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Werewolf of London / She-Wolf of London

Classic Monster Collection: Series Three

  • Dracula's Daughter / Son of Dracula
  • Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man/House of Frankenstein
  • The Mummy's Ghost/The Mummy's Curse
  • The Mummy's Hand/The Mummy's Tomb
  • Son of Frankenstein/Ghost of Frankenstein
  • Werewolf of London/She-Wolf of London

  • A look back....
  • When it comes to the classic Universal monsters, the werewolf field is dominated by Lon Chaney Jr., who joined the pantheon in 1941 with The Wolf Man. Chaney repeated the role of tormented Lawrence Talbot in a number of follow-ups, including the crossover creature features, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, and House of Dracula. But Chaney's howling anti-hero isn't the only werewolf in Universal's kennel. Indeed, the first werewolf movie ever, a 1913 silent film called The Werewolf, was produced by Universal almost twenty years before the first monster craze began. Two of Universal's other lycanthropic explorations were one-shot movies with no connection to the studio's most famous Monster lines, and they are double-featured on this splendid DVD. The first and best is Werewolf of London, a 1935 thriller that's one of the most well-crafted and polished suspense movies of the era. The plot blends new components of the werewolf "legend" with some science-fictional elements.

    While journeying through Tibet in search of a rare flower said to bloom only under moonlight, Dr. Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) is attacked by a werewolf. The creature doesn't kill him, but it does draw blood before retreating into the mountains. Weeks later, having successfully completed his expedition, Glendon toils in his London laboratory seeking a way to coax the mysterious flower to bloom under artificial moonlight. While the reclusive Glendon strives in solitude to find a cure for lycanthropy (or "werewolfry" or "lycanthrophobia" as it's called here), his neglected wife Lisa (Valerie Hobson) simply wants her husband back. This marital rift widens with the return of Lisa's childhood friend and former fiancé Captain Paul Ames (Lester Matthews). Enter Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland), a mysterious scientist who shares Glendon's obsessive need for the flower's secrets and who has previously encountered Glendon during a particularly fateful incident in Tibet. As Glendon grows sullen and jealous, Yogami warns him that a werewolf always seeks to kill the person he most loves. Glendon tries to distance himself from Lisa for her safety. But try as he might, his transformations during the full moon prove more and more deadly, and soon Scotland Yard is on the scent of the brutal killer mutilating women in a London neighborhood.

    Werewolf of London benefits from a crackerjack script, taut direction, and fine scenic design, not to mention some of the best uses of supporting characters to ever prop up a monster movie. Every moment is filled to the brim and purposeful, and the two comic relief characters, elderly Mrs. Whack and Mrs. Mancaster, deserve a movie all their own. And nowhere else will you see such a dapper, well-spoken werewolf. Just try to find another body-slashing man-beast who dons his hat, coat, and scarf before heading out into the night. Werewolf of London is a genuine surprise treat.

    *          *          *

    She-Wolf of London (1946), a small and little-heard-of potboiler, was released just after the Universal Classic Monster era had drawn to a close. Like its 1913 ancestor, She-Wolf makes the titular killer a woman. By modern standards, that title may be a barrier to entry, conjuring images of a would-be starlet in a fright wig, B-movie monster makeup, and Vampira costume. There's none of that here. In fact, aside from a "family curse" and some brutal slayings, none of the traditional werewolf accoutrements are present. Instead, She-Wolf of London is a decent enough whodunit set in turn-of-the-century Sherlock Holmes territory. Scotland Yard is on the case of some horrific killings in Hyde Park, including a young boy and a Yard detective slashed to pieces. The locals are fearful of a "she-wolf" creature said to be the murderer. At the center of events is Phyllis Allenby, an innocent young heiress soon to be married, on whose head is the dreaded Allenby curse — dooming its recipient to murderous lycanthropy. She's played with doe-eyed aplomb by 21-year-old June Lockhart, two decades before she became the galaxy's greatest astro-mom in Lost in Space. There are surprises afoot for Scotland Yard, Phyllis's fiancé, and Phyllis herself.

    This is not so much a werewolf story as a classic "gas light" routine, and you'll probably spot the perp before the authorities do, but here's a genteel catch-the-killer in the Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine mode, and the definition of "monster" is given a satisfying yank by the time the closing credits roll.

    *          *          *

    This double-feature disc sports two reasonably good prints preserved with reasonably good transfers. They look and sound fine. Typical wear is present on the source prints, but there's no outright damage beyond an acceptable degree of flecks and scratches. Werewolf of London presents better than She-Wolf, though in both cases the clarity and detail are quite good and the black-and-white contrast is good to excellent. Both movies are in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. A few compression artifacts are evident, but only for the most eagle-eyed DVD aficionado. Expect some hiss and pop in the audio, and certainly don't plan on ramping up your full-range speakers and amp for any disc in the Universal Classic Horror series, but like the other discs released simultaneously with this one, overall the sound is plenty clear and clean in its original monaural (2.0). Audio tracks come in English, plus English captions and French and Spanish subtitles.

    Each film's theatrical trailer is here, plus several click-through screens of Production Notes, Cast & Filmmakers biographies/filmographies, and promo material for the Universal Horror Double Feature Series. Keep-case.

    —Mark Bourne

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