Universal Movie Monsters Sequel Mini Reviews: The Wolf-Man
by Steve Habrat
Of all the classic Universal monsters, the most tragic and touching is the Wolf-Man, a lycanthrope who by moonlight is transformed into a beast from Hell. One of the most famous classic monsters next to Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf-Man is one of the most atmospheric films that Universal unleashed upon audiences. Played with a wounded scowl by Lon Chaney, Jr, The Wolf-Man is an essential horror film for fans of the genre, one that will scare you to your core. If you wish to read Corinne Rizzo’s review of The Wolf-Man, click here. Without further ado, here are Anti-Film School’s mini reviews of The Wolf-Man sequels and the first mainstream werewolf film. Anti-Film School is not responsible for the howling at the moon and spontaneous hair growth that may occur after reading…
Werewolf of London (1935)
Renowned British botanist Wilfred Glendon (Played by Henry Hull) takes a trip to Tibet to find the rare mariphasa plant and while searching the countryside; a strange, wolf-like creature suddenly attacks him. Despite the attack, Wilfred manages to make it back to London with a small sample of the mariphasa but he soon suffers a horrific transformation when the moon is full. As Wilfred races to understand the bizarre transformation, a mysterious man named Dr. Yogami (Played by Warner Oland) approaches him and claims they have met before.
Technically the first mainstream werewolf horror film, Werewolf of London certainly does set the bar high for the supernatural subgenre. The film is rich with plot and character development, two traits that actually cause the film to lag in places. The film lacks the hazy gothic atmosphere that the Lon Chaney, Jr. Wolf-Man had but the film still manages to be quite unsettling. The make-up effects in Werewolf of London are not as heavy on the wolf features and actually retain a more demonic quality with flashes of humanity, something that actually makes them creepier than Chaney’s famous wolf-mug. Hull himself isn’t nearly as tragic as Chaney’s Talbot and frankly, I didn’t really care for his snippy demeanor when he hovered over his precious plants in his lab. As the werewolf, he certainly is memorable, leaping out windows and even preparing himself for the nippy London weather with a scarf and coat.
As far as the secondary players go, Warner Oland is appropriately suspicious as Dr. Yogami. I absolutely loved how he played into the movie and I especially liked the reveal at the end, even if it is fairly easy to see the twist a mile away. Valerie Hobson is also present as Lisa Glendon, Wilfred’s wife who desperately wishes he would step away from his work and into her loving arms. The film embraces a smidgeon of comedy in the middle of the film with the werewolf crossing paths with two old lushes, who hoot and holler when they catch a glimpse of his protruding fangs. Overall, it is a shame that Werewolf of London has been left forgotten in the shadow of The Wolf-Man, but the cold hard truth is the film just isn’t as entertaining and heartbreaking as the Chaney classic. It does, however, deliver the spooks and that is the most important part of the film. It also happens to be a very dapper affair. Grade: B
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man (1943)
Several years after the events of The Wolf-Man, Larry Talbot (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.) is awakened by a duo of grave robbers on an evening when the moon is full. As moonlight falls on his skin, Talbot quickly morphs into the Wolf-Man and murders the two men. The next day, the dazed Talbot is discovered by the police and taken to Dr. Mannering (Played by Patric Knowles), a local doctor who believes that Talbot may be insane. Talbot begins warning Dr. Mannering of his curse and that he desperately needs to be cured before the next full moon. Frustrated no one will listen to him, Talbot escapes the hospital and seeks out Dr. Frankenstein, who may be able to end his terrible curse. As his search continues, Talbot accidentally discovers Frankenstein’s Monster (Played by Béla Lugosi), which has been buried in ice for many years.
The first forty minutes of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man has all the makings for a horror classic. It’s atmospheric, loaded with eerie images, and surprisingly gruesome attacks for an early Universal horror flick. The film quickly looses some of that uneasy terror when it skips off to Frankenstein’s castle and unleashes Lugosi’s Monster. You can’t help but get the feeling that Lugosi is almost mocking Karloff in the way he waves his stiff arms around and moans like a family friendly ghoul. Hell, Herman Munster is more terrifying than Lugosi’s Monster. Then there is the middle section of the film, which is equally troubling. The story seems to run out near the center and the film just plods along killing time until these two titans of terror duke it out for a broad. It fills itself out with a head-scratching musical number that completely yanks the gothic atmosphere right out of the picture. Luckily, the film gets back on track with the final showdown that pits the angry Monster against the Wolf-Man. It’s a pretty satisfying fight even if it does find the two ghouls wrestling around on the ground for five minutes as things blow up around them. Still, it is pretty neat that they actually clash for a decent amount of time.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man is technically the first sequel to the original 1941 Wolf-Man and the first half of the film pushes the story along in a pretty fascinating way. Chaney is still top-notch as Larry Talbot/The Wolf-Man and his anguish is pretty chilling. Sadly, there is only so much I could take of his whining and by the end, I just wished he’d turn back into the Wolf-Man so I wouldn’t have to listen to him whine anymore. Patric Knowles steps in to play the mad doctor who isn’t as mad as some of the previous Universal kooks. Ilona Massey steps in as Elsa Frankenstein, who begins to fall for sad sack Larry. She basically acts as the boxing ring bell that has the two monsters swinging their claws at one another. Overall, if Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man had continued on the path it started on at the beginning, the film would have been a horror knockout. Instead, the film is KO’d after forty minutes by Lugosi’s bizarre turn as the Monster, Chaney’s relentless sobbing, and an absolutely pointless musical number. Luckily, the first forty minutes are a keeper and that showdown has some sparks. Grade: B
She-Wolf of London (1946)
After a string of brutal murders in a local London park, Scotland Yard detectives begin to fear that the murderer is actually a werewolf. As the news of the murders spreads, the young Phyllis Allenby (Played by June Lockhart) begins to fear that she may be the killer after she discovers that there are werewolves in her family tree. As fear spreads across London, Phyllis’s fiancé Barry (Played by Don Porter) and her aunt Martha (Played by Sara Haden) try desperately to convince her that her fear is all in her head.
Fueled more by suspense than all out terror, She-Wolf of London leaves a good majority of the supernatural spooks on the cutting room floor and opts for psychological fear. What remains firmly in tact is the foggy gothic atmosphere that The Wolf-Man was very fond of and for the most part, the atmosphere adds a few chills. Much like Lon Chaney, Jr, Lockhart plays Phyllis as a sad and tragic figure desperately pleading for help for her curse. At only an hour, we are able to give Lockhart a hefty serving of our sympathy and she never wears on us. Porter is solid as the concerned fiancé and Haden is wonderfully suspicious as Martha. Also on board is Jan Wiley as Carol, Phyllis’s clueless cousin who is consistently upsetting the sad sack.
At only sixty-one minutes, She-Wolf of London is brief and right to the point. The scenes that find a hooded she-wolf creeping out of the park’s tangled brush are indeed spooky, the hooded figure almost resembling a bloodthirsty apparition on the prowl. The middle twenty minutes of the film are sort of dry and you will find yourself rushing the film into the big reveal at the end. Much like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man, She-Wolf of London also features some hair-raising attacks that have a particularly bloody outcome. Overall, director Jean Yarbrough puts a unique twist on the werewolf feature that is quite fitting for a post WWII horror film dealing with the supernatural. I dare you to get those foggy attacks out of your head. Grade: B-
Werewolf of London, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man, and She-Wolf of London are all available on DVD.
Universal Movie Monsters Sequel Mini Reviews: The Invisible Man
by Steve Habrat
While he may not be as popular as Dracula, Frankenstein, or the Mummy, the Invisible Man is still a pretty scary guy. I mean, you can’t see him and he could attack you at anytime! THAT, boys and ghouls, is pretty scary if you ask me. Rooted more in science fiction than straight horror, The Invisible Man is actually one of the best films in the Universal Monster collection. While the sequels didn’t stick as closely to the science fiction/horror mash-up as the original film did, they still managed to remain above average and impressive with their special effects. If you wish to read Corinne Rizzo’s review of the original The Invisible Man, click here. So, without further ado, here are Anti-Film School’s mini reviews for the sequels to The Invisible Man. Read on if you dare…
The Invisible Man Returns (1940)
Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe (Played by Vincent Price) has just been sentenced to death for the murder of his brother, a crime that he did not commit. While on death row, Radcliffe is visited by Dr. Frank Griffith (Played by John Sutton), the original Invisible Man’s brother, who injects Radcliffe with the infamous invisibility formula. Radcliffe proceeds to escape from prison and sets out to prove his innocence but along the way, he begins to slip into insanity, a horrific side effect of the invisibility formula.
Never as mischievous as the original 1933 The Invisible Man, The Invisible Man Returns doesn’t shy away from causing plenty of mayhem. Not nearly as heavy on the horror and leaning more towards a mixture of science fiction and murder mystery, The Invisible Man Returns is still given an aura of menace with the presence of Vincent Price, a legend that is mostly heard and only briefly seen. With his gentlemanly coos aimed at his fiancé, Helen Manson (Played by Nan Grey), and his sinister guffaws, Price’s Radcliffe is one unpredictable madman who will prove his innocence at any cost, even if that means killing a few people in the process. As the whodunit slowly unravels for the big reveal, we can’t help but wonder if Radcliffe is really any better than the individuals that he is trying to track down. Price has some great chemistry with Grey, but she isn’t really given much to do other than look worried about Radcliffe’s safety. Cecil Kellaway, another familiar Universal face, also shows up as Inspector Sampson, who pieces together Radcliffe’s disappearance.
Much like the original film, The Invisible Man Returns has some jaw dropping special effects, especially incredible for the time in which the film was made. The effects ended up nabbing an Oscar nomination but it sadly didn’t take the award home. Yet director Joe May doesn’t lean on the impressive special effects even though he very well could and no one would blame him. The film, which is based once again on the story by H.G. Wells, doesn’t find the original invisible man, Jack Griffith (Played brilliantly by Claude Rains), rising from the dead to continue his rampage. The film wisely elaborates and continues the story in a clever and respectable fashion. The Invisible Man Returns also runs a full eighty-one minutes, which allows the storyline to fully develop. Overall, it could have been scarier but there are still plenty of extraordinary shocks and thrills throughout The Invisible Man Returns to keep the story engrossing. Plus, it has Vincent Price and how can you argue with that?! Grade: B+
The Invisible Woman (1940)
Feisty model Kitty Caroll (Played by Virginia Bruce) is tired of being pushed around at her job by her insufferable boss. On a whim, she answers a newspaper add posted by the eccentric Professor Gibbs (Played by John Barrymore), an ad that asks for human guinea pigs for his invisibility machine. Professor Gibbs is on the verge of loosing funding from the wealthy playboy Dick Russell (Played by John Howard) but when the invisibility machine works successfully, he launches a campaign to convince Dick that the machine is fully operational. However, the real challenge comes from trying to contain the mischievous Kitty and fighting off local thugs who want to steal the machine.
What little traces of horror you could find in The Invisible Man Returns disappears completely in The Invisible Woman, which was released the same year as the Vincent Price thriller. A cheeky screwball comedy that is more of a wild party, The Invisible Woman is quite a bit of fun if you are in the market for a whole bunch of laughs, but if it is horror you are after, it is best you look elsewhere. It is a bit odd that this film gets lumped in with the Universal Movie Monsters but the film is still a pretty solid watch on its own terms. It is very difficult not to like Bruce as the playful Kitty, who enjoys getting some hilarious revenge on her snippy boss Growley (Played by Charles Lane). The second half of the film morphs into more of a romantic comedy, with Howard’s playboy Dick falling for the leggy Kitty. The budding romance is sweetly written and delivered by the actors, making it an easy pill to swallow. There is also plenty of silliness thrown in from Barrymore’s Professor Gibbs, who acts as a strict father figure for both Dick and Kitty. There is also plenty of physical comedy from Dick’s butler, George (Played by Charles Ruggles), who is constantly mortified or taking a nasty tumble.
The Invisible Woman’s overall quality is done in by the unnecessary addition of the gangster side plot, which finds sinister thug Blackie (Played by Oskar Homolka), trying to steal the invisibility machine. The only good thing that can be said about this side plot is that it gives Ruggles a break from the physical comedy and places it on the shoulders of a slew of extras. Many of the delivered jokes fall flat, mostly because Homolka just isn’t that funny as the jumpy gangster. Even if it technically isn’t a horror film, The Invisible Woman still applies the invisibility aspect smartly and there are plenty of sly remarks made over the fact that Kitty is nude the entire time. There was quite a bit of controversy surrounding this aspect but by today’s standards, it is rather tame. Overall, The Invisible Woman is a sweet little romantic romp that fits nicely in the romantic comedy genre but trips over a pointless gangster subplot that should have been left out completely. Grade: B
Invisible Agent (1942)
The Invisible Man’s grandson, Frank Raymond (Played by Jon Hall), has been trying to live a quiet and normal life in Manhattan. It turns out that Frank still possesses a small amount of the invisibility formula that drove his grandfather insane. Frank soon finds himself approach by secret agents from the Axis powers, who are determined to get their hands on the formula. Frank refuses and makes a narrow escape with the formula in hand. America is soon dragged into World War II and Frank decides to make a deal with the Army—use the invisibility formula to spy on Nazi Germany. The army agrees and Frank is sent behind enemy lines where he does battle with a slew of S.S. buffoons and falls in love with Maria Sorenson (Played by Ilona Massey), a British secret agent.
Stripping away the romantic comedy and acting as part of a war time propaganda movement to boost American morale, Invisible Agent is much more a thriller with some chuckle worthy aspects. Just as it was in The Invisible Woman, the invisibility is often times played for laughs rather than scares. The comedy really takes flight during a scene in which Frank terrorizes a pudgy S.S. officer who lusts after Maria. When Frank isn’t invisible, he is a fairly forgettable character and he even remains a bit dry when he has injected the formula into his bloodstream (shockingly). Massey is certainly the life of the party but her character often times seems too eager to fall in love rather than do anything constructive. Cedric Hardwicke shows up as Conrad Stauffer, an S.S. officer doing anything he can do get his hands on the invisibility formula. Peter Lorre is handed the job of playing Baron Ikito, a Japanese officer with a thing for amputation (just wait for THAT scene). There is no question that Lorre is the most colorful one in Invisible Agent but his character is so obviously American that it is almost hard to take.
Invisible Agent does have plenty of action to thrill us throughout its eighty-one minute run time. The film has lots of impressive aerial battles that find Frank trying to sneak out of Germany with Hitler’s plot to attack New York City. There are plenty of fiery explosions and narrow escapes to have you on the edge of your seat. The downside is that Frank is such a bland hero that it is hard to really care if he makes it out alive. Invisible Agent also boasts some of the most impressive special effects of the series yet, some of them mind-boggling for the time. Overall, as an action thriller, Invisible Agent executes the mission with ease but you will find yourself starting to long for the science fiction chills of the Claude Rains original. Grade: B-
The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944)
Robert Griffith (Played by Jon Hall) escapes from prison and makes his way to London to find Jasper and Irene Herrick (Played by Lester Matthews and Gale Sonergaard), a wealthy couple that Robert believes cheated him out of a small fortune years earlier. When the Herricks turn him away, Robert seeks out Dr. Peter Drury (Played by John Carradine), who has created a formula that can turn a man invisible. After demanding that Dr. Drury test the formula on him, the newly invisible Robert sets out to get revenge on the Herricks.
The Invisible Man’s Revenge finds the Invisible Man series moving away from the comedy that The Invisible Woman and Invisible Agent were so fond of and returning to the horror that kicked the franchise off. Not nearly as absorbing as The Invisible Man or The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Man’s Revenge does wrap up the series in a fairly respectable manner even if the story is starting to fade right before our eyes. The real downside to the film is the fact that there is no sympathetic monster at the heart of the terror. The Universal horror films were notorious for including monsters that we actually felt bad for. The Invisible Man’s Revenge serves up a psychotic villain right from the start and refuses to make him a multifarious character. Claude Rains earned our sympathy through the fact that he was desperately trying to outrun madness but in the end he slipped into it. In The Invisible Man Returns, Vincent Price was a man framed for a crime he didn’t commit and his quest for the truth was causing his sanity to deteriorate.
Then we have Jon Hall, who picks up where Rains and Price left off. Hall, who also appeared in Invisible Agent, does a passable job with the role of Robert but he lacks the unruly insanity of Rains or the creeping terror of Price. Still, Hall manages to outshine everyone else in the film, as the rest of the characters seem to disappear from memory when the credits roll. Universal regular Carradine steps in as the gentle doctor who comes face to face with pure evil. Carradine is forced to take a stale role, one that completely takes away from his always-welcome presence. The effects here are just as solid as they were in the other films but near the end, it seems like some of the effects were getting sloppy. Overall, The Invisible Man’s Revenge is running on empty but director Ford Beebe still manages to send the character off on a dark and ominous note. Grade: B-
The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Woman, Invisible Agent, and The Invisible Man’s Revenge are all available on DVD.