Universal has opted instead to
repackage several of their classic horror titles as The
Legacy Collection. With the exception of House of Dracula
(it is included in the Dracula Legacy set), all of
these titles -- and most of the extras -- were already made
available some years back.
For The Wolf Man Legacy Collection, the studio
included the namesake 1941 release starring Lon Chaney Jr.,
as well as Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943),
Werewolf of London (Universal's first attempt at
a werewolf story) and 1948's She-Wolf of London.
Knowledgeable fans realize, of course, that Lon Chaney Jr.
played the Wolf Man in three more films -- House of Frankenstein,
House of Dracula, and Abbott & Costello Meet
Frankenstein. However, I think Universal probably made
a wise choice in packaging the collection as they have.
But more on packaging later ...
Okay, we've covered the de rigueur boilerplate. Chances
are if you read the B Monster regularly, you're more than
a little familiar with these films and their history and
the circumstances of their release. So forgive me if I don't
waste precious minutes of your life with dry synopses and
endless cast lists. Let's pretend we're sitting in the hotel
bar at a horror movie convention and I'm holding forth most
passionately on the subject.
The keystone of this collection is, of course, The
Wolf Man (1941). This was Universal's last successful
shot at creating an iconic monster until The Creature in
the '50s (don't wave your arms about your head shouting
something about the Creeper, please). They had tried once
before with a lycanthrope some six years earlier and failed.
But this time they got it right.
I often like to ask fellow fans which of the Universal
classic horrors actually delivered. And by that, I mean
as a total package, really and truly gave you what was promised.
For me personally, I always throw out films like The
Black Cat and Dracula's Daughter. Well, The
Wolf Man delivers. And the big reason it delivers --
the main virtue among a host of virtues -- is the story.
Curt Siodmak could write. The Wolf Man is tight,
action-packed and thrilling. The characters are likeable
and sympathetic. What's more, Siodmak manages to create
a mythology practically from whole cloth. In fact, do yourself
a favor: watch The Wolf Man back-to-back with Werewolf
of London; you'll be amazed at the innovation in the
A big reason the script is so well regarded is the fabulous
cast the studio lined up for the film. Chaney Jr. played
all the classic monsters, save for the Invisible Man, but
Lawrence Talbot, The Wolf Man, would be his signature role.
And while Karloff and Lugosi both saw their famous creations
interpreted by others (including Chaney Jr.), The Wolf Man
was only portrayed by Lon.
And as for the rest of the cast? I'm still amazed at the
caliber of actors they were able to attract. I mean, for
me, even though the role is small, I think Lugosi is doing
some really great work. He plays Bela, the cursed Gypsy
man who ends up responsible for Larry Talbot's condition.
There's a shot where you can see the pain in his eyes --
and that medium close-up alone is unforgettable.
Claude Rains turns in a great performance -- but then,
didn't he always? Evelyn Ankers is the perfect leading lady.
And Maria Ouspenskaya? I'd venture to say she, too, launched
an iconic figure with her performance as the old Gypsy woman.
Director George Waggner does a wonderful job of storytelling.
Whenever I watch the film I am reminded of a fairy tale.
The art department created a magical fog-shrouded world
for tragic Larry Talbot to inhabit. And the music is dead-on.
Like I said before, The Wolf Man delivers, and delivers
Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man was sequel to both
The Wolf Man and Ghost of Frankenstein. It
also marked the beginning of the so-called "monster rally"
films. It starts out quite promising, with two men attempting
to rob Larry Talbot's tomb. The production design is splendid,
and the direction, editing and music are most effective.
To my mind, it is one of the scariest/creepiest scenes in
the whole Universal horror run.
is sometimes the case when breaking new ground, mistakes
are made, even with the formidable Curt Siodmak writing
the screenplay, and the film develops in an episodic fashion.
What's more, changes were made after the film was shot that
seriously dilute Bela Lugosi's performance of the Monster.
The original script and production, for instance, required
that the Monster was blind and could speak. Removal of both
those conditions in post-production resulted in a Monster
whose behavior could be described as confusing at best.
Overall, though, I find myself returning on occasion to
Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man. I think it's fun,
I like the cast (including the great Dwight Frye, Lionel
Atwill and Madame Ouspenskaya), I like the sets, and what's
more, I think it's a great little film to get young kids
interested in the classic monsters.
And then there's She-Wolf of London (1946). Long
before Lost In Space, June Lockhart headlined this
short film that has nothing to do with the previous Wolf
Man films. She plays a young London heiress who is apparently
inheriting more than just money. Seems there's some sort
of family curse that leads her to believe she's a werewolf.
The plain truth here is that this is a bad film all the
way around. Who knew you could fit so little in an hour?
Director Jean Yarbrough directs with indifference. The staging
of the action scenes is dreadful. The cast is not particularly
attractive or engaging. There are a couple of nice bits
of set dressing and design but all in all, worth a look
only to say you've seen 'em all. If it hadn't been included
on this disc (or on the earlier double-feature releases
of Universal horrors the studio released), I wouldn't even
bother to own it.
Which brings me to the fourth and final film in the collection:
Werewolf of London (1935). Henry Hull has the title
role of botanist Wilfred Glendon. While on an expedition
to find a rare flower in Tibet, Glendon is attacked by a
werewolf. He returns to London and it is there that he himself
begins to change -- and as a result starts hunting the thing
he loves most.
Werewolf of London did not catch on like The
Wolf Man. There are a number of reasons for this. Henry
Hull is just not very sympathetic. He doesn't convey the
tragedy in the way Lon Chaney Jr. would years later in The
Wolf Man. Part of this is due to the script. And part
of it is due, I suppose, to Hull's rather fussy demeanor.
Larry Talbot is a guy we can sit and have a beer with. Wilfred
Glendon would most likely refuse our company!
Again, the script is to blame for much of the film's problems.
For one thing, the werewolf is a bit of a wimp. Mere bullets
can kill him, and he is on occasion bested in a fight. More
significant to the film's detriment, however, are the characterizations.
There's only one truly sympathetic character among the leads
-- Warner Oland as Dr. Yogami -- and even then there are
inconsistencies in his character that are troubling. Wilfred
Glendon is an arrogant, cold fellow with a superiority complex.
His wife, Lisa, is spoiled and openly flirts with an old
flame. She sends conflicting signals to her husband and
the other man, and is, in general, terribly unreasonable.
Her "aunt," played by veteran Spring Byington, is thoroughly
unlikable -- a poor attempt at comic relief.
A few of the scenes, characters and decisions in the film
suggest the writers and director Stuart Walker were trying
to replicate some of what James Whale had done so effortlessly
in his groundbreaking horrors. Hence, a sequence with two
old lady alcoholics is meant to capture Whale's quirky but
organic use of humor -- think Una O'Connor. Alas, the attempt
All the above notwithstanding, I have to say that I still
enjoy Werewolf of London. Hull's make-up is crude
and yet effective. The opening sequence, photographed at
the venerable Los Angeles County film location Vasquez Rocks,
is fun. And the historian within me enjoys watching the
evolution of the werewolf character from Werewolf of
London to The Wolf Man.
The overall packaging and presentation of The Legacy
Collection is very nice. The various menus are lovingly
rendered. In fact, you could actually let the menu run on
Halloween night as a mood-setter -- the crickets and wolf
howls are wonderful. I could not detect any loss in quality
in any of the transfers between now and their original DVD
releases. There are extras, the most notable being the very
good Monster By Moonlight documentary that was first
released as an extra on the original DVD release of The
Wolf Man. Tom Weaver's audio commentary on The Wolf
Man itself, again recycled, is of great value. And the
few trailers present are always welcome.
Finally, Universal has included another "documentary"
with the package in an effort to promote their recent "monster
rally," Van Helsing. A number of fans have complained
about this, but I would counsel caution in their criticisms.
If not for Van Helsing, I'm not certain the Legacy
Collection would exist. And I want the Legacy Collection
to succeed, as I am, quite frankly, desperate to see the
studio dig deeper into the vaults and release The Black
Cat, The Raven and so on. Despite their best efforts
on these releases, Universal is a business. If they aren't
making money in a certain direction, you can be sure they
will not venture any further. As for the quality of the
"documentary" on how The Wolf Man inspired director
Stephen Sommers on Van Helsing -- well, at best it's
a glorified electronic press kit and not a very good one.
But a thought occurred to me as I was watching it -- wouldn't
it have been wonderful if Universal had done something so
crass during the shooting of the original pictures? Can
you imagine how we would savor those precious moments of
recorded history? For good or ill, something of a "behind-the
-scenes" record of Van Helsing exists. I can't fault
the studio for that.
Bottom line, if you already own these films in a previous
release, I cannot find a reason for you to purchase them,
short of the collectible busts or you being a Van Helsing
completist. If you missed out on the opportunity to purchase
them during their original DVD release, then run out and
get this. For myself, as much as I want Universal to succeed
and do the aforementioned digging in their vaults, I can't
imagine paying twice for films I already own with no new
extras short of the busts.
Robert Tinnell is the writer/director of Monster Kid favorite
Frankenstein and Me along with several other films.
His latest projects include the horror screenplay The Voice
and the monster rally graphic novel The Black Forest --
and you can learn more about all of this at: