A Month of Universal Horror: The Wolf Man

Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright.
Remember that famous line? Although not the first film to bear either the name or the theme of man's inner beast manifesting itself physically, Universal Studio's The Wolf Man (1941) stands today as the silver screen's titular theatrical depiction of lycanthropy ever conceived. Though there are multiple reason's for this that range from direction to make-up effects, I don't think anyone can repute actor Lon Chaney Jr.'s role in the annuls of Hollywood horror history.

Son of the legendary Lon Chaney, Sr., Lon Chaney, Jr. is perhaps best known for his role in The Wolf Man, though he did boast a solid career as a superb character actor in plenty of horror films including The Ghost of Frankenstein, The Mummy's Tomb, Son of Dracula, Bride of the Gorilla, Spider Baby, and many more. What makes The Wolfman special, however, is a combination of great characterization, special effects, and set design that can be attributed to many of the early horror originals. Even today, amid the blood-splattered horror of the slasher genre, there's something that exists in the strange miasma of mythology, gypsy lore, and Welsh moors that sends chills down my spine. Some inexhaustibly eerie spirit that resides in the rolling fog and meticulously applied special effects pervading the digital celluloid.

The Wolf Man also shares the distinction of being one of three Universal horror staples that don't originate for classical literature and the only monster to have been played consistently by the same actor over the course of his career. It was also in this film that many of our most common myths about werewolves can find their origin such as their innate weakness to silver, shapeshifting under a full moon, and bearing a curse mark. While these myths have been adapted and altered over the years, they have also remained a predominantly consistent staple in the genre.


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