Welcome to 31 Days of Horror, where our editors are watching and discussing a horror movie they haven’t seen every day leading up to Halloween.
Day 2: Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943)
Dir. Roy William Neill
It was a full moon last night, which basically obligated me to dig up a werewolf movie I hadn’t seen before.
I have soft spot for Universal’s classic horror monsters, The Wolf Man especially, so I settled on 1943’s Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, the first sequel to Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolf Man film and the fifth film in the Frankenstein pseudo-continuity.
Set four years after the events of The Wolf Man, FMTWM (Hm, that doesn’t quite have the same ring as LOTR or ROTJ) opens with Lawrence Talbot (Chaney) resting peacefully in his grave until a dopey pair of grave-robbers accidentally exposes the corpse to the light of the full moon, bringing poor, simple Larry back to life.
After wolfing his way through the countryside for a night, killing a police officer in the process, Talbot wakes up in Cardiff with no memory of his actions or, apparently, of his death. When he discovers that he cannot be killed by normal means, Talbot goes on a quest to find the cure for his lycanthropy.
When the gypsy woman from the first film tells Talbot about a cure discovered by Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein (Victor’s son, who dies at the end of Ghost of Frankenstein at the hands of some pissed off villagers), the pair head off to Germany to hunt down the deceased doctor’s notes. Eventually Talbot stumbles on the preserved body of Frankenstein’s monster (played by Bela Lugosi in this one), makes some villagers angry and then FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!
I’m not sure what really appeals to me in these old Universal monster movies.
It’s certainly in how scary they are, or in their dynamic character arcs. Hell, most of running times in these things are dedicated to British people having polite conversations with one another in well lit rooms. And though the production design on these movies are top notch, I think what puts them over is the strength of their actors, who tackle the hokiest material with all of their might.
The Invisible Man features Claude Rains running around dressed like a deranged pimp, Bride of Frankenstein has the grace of Elsa Lanchester, and Dracula boasts the deranged charm of Bela Lugosi.
Even though Chaney looks so ridiculous in his Wolf Man get up that they haven’t invented a word that can describe just how ridiculous he looks, he plays the hell out of that part, both when he’s wolfed out and as a man.
Typically people laud Chaney’s performance for his sympathetic take on Lawrence Talbot, a sad lump of dough who just wants to die, but his physicality as The Wolf Man is really under-rated. When he dons that wolf pompadour, he’s by far the most kinetic of Universal’s rogue’s gallery. He leaps around the woods, darting in and out of shadows before mauling some hapless policeman of dumbshit villager, while the other monsters—the Mummy, Dracula, The Monster—either creep or lumber their way over to their victims.
Chaney dominates Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, both in terms of screen time and performance-wise, with Frankenstein’s monster mostly lurking around the background until fight time. This time around the Monster is played by Bela Lugosi, who Universal originally wanted for the role back in 1931. But after Ghost of Frankenstein, where Chaney donned the neck bolts, Universal needed a new actor to play the part when it became apparent that Chaney couldn’t play both Frankenstein and The Wolf Man in a movie where Frankenstein fights The Wolf Man, so the offer went back to Lugosi.
Unfortunately, Lugosi doesn’t sell the monster with the same energy as Boris Karloff. Even though he’s ostensibly playing a walking corpse, Lugosi looks too stiff and bloated when you compare him to the rather lean and menacing Karloff. Even though The Monster gets “fully charged,” or whatever, at the end of the movie, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where the feral Wolf Man doesn’t rip the lumbering collection of corpses to shreds.
Overall, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man moves pretty swiftly, there’s already an angry mob about thirty minutes in, but the movie just takes too long for The Wolf Man and Frankenstein to go toe-to-toe. It’s a lot of hubbub for a too short payoff. The fight between Frankenstein and The Wolf Man literally lasts for two minutes before a dam explodes, they both die and, oh shit, the movie is over.
It’s no Freddy vs. Jason, is what I’m saying.
Still, while not the best of Universal’s horror films, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man is surprisingly coherent and fun, partially because of Chaney’s performance, but also because good lord is Ilona Massey good looking. There’s also a funny little scene where the villagers gather together to decide whether an angry mob could solve this whole Wolf Man/Frankenstein situation, with one half screaming for diplomacy and the other half screaming for pitchforks, torches and controlled demolition.
Glad to see not much has changed over the years.