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Review: Werewolf of London (1935)

Directed by: | 71 minutes | drama, fantasy, horror | Actors: Henry Hull, , , , , , Clark Williams, J.M. Kerrigan, , Ethel Griffies, Zeffie Tilbury, Jeanne Bartlett, , Egon Brecher, Wong Chung, J. Gunnis Davis, Herbert Evans, , , , Boyd Irwin, Noel Kennedy, George Kirby, Connie Leon, Maude Leslie, James May, William Millman, , , Joseph North, , , David Thursby, Louis Vincenot, Beal Wong

In 1935, the Universal film studios made their first werewolf production. The clues regarding the imminent doom are quickly released on the viewer by the necessary meaningful remarks’… there are some things it is better not to bother with… ‘,’… I respect some of the superstitions of others… often they are founded in facts… ‘. Coupled with the unmistakable title of this film, this immediately makes it clear what the nature of the dark events is that indeed soon present themselves. Unfortunately, its design leaves a number of important points to be desired in this film. And first of all through the portrayal of the male protagonist, Dr. Wilfred Glendon. From the start, he comes across as a cold and rather emotionless character, in which his curt and obnoxious behavior, including the increasing verbal abuse against his wife, cannot exactly provide the necessary identification and the attendant compassion for him. Something that is generally recommended for the appropriate experience of the necessary desired horror, if not at least can be set as a condition. In addition, Wilfred’s werewolf appearance could be somewhat improved.

At first, the werewolf’s appearance would look a lot more hairy and therefore more terrifying, but after the initial make-up tests, protagonist Henry Hull refused to undergo the lengthy make-up sessions. Unfortunately, as a result, the make-up was changed for Hull and the werewolf now appearing relatively clean-shaven and cropped-winged isn’t as terrifying as it could have been. Also, Wilfred’s statement, “… I’ll try to be more… well, more human…”, made during his marital crisis, is taken quite a bit. Even in his wolf form he appears to have such human characteristics that he can be recognized by a witness, he also goes hunting in his human clothing in that capacity and he appears, still in his wolf form, even able to speak and think like a human. A rather different design compared to the werewolves as we know them from later horror films in which the human side of the werewolf is completely supplanted during the full moon by the beast that resides within him. A frequently heard view in the horror genre is that “Werewolf of London” was made with this approach on purpose, something that Dr. Yogami’s statement “… a werewolf is neither man nor wolf, but a satanic creature with the worst qualities of both” would indicate. This would also explain Wilfred’s recognisability in his wolf form, something which, however, cannot be reconciled with the all the more terrifying appearance that the werewolf was initially envisioned.

Regardless, Wilfred’s werewolf appearance does not, in all, match what we would expect from a true werewolf, and the threat that it should emanate from his appearance falls short. Add to this the unsurprising developments within the story – the werewolf curse resting on Wilfred, the marriage crisis between him and Lisa coupled with the appearance of Lisa’s former flame with all the predictable consequences that ensue – and there is a film that is the werewolf enthusiasts will not be considered a high flyer. Nevertheless, this film has the necessary advantages to offer the enthusiast. Especially the scenes in which the confrontations with various werewolves take place are of a memorable nature. The transformation scenes are also worthwhile. Not so much with regard to the end result, but because of the way they are designed. Admittedly, they are surpassed by the transformation effects presented to the viewer in werewolf films of later years, but for that time they can be called a great achievement, especially since this film is Universal’s first werewolf production. There are also the necessary dark and, above all, atmospheric sets in which the werewolf can hunt against the background of misty nighttime London. Within this, his threat, however much the terrifying brutality of his appearance may be inadequate, is still quite appealing. Hull also knows, though is coming film character mostly unsympathetic about, Wilfred succeeded in shaping it, supported by solid acting by the other actors. Despite these advantages, “Werewolf of London” turned out not to be a success. Universal took the lessons learned to heart and, six years later, delivered “The Wolf Man,” a film that corrected the all too glaring shortcomings of “Werewolf of London” and has gone down in as Universal’s most memorable and successful werewolf classic.

Despite the fact that “Werewolf of London” is of significantly inferior quality than its successor, it remains an interesting product and not only because it is Universal’s first werewolf film. It has also become a film that has served in several ways as a guideline for later werewolf films and has proven to be a necessary part of the path that the film companies mapped out to the beastly werewolf driven only by instincts that we have come to know from later productions. and appreciate it as such. This is why this 1935 film has earned its honorable mention in the history of werewolf films and should not be missed by fans of classic horror films.

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