The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

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--Matt

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Wolf Man (1941)

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Though made almost 8 years later than the other three classics I reviewed for Halloween, this one is no less important or influential. Just the same, that time, though it doesn't make a huge difference in the type of film we get, is enough to make difference still noticeable. A great film on which to end our Halloween celebration.

The Wolf Man has Lon Cheney jr. as a man who has come home to England after his brother's untimely hunting accident. Cheney is the heir to a large fortune, and he's come home to patch things up with his dad, Claude Rains. Unfortunately, he runs into trouble, when he takes a date and her friend to the edge of town to get their fortunes read by a gypsy played by Bela Lugosi. Lugosi is a werewolf, and he kills the friend, and Cheney kills him, but not before Lugosi bites him, turning him into a werewolf too. Poor Cheney.

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If Frankenstein examined what it means to be human, Dracula looked at mortality, and The Mummy showed the power of love, The Wolf Man explored the human psyche, and the power of our minds. Not only that, but it said a lot of things about the way we deal with mental illness in our society, and truth be told, we're only now starting to listen to those messages. When Claude Rains insists against his son getting treatment because of the shame it would bring upon his family, his sentiment is echoed today in the mindset that depression, schizophrenia, body dysmorphic disorders, etc., are signs of weakness more than they're signs of illness, and it's a part of the culture that we're still trying to change today, almost 70 years later.

But the movie isn't all gravy. Lon Cheney jr. didn't work for me. As opposed to Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, who were simply just men of their time, Cheney sounded weird and out of place. Even though he would be known best for this role, his look as a combination of Greg Brady and ESPN college football analyst and BYU stand-out (and New England Patriot long snapper) Trevor Matich definitely suited him better when he starred in Of Mice and Men in 1939. In The Wolf Man it was obvious the studio was trading on his name to get a quick buck, and on that score, we all lost. (Also of note, his father, Lon Cheney, was born on April Fools Day, only in 1883, 96 years before me).

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My all time favorite movie is Casablanca, so it was cool to have Claude Rains in this. You may also remember him from the Hitchcock classic Notorious, the plot to which Mission Impossible 2 ripped off. Anyway, he played Lon Cheney jr.'s dad, despite the fact that the two were only 17 years apart. Of course, he's only six years younger than Cheney's real dad, so it's not that much of a stretch. He died in 1967 of an intestinal hemorrhage in Laconia, NH. People from the area know that Laconia hosts a major motorcycle fest each year. Don't get me wrong, motorcycles are cool, and the riders are usually badass, but one thing they do is drive their bikes up the auto road to Mt. Washington, which annoys the hell out of me. If you're so badass, hike the fucking mountain.

I don't know what Bela Lugosi thought about taking a bit part in this. One the one hand, from Dracula in 1931, to this ten years later, he was in 39 movies, so he must've been used to bit parts. On the other, he had to feel that Lon Cheney jr. was only getting the part of the wolf man because of his father, and I bet that irked Lugosi, no matter how much Lon Cheney jr. tried to have his own career without his father's help. I guess the question is, who would've made a better wolf man? I say neither-- Boris Karloff.

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The new Twilight film features werewolves, and they fight vampires. These new werewolves look nothing like their 1941 counterparts-- they resemble bigger, CGI, natural wolves, as opposed to wolf people. If you're wondering which I would rather have, I'd say maybe a happy medium, like, say Teen Wolf. I mean, from what I gathered from the commercials, that's all this kid is is a modern Teen Wolf who works out more and turns into a CGI wolf. If you're asking me which of the three looks the least dumb, I would have to say Teen Wolf, because it's not CGI, but it's not as silly as the 1941 one. Can you imagine the third movie? The vampire guy, Teen Wolf trying to impress the girl with his basketball skills, Dracula wanting to kill them all, and the Frankenstein robot refusing to carry out the orders of his creator, Dracula, all so he can take the girl to the prom. And a fourth movie with the mummy. If they listen to me, the Twilight series is going to get good.

(As an aside, my friend and I had a conversation with his wife about whether or not the guy from Teen Wolf Too had done enough since to necessitate calling him by his real name, or for us to continue calling him the guy from Teen Wolf Too. We decided Arrested Development and a co-starring role in the new Vince Vaughn comedy wasn't enough, so until further notice, he will still be the guy from Teen Wolf Too.)

If the first three had a little silly in them, this one had a little more. Cheney doesn't exactly work, Lugosi is fun, and who doesn't love Claude Rains. In 1941, movies were becoming more movies, and less plays on film, and you can see that, which makes it cooler if you watch it after the other three. Plus, the wolf man looks they taped wool to the face of the guy on the airplane wing in the Twilight Zone with Shatner in it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034398/

4 comments:

  1. What I never understood was why did the werewolf kill people? He doesnt even feed on them! He just attacks and kills them, I never really got that.

    But I enjoy the atmosphere on this one.

    Since you were talking about whats your favorite kind of werewolf. I did enjoy how they did the werewolves in The Howling, half way humans, halway werewolves.

    I also enjoyed the Werewolf from The Monstersquad which is one of my all time favorites. Actually, the look that the werewolf has in that film was directly inspired by Hammer films The Curse of the Werewolf! In which Oliver Reed played the creature! You look at the werewolf in that film and then look at the one in Monster Squad and youll see what I mean. Another fine Hammer film, highly recommend it as well.

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  2. The Wolf Man attacks because he represents the mentally ill, and we always (more so back in 1941) associate the mentally ill with primitive, unpredictable behavior. It's scarier because he doesn't have a reason.

    I agree with you on those two werewolf looks. I have reviewed a couple of the Howling series, and I've stalled out on the rest, which is bad for me. I need to get back on that.

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  3. The mentally ill angle does explain his behavior. Ive always seen the werewolf thing as a metaphor for our darksides as well, very similar in nature to the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde movies. Where you turn into something else, do evil things, then dont remember the next day.

    Maybe it can also be compared to alcohol/drug abuse. If you over do these, people tend not to remember what happened the night before, same as The Wolfman.

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  4. Yeah, I think all of those things, alcohol/drug abuse, Jekyll and Hyde, etc. tap into the darker parts of the mind, which we tend to be both afraid of and fascinated by.

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