Hideous Half Man, Half Beast Who Terrorized Millions!
At the heart of our greatest superstitions has always been a glimmer of truth. Tales of lycanthropy, the shapeshifting of a human being into the form of a wolf, date all the way back to Ancient Greece when priests would gather on Mt. Lycaeus for a sacrificial feast that included the consumption of human body parts. Apparently, the priests believed that this action would turn them into wolves, though it's difficult to guess whether they believed this to be a good thing. In modern psychology, lycanthropy is an infrequent disorder in which a person believes they're a wolf or some other animal, often linked to schizophrenia. Building on the basis of both truth and legend, Universal added the lycanthrope to their pantheon of monster characters way back in 1913 with the silent film, The Werewolf. It was, however, far from the last film they would make on the subject. Two such films, Werewolf of London and She-Wolf of London make a frightfully welcome DVD debut. Now get your silver bullets ready!
Facts of the Case
In Werewolf of London, successful botanist, Dr. Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) heads an expedition to Tibet to find the rare plant "marifasa lumina lupina" which only blooms when there's a full moon. Just as he finds the plant, Glendon is attacked by a half man/half beast who plants a deep bite on Glendon's forearm. Returning to London, Glendon prepares his artificial moonlight lamp to bloom the marifasa. The mysterious Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland) informs Glendon that the marifasa is an antidote that temporarily cures werewolf transformations. Glendon dismisses Yogami's claims, until the next full moon, when Glendon turns into a werewolf himself and begins to terrorize the people of London. Meanwhile, Glendon's wife Lisa (Valerie Hobson) reconnects with her old boyfriend Paul (Lester Matthews), unaware of her husband's condition, and of Yogami's warning that the werewolf seeks to destroy that which it loves the most.
She-Wolf of London is unrelated in any way to Werewolf of London. In fact, the story actually pre-dates that film. In turn of the century England, there's been an outbreak of murder in foggy London parks. The survivors have described the murderer as a "she-wolf," a female werewolf. Phyllis Allenby (June Lockhart) fears that she, unwittingly, has been committing the murders. Phyllis believes she is suffering from the curse of the Allenbys: local legend is that werewolves run in the family. Indeed the morning after the murders, Phyllis wakes to find blood on her clothes and her slippers covered with dirt. Phyllis is the last of the Allenbys, save for her mysterious Aunt Martha (Sara Haden) and Cousin Carol (Jan Wiley) who are unrelated by blood and therefore not entitled to the Allenby estate. Phyllis's fiancé, Barry Lanfield (Don Porter) sets out to disprove Phyllis's superstitions and discover the truth behind the terrible murders.
Werewolf of London gets less than a fair shake in the pantheon of monster movie classics, probably because the other Universal film about werewolves, The Wolf Man, is truly one of the greatest horror films of all time. Even though Wilfred Glendon got the bite six years before Larry Talbot, he's the lesser known of the two. Werewolf of London is inferior to The Wolf Man is many ways. The monster's makeup is less convincing, the on-screen transformation technique less perfected, and Glendon's story less haunting than that of his more famous cousin. But that doesn't mean that Werewolf Of London isn't a decent movie in its own right. Henry Hull as Glendon echoes Colin Clive's performance in Frankenstein, as a doctor consumed with his work to the point of madness. Warner Oland (famous for his screen performances as Charlie Chan) gives a spooky turn as Dr. Yogami, a man who knows a little too much about werewolves. The movie also has some great kills, including that of a loose woman at the London Zoo (perhaps introducing that horror film rule: you screw, you die). Even the final moments of the film pack some nice surprises. The Wolf Man borrows much from Werewolf of London so you may feel like this one's the copy. Just remember which film came first.
She-Wolf of London was a surprising movie to me in that it's not really a monster film at all. Viewers seeking the usual monster makeup and special effects from a werewolf picture will be left disappointed. She-Wolf of London is really a murder mystery. The viewer catches on pretty early that, unlike other classic horror films in which the identity of the killer is never in question, this film is a whodunit. It wasn't hard to tell which way this film was going to unfold, but at least the journey, especially at a breezy 62 minutes, was a fun one. June Lockhart gives a very sympathetic performance as the "she-wolf." Genre fans will probably remember her best as Mrs. Robinson on Lost In Space, though she played the mother on TV's Lassie as well. Here she is very young and very vulnerable. My one regret is we never get to see what she'd look like as a werewolf. Though I can recommend this film, it's questionable as to whether it belongs in Universal's monster collection. It's relevant in title only. I wonder if 1940s horror fans felt the same way.
Werewolf of London/She-Wolf of London is part of a new line of classic horror double features by Universal. Whereas Universal's more popular monster classics were given full-fledged special edition treatment, the draw of these discs is getting two films for the price of one.
The theatrical trailers for both films are provided, though they're in pretty scratchy condition. Incidentally, don't watch the trailer for Werewolf of London before the film, as it gives away a major plot point. Also on disc are some interesting production notes, and the usual cast/crew bios. Otherwise, these discs are featureless.
Both features are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality of these prints is very impressive, especially considering both films are several decades old. Werewolf of London is a little dirtier than She-Wolf of London, probably because the latter film is 11 years younger. Both films have solid black levels and are mostly free from grain and other defects. Overall, the video presentation is very pleasing to the eye.
Werewolf of London/She-Wolf of London are both presented with the original English mono audio tracks. The audio track is solid for both films. Nothing here is going to maximize your sound system, but the audio experience is very adequate for such old films. Werewolf of London/She-Wolf of London also contains English, Spanish and French subtitles.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Of course, these discs might've benefited from some more special features, but that seems like sour grapes. Universal has a huge catalogue of monster titles and cannot realistically be expected to give each one special edition treatment. So instead, Universal's goal is to give the consumer more for their money, and should be applauded as such.
Though they're very different films in nature and tone, and certainly not at the classic level of The Wolf Man, Werewolf of London and She-Wolf of London are both enjoyable films in their own right. Universal has made this collection very appealing, with surprisingly high-quality audio-visual elements and a nice double-feature price. Give this disc a try!
Not guilty! Free to roam until the next full moon!
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