I would almost be willing to bet money that no one reading this blog would get the reference in the title. Almost. Anyway, today’s post is about the Universal Studios classic, The Wolf Man.
Unlike with Dracula and Frankenstein, 1941’s The Wolf Man was not based on an existing story. This film was entirely a unique creation of the studio. I’ve always thought this was fascinating because it shows that Hollywood is capable of having an original idea now and then. The fact that the movie was popular enough for the Wolf Man character to be one of Universal’s big three monsters says a lot.
Unlike with other monsters, werewolves are rarely the straight-up villain of their story. No one goes out looking to become a werewolf, and they have no control over themselves when they are transformed. Anyone that becomes a werewolf will transform into a feral beast during the full moon, just like the original version of The Hulk. I’m serious. Look it up.
Modern movies and books say that only silver bullets can kill a werewolf. In actuality, any silver weapon can kill a werewolf. I think the reason that people only think of “silver bullets” is because people don’t really use swords or other weapons now. Come to think of it, I have no idea where you would go to get a silver weapon. You would almost have to buy the silver, and melt it down yourself.
On a side note, the Lone Ranger remake in 2013 almost had werewolves in it, to explain to a modern audiences why the Lone Ranger uses silver bullets. I don’t want to get too off topic here, so I won’t go into a tangent about why the Lone Ranger actually used silver bullets here. I may make a post on that in the future.
In the film, the character Larry Talbot rushes in to save a woman from a werewolf attack, and ends up getting bitten. Fortunately, he had bought a cane with a silver wolf’s head earlier (foreshadowing!), so he was able to kill the beast before it kills him. He spends the rest of the film trying to find a way to remove the curse, when he’s not killing people as the titular Wolf Man. In the end, he has to be killed with the same cane he had bought earlier.
The next film with the Wolf Man was Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. That’s right, the Wolf Man never got a true sequel before the studio started making crossovers with their other monsters. To be fair though, Larry Talbot is pretty much the de facto main character of the crossover films. This makes sense, since he is the only one of the three monsters that is actually looking for either a cure or a way to die.
The film starts by having grave robbers break into Larry Talbot’s crypt. The thieves take the wolfsbane that was buried with Talbot’s body. This robbery occurs on a night with a full moon, so of course the Wolf Man comes back to life and attacks the robbers. I don’t know much about werewolf lore, but I don’t think that wolfsbane is supposed to keep a werewolf from coming back to life.
During the course of the movie, Larry Talbot is told that there is a doctor that may be able to cure his condition. This doctor turns out to be the son of Doctor Frankenstein from Ghost of Frankenstein. Anyone that saw that film knows that the doctor died in that film (uh…spoilers, I guess?), and this film actually remembers that. When Larry Talbot looks for the doctor, he instead finds Frankenstein.
They eventually do come across a doctor that can help, but he is more interested in fully reviving the monster. Now, anyone that watched Ghost of Frankenstein will remember that Frankenstein should be blind. Well, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man remembers that too…sort of. While Frankenstein does stumble around, there is never any reference to him being blind. Furthermore, Frankenstein never speaks in the film, so the plot point of him having Ygor’s brain is never addressed in this film. At any rate, Frankenstein’s revival leads to the epic fight between Frankenstein and the Wolf Man…that ends when one of the characters blows up a dam, flooding the castle.
The next film was The House of Frankenstein, which was the first movie to have all three of Universal’s big three monsters. This film starts with a mad scientist and his hunchbacked assistant escaping from prison. Having a monster movie start with a prison break gives it points for originality, I guess, but the film loses those points immediately by having yet another mad scientist and another hunchbacked assistant.
The two escaped prisoners hide out with a traveling circus, which they soon take over. The scientist finds and revives Dracula (yay!), who shortly afterwards dies in the sunlight because the scientist disposed of the vampire’s coffin (boo!). They eventually find the bodies of Frankenstein and the Wolf Man, and proceed to revive them. Unfortunately for the audience, there is no fight scene between Frankenstein and the Wolf Man in this film. The Wolf Man is shot with a silver bullet by the female love interest after he mortally wounds her, and Frankenstein dies when he runs from a group of angry villagers and drowns in quicksand.
House of Dracula, the next film in the series, is kind of an odd film. That’s saying something with this series. It begins with Dracula seeking a doctor in cure of his vampirism. Whether that’s genuine or a clever ruse is anyone’s guess. Larry Talbot finds the same doctor, looking for a cure as well. The doctor later discovers Frankenstein, and in a first for the series, decides against reviving the monster.
The whole plot takes a turn for the bizarre when Dracula infects the doctor and his assistant with his vampiric blood. The doctor kills Dracula afterwards, but soon the doctor starts turning into a vampire. The doctor manages to cure Talbot of being a werewolf, which leads to a climactic fight scene at the end of the film between the Frankenstein, the doctor, and Talbot. To no one’s shock, all three die at the end of the film.
The last film was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. This time, Larry Talbot (who is still a werewolf, despite being cured in the previous film) is not looking for a cure. In this film, he simply wants to stop Dracula and Frankenstein. The owner of a wax museum in Florida buys exhibits of Dracula and Frankenstein, not knowing that the exhibits are the actual Dracula and Frankenstein.
While Larry Talbot tries to convince the two leads that Dracula and Frankenstein are real, Dracula works on reviving Frankenstein. According to this film, Frankenstein is dying. The only apparent way to keep Frankenstein from dying is another brain transplant. I’m not sure why Dracula is the one obsessed with reviving Frankenstein in this film. He does mention giving the monster a brain “that has no will of its own”, so I guess he just wanted a servant that he doesn’t have to hypnotize.
Sadly, this was the only one of the Universal movies to have a fight scene between Dracula and the Wolf Man. Considering that later fiction tends to portray vampires and werewolves as blood enemies, you’d think there would have been more at this point. Up until this film though, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man have had all the fight scenes, with Dracula getting a premature death halfway through the film.
The battle between Dracula and the Wolf Man ends when Dracula turns into a bat in an attempt to flee. The Wolf Man leaps into the air and catches him, and they both fall into the sea. Since neither of them are weak to water, I can’t imagine this would kill either of them, but it was the last film. For those wondering about Frankenstein, his death comes when the pier he’s on is set on fire. After he gets consumed by flames, his body falls through the pier and into the water below.
When it came time to the later “Monster Mash” films, the makers of those films had a bit of a problem. Since the Wolf Man of the Universal Studios films was a unique creation, other filmmakers couldn’t use the same character. Typically, a generic werewolf is substituted in these films. I guess it could technically be the same character, but we never see his human form in these films so you can’t really tell.
The Wolf Man of the “Monster Mash” films is usually just a feral creature, with even less control and less intelligence than Frankenstein. Even the more heroic depictions of the character depict him as more dog-like than man, complete with all the dog jokes that the writers can cram in.
And that’s it for Universal’s big three monsters. Tomorrow, we will discuss another one of the monsters that helped to kick start the monster movie craze, the Mummy. No, not the Brendan Fraser movie! The 1932 film! Sheesh, young people.