28 January 2007 | pyrocitor
Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?
In a day and age as chock full of CGI bloated, cheesy and predictable horror films (and I use the word "horror" lightly when really the applicable term should be "vomit inducing gore-fest") it's quite refreshing to look back at the roots of such abysmal creations, and imagine how 1941 audiences must have felt when they first laid eyes and ears upon the spectacle of the Wolf Man. While to today's audiences, the special effects transformations from human to werewolf and makeup effects of the werewolf itself may look laughably dated, it is near impossible to watch this film without a glimmer of the genuine terror and surprise the film must have driven into the hearts of its more innocent original audiences.
There remains next to no doubt that the Wolf Man is a highly enjoyable straightforward monster thriller, which, unlike most modern films, is unwilling to simply coast along on the novelty of its special effects, but also allots nearly the entire running time to character development, punctuated with bits of necessary monster mayhem in between. While some of the camera work may be clunky, with a few awkward transitions, the atmospheric tone to the film is superb, with lots of long shots of the iconic foggy woods at night, perfectly adding to the mood and stirring up some undeniable tension, even for jaded modern audiences. While the film could never be considered subtle, full of many highly contrived scenes or scenarios, the plot may stumble, but not the sense of fun. Clocking in at a tidy 70 minutes, most of which is ominous foreshadowing for the inevitable lupine transformation, the movie certainly accomplishes its purpose - to frighten and amaze its audiences in a somewhat intelligent and tasteful fashion.
Lon Chaney Jr. in his signature role turns in a terrific performance as both the title creature and his human counterpart, Larry Talbot, perfectly essaying a character who is charming, disgruntled, terrified, and finally a monster, and hitting few wrong notes in terms of believability in the process. (his Wolf Man may fall a bit flat in terms of credibility these days, but a mighty effort nonetheless) While Claude Rains may not be very credible casting as Chaney's father, he is unquestionably a strong presence as the wealthy philanthropist too proud to take his son's condition seriously. Evelyn Ankers may be stuck in a stereotypical "damsel in distress" role, but she makes the most of it and turns out a luminous and amicable performance. Maria Ouspenskaya is wonderful as a wise gypsy, and Bela Lugosi is mostly wasted in a tiny cameo as her son. The supporting cast for the most part turn out generic but entertaining performances.
All in all, for fans of classic horror, The Wolf Man should be considered a must see, if they have yet to do so. Yet even for more jaded or more expectant viewers, there is still much to enjoy here, whether it be Chaney's defining role, some bold and groundbreaking makeup and early special effects. In general, a wonderfully moody and atmospheric early horror thriller!