2 in 1 Showcase Versus the Wolfman

For the fifth year in a row, I’m sitting down for a Halloween-inspired movie marathon, and for the fourth year, I’ve drafted several of my friends to help me. You can check out previous marathons thusly:

Friday the 13th
A Nightmare on Elm Street
The Universal Pictures Frankenstein

This year, we’re sitting through the Universal Pictures Wolf-Man franchise, and with me are Kenny, Daniel, Lauren, Mike, and Nicole. Last year, as Kenny and I did a lot of the Frankenstein films without the rest of the crew and, frankly, there wasn’t as much room for snark, I didn’t write down our comments as we went along. This year, when Daniel shouted out “He’s got a girl’s name!” when Bela Lugosi turned up in the opening credits, I knew there’d be room to snarkify. For a slightly more serious conversation about the merits of the individual films, you can listen to the podcast in which we discuss them.

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 193: The Universal Wolfman

The Wolfman (1941) The classic begins with Daniel wondering why Lon Chaney’s character is merely credits as “The Wolf-Man,” as if he doesn’t have an actual name. (He does: Lawrence Talbot.) Talbot is being summoned home after many years, hoping to reconcile with his estranged father after his brother dies. We miss the next several minutes of the film, though, as we 1) notice that Mike is still wearing the headset we used to record the podcast introduction, 2) Mike announces that he’s doing it because he’s as “cool as the other side of the pillow,” 3) Kenny says that “Buddy Dee Williams” is as cool as the other side of the pillow, and 4) We proceed to mock Kenny mercilessly. Lauren, meanwhile, is getting ready to kick Mike, Kenny, and Daniel out of the Man-Cave for talking during the damn movie. I concur.

Mike and Daniel immediately latch on to the fact that Talbot has a big-ass telescope in his mansion, something that rather disappoints Mike as I point out that the film was made in 1941 and the chances of him seeing any women undressing through it are fairly slim. Talbot does, however, see a woman (the lovely Evelyn Ankers) working in an antique shop, whom he approaches and begins commenting on the objects he’s seen in her room. My only response: “He’s the worst stalker ever.”

Somehow, he convinces the woman to accompany him on a wolf-tracking expedition to a nearby gypsy encampment. Kenny comments, “The girls tells him no and she still goes with him. And then brings a friend.” Mike chimes in, “What the HELL?” Lauren merely expresses her sorrow that Daniel cannot grow a saucy handlebar mustache like Bela Lugosi is sporting as a gypsy fortune teller in this picture. Chaney continues to bumble over Ankers, which makes me realize that back in 1941, I actually may have had some game with the women. At least relatively. Kenny, however, would still have none.

What with one thing or another, Chaney gets bitten by a wolf, which he then proceeds to beat the crap out of with a wolf-headed cane he bought from Ankers earlier. Although the actual beating takes place out of frame, Kenny correctly comments that you couldn’t get away with that in today’s movies. And yet they allow Snooki on television where any kid could see it.

As Chaney is told by gypsies that he’s now going to bear the curse of the werewolf (because of the whole “being bitten and beating the previous werewolf to death with a silver-tipped walking stick” thing), Mike begins to question why they keep calling it a stick instead of a cane. A quick Google search reveals that the difference between a cane and a walking stick is that a cane has a curved top. This post now qualifies for an educational grant. Our amazement at the film continues when we realize that Ankers’ character actually does seem to be falling in love with Chaney, a man who introduced himself by basically revealing that he’d been spying on her through her window. In many ways, this film is a precursor to Twilight.

Chaney seeks help from the medical community, uttering the immortal phrase, “Have you ever met a werewolf, Doctor?” Daniel, despite warnings from Lauren that he’ll be sleeping in the yard until Thanksgiving, cannot contain himself: “I’ve never met a Werewolf Doctor!”

At this point, Kenny’s sister Megan pops in and informs us that it is, in fact, the night of a full moon. Somehow, this sends both Kenny and Daniel scrambling to separate electronic devices in an attempt to download Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London. We will now hear this constantly for the rest of the day. Chaney, of course, is unable to contain himself, and eventually winds up in battle with his own father, who proceeds to beat him to death with his own sliver-tipped cane. Mike begins to question the link between silver and kryptonite, which is something only a geek of our level would begin to go to. In the touching moment as the father mourns his son’s death, Daniel pulls out his cell phone and starts playing Hungry Like the Wolf. Lauren contemplates divorce.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) In this film, which serves as both the second Wolf-Man movie and the fifth Frankenstein movie, we start off with a couple of grave robbers busting into the Tomb of the Talbots. I take a bit of offense when we see the marking on Larry’s grave, which says he died at the “youthful age of thirty-one.” I have to look it up, now – Chaney was apparently only 35 when the film was made. Apparently, people aged a lot harder in the 1930s.

The coffin, which they pop into for some insane reason, turns out to be full of wolfbane, which according to the poem we heard in the first movie (and again in this one) is inexorably linked to the curse of the werewolf. Even one who is “pure of heart” can be subjected to it. The two robbers pilfer a ring from Talbot’s body, which somehow brings him back to life. As he grabs one of the robbers, the other hauls ass out of the tomb. Mike begins to ponder why people running in horror movies always fall down.

The next conversation must be quoted verbatim:

MIKE: Why is the sound so low?

LAUREN: Well if you’d stop talking, you could hear it!

BLAKE: You just got Laurened.

MIKE: Well she can Lauren me all she wants—



If anything happens in the next two minutes, we miss it.

When we finally get back to the film, Talbot is in the hospital and the staff is confused because his ass has been dead for four years. I can perfectly understand why this is confusing. When he makes his inevitable transformation into the werewolf, despite the fact that he was wearing a hospital robe, he again shows up wearing the black button-down he had on throughout the first picture. When we see him again, passed out, he’s back in the hospital robe. Evidently, Larry Talbot’s transformation is far more efficient than Bruce Banner’s.

Mike, Daniel and Kenny retreat to the kitchen at this point to begin making popcorn. As they go about this vital task, someone begins to take stock of Kenny’s alcohol situation. This could get ugly. Slightly uglier, on-screen, Talbot begins to suspect that the fact he has come back means he can’t die, and he’ll get violent as a result. This is interesting to me – up until this point, Talbot has come across as a victim in this series. Now, for the first time, he’s starting to behave like a monster in human form as well.

Talbot hooks up with the old gypsy woman who told him about the curse in the first movie and they decide to seek out Dr. Frankenstein for help killing him permanently. Evidently, he just wants to die. A guy who looks like Teddy Roosevelt informs them that Frankenstein was a madman whose home burned down with him in it. Later, a local girl gets killed by an animal bite, so the villagers (showing the sort of calm logic as we saw in last year’s Frankenstein marathon) hunt down the new guy in town… who does, admittedly, happen to be a werewolf. He flees and winds up stumbling into a frozen cave where – holy crap – Frankenstein’s monster has been preserved in the ice. Talbot pulls the monster (in this film, played by Bela Lugosi) out and they begin to make their way to the ruins of Frankenstein’s lab, past the fakest-looking bats I’ve ever seen on anything. Including the rubber ones hanging in our school library this month.

Unable to find the death he seeks in the ruins of Frankenstein’s lab, Talbot finds a disturbingly saucy picture of Frankenstein’s daughter signed to her father, and tracks her down in the hopes of buying Frankenstein’s land to continue his search. The film is suddenly disrupted by – not even kidding here, folks – an impromptu musical number, where a dude in lederhosen starts singing about how awesome the guy who looks like Teddy Roosevelt is. When he hits a line about “living eternally,” Talbot does what everyone watching the movie wants to do, leaps up, and threatens to beat the guy unless he shuts up. Somehow, this winds up freaking out everyone in town, despite the fact that you know the actors wanted to do the same thing. Teddy, using his ninja skills, overhears Talbot telling someone about his plans, just before the monster shows up wandering around town. A lynch mob forms, of course, once again giving turn of the century obscure European countries a really bad name.

Talbot and his new friend think of a way to reconstruct Frankenstein’s machines in a way that will supposedly drain the life from both Talbot and the Monster, although it will evidently require the precise flow of a river at just the right time to spin the turbines to activate the device which appeared in Starship Troopers with Denise Richards who was in Wild Things with Kevin Bacon. Meanwhile, the townspeople conspire to destroy them, which seems kind of stupid if you think about it. Why are they trying to attack the people who are trying to find a way to kill the monster? As they begin their experiment, the full moon comes out, the monster cuts loose, and Teddy Roosevelt begins to lay dynamite to blow up the dam that’s controlling the flow of the river that’s charging the turbines that power the house that Jack built. The monster goes after the girl (as he always does), but the wolfman breaks free and they start ‘rasslin’. Teddy blows up the castle, and this time they both get frozen, only to be reawakened a year later in House of Frankenstein, which we covered in last year’s marathon. So go check that out as we pause for a restroom break, then move into…

Werewolf of London (1931) This was actually Universal’s first werewolf movie, and in fact the first American werewolf movie. It wasn’t actually part of the Lon Chaney, Jr. series, but as it’s included in the Legacy Collection DVD set, we decided to include it too. This film features Henry Hull as Wilfred Glendon, who has the world’s most exciting occupation: botanist. He and a friend find an old dude in Tibet who warns them not to mess with the plant he’s looking for. Like white men in Hollywood have done from the beginning, he doesn’t listen, goes out looking for his planet, and gets bitten by a monster. As he goes back to his lab to study the plant, my gang is astonished to see that he’s actually got a video security system in 1935. My reply: “Hey, he’s a scientist.”

This film is pretty slow-moving… for quite some time, the only thing that’s really worth mentioning are the big hats on the women and the styles of the mustaches, both of which perplex Mike, whose concept of “fashion” means “squirting my Bettie Page t-shirt with Febreeze before I leave the house.” Eventually, Glendon starts to get hairy, so he pokes himself with a flower, which makes the hair go away. We promise to shield Mike from these flowers forever.

As Glendon starts to investigate his transformation, he learns that a werewolf will always try to kill that which he loves the most, which reminds me of that Futurama episode, “The Honking,” where Fry gets upset because Bender (turned into a were-car) goes after Leela instead of him. The fact that I took the time to look up the title of that episode should show you how engrossed I am in this picture. Soon afterwards, Mike and Daniel begin to argue about the transformation scene, which takes place when Glendon walks behind a pole. I’m not impressed with the makeup job, personally – he gets a little hairier and puts lumps on his forehead. The ultimate, though, is that he chooses to put on a coat and hat before he leaves the lab.

At this point, Mike notices that Daniel has fallen asleep on the couch. I suggest putting his hand in a bowl of warm water. Kenny, whose couch Daniel is sitting on, suggest rubber sheets. The discussion summons Daniel back to consciousness. We look at the DVD box to check the running time and are startled to discover that only 12 minutes remain. This is surprising because nothing has happened in what feels like seventeen hours. We are further astonished that the running time is only 1:15 minutes.

There are a couple of genuinely funny moments in this movie, which surprises me. A pair of old women with a propensity for knocking each other out sort of steal the show. And there’s a decent fight scene at the end, but it’s too little too late. It’s no wonder nobody remembers this film.

She-Wolf of London (1946) This film opens up in London, where we discover that people live in fear of the “Allenby Curse.” I’m not entirely sure what this means, but I bet it has something to do with wolves. Daniel, who still hasn’t recovered from the previous movie, activates a strobe light app on his phone in the hopes of inducing a seizure upon himself.  We all wind up spending several minutes playing with our iPhones/iPods and not actually paying attention to the movie. I look up from my iPod and realize the film has been on for 17 minutes.

There’s a killer on the loose, it seems, and people suspect that the Allenby Curse has cut loose. June Lockhart, in fact, wakes up with blood on her fingers, which prompts Kenny to say he thinks it looks like she’s been fingerprinted (this is in black-and-white), which in turn prompts the new uncle in the group (me) to tell everyone that when his niece was born they didn’t use ink to take her footprints, but instead had some sort of heat sensitive paper. This is how interesting this movie is.

We start taking bets on who the wolf really is. June Lockhart? Her cousin? The creepy old woman who opens the door for the detective? We finally get to the attack, where a woman wandering the park wrapped up in a shawl rips out someone’s throat. Mike is appalled by the fact that the woman clearly was not wearing wolf makeup, while I simply notice that she sounds more like a cat than a wolf.

Lockhart’s boyfriend later cheers her up by reciting the various symptoms and results of lycanthropy, which causes her to burst out in tears, which seems disturbingly similar to several dates I had in college. That night, as the cops stake out the park, Lockhart sneaks out as Daniel breaks into a chorus of Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer. This is not nearly as disruptive as his Werewolves of London chorus earlier in the evening. Despite the fact that we’re barely paying attention, Lauren figures out that the old woman is drugging June Lockhart to make her believe she’s the werewolf, while in actuality it’s her cousin that’s committing the murders. She’s right. She then predicts that the old woman will fall down the stairs while chasing the housekeeper. Again, she’s right. Lauren wins this movie.

Like the last movie, the total lack of action has cost us all of our attention. Not even the question of whether June Lockhart is a werewolf manages to hold us here, and at this point, the upcoming 2010 remake of the original is looking damn good.

The Wolfman (2010) The Blu-Ray disc of this film contains both the theatrical and unrated versions. We choose the unrated, as all of us (except Daniel and Lauren) have seen the theatrical version. While Kenny is immediately impressed by how they evoke the classic Universal Studios opening, Lauren says she thinks it’s cooler in black and white. I immediately know this is going to be a fun viewing experience. Like the original, this one opens up with Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) learning of the death of his brother. With the film being made 60 years later, though, we actually get a glimpse of the attack. The Wolfman flashes on the screen just for a second, which I suppose is all well and good. It’d be like trying to hide the monsters in the Alien remake. Everybody saw them already, so why bother?

While on the train home, Talbot meets an old man with a silver wolf-headed walking stick. He offers to give it to Talbot, and when he refuses, he “accidentally” leaves it on the train. Daniel, helpfully, says, “You left your cane!” Mike and Kenny immediately reply, “It’s a walking stick!”

Talbot comes home to find his father, Sir Anthony Hopkins, living in a house that looks like nobody’s been in it since they fell asleep watching She-Wolf of London during its original theatrical release. He collects his brother’s belongings, then goes off to a local pub to have a drink with – once again – Teddy Roosevelt. There he hears some older gents talking about the band of gypsies that have come to town. The bands of tramps and thieves, evidently, never made it that far. Talbot hears them mocking his family and talking about their craaaaaaaazy notion that a werewolf could be behind the recent killing. Go fig.

Later, as Hopkins go around blowing out candles in the mansion, I distinctly hear Mike attempting to help by blowing along. I’m not really sure what to make of this. If anybody out there knows what it means, please e-mail me at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com.

Mike tries to figure out where he’s seen Emily Blunt (who plays Ben Talbot’s fiancé, Gwen) before. I go online and read off some of her filmography. He hasn’t seen any of them before, so he again asks, “Why does she seem familiar to me?” Lauren replies, “Because you’ve seen this movie twice.” Kenny chimes in, “You just got Laurened again.”

Benicio Del Toro, whom we all agree bears more than a passing resemblance to Lon Chaney Jr. (so good on the casting director) heads off to the gypsy village for information about his brother, although Kenny reasonably asks why the hell he would do such at thing at night. Shockingly, there’s an attack on the gypsies by a massive beast who sheds more blood in 12 seconds than in the entirety of the previous four films. Lauren declares she likes the old movies better.

Mike finds himself starting to fall asleep, so he drinks the last quarter-bottle of a five hour energy shot he’s been nursing since he arrives. He then proceeds to put the bottle on the table I’ve got my laptop on. I remove it and place it back on the shelf where he’d kept it all day. He picks it up and, again, puts it on my table. So I take it and bounce it off his head.

While we’re doing this, Talbot is mauled by the werewolf, and although the gypsies sew him up, they’re a bit concerned about the fact that, y’know, he’s cursed to attack and eviscerate human beings now. Talbot is laid up for month trying to recover from the attack, which coincidentally puts him back on his feet just at about the time the moon is turning full again. Hugo Weaving shows up and we’re reminded that, wow, this film actually has some good actors in it. Sadly, as he speaks to Talbot we keep waiting for him to say, “Miiiiiiiist-er Anderson…”

Talbot takes his dead brother’s fiancé out to skip rocks, which sparks a discussion of our respective rock-skipping skills and an impromptu rendition of Whip It before the music turns creepy, signaling the fact that the townspeople (who are just as tolerant as in the original series) show up planning to lock up Talbot before that night’s full moon. Talbot refuses, which somehow freaks out the horse, but before they can drag him away Hopkins shows up and shoots the head off a statue to prove ain’t nobody takin’ his boy. That night, though, Talbot starts to feel fuzzy and angry, proving that perhaps the townspeople weren’t so crazy after all. He warns Gwen to get the hell out of the house, and unlike Lon Chaney, does so without spying on the girl through a telescope.

Talbot’s dad leads him to a secure location where he undergoes a transformation far, far more graphic than any of the ones we’ve seen in the previous films. It also features infinity percent more CGI.

After some nice bloody moments, it’s morning and Talbot gets carted off to the insane asylum by the good townspeople, who’ve got no problem believing he’s a murderous monster, probably because these attacks have happened before. As it happens, we discover that the previous attacks were pulled off by Talbot’s father, who visits his son in the asylum and informs us that, even though he loves his son, he’s got no problem letting him take the fall for decades of murders. The Talbots are scheduled to appear together on Maury next week.

As a THX sound promo plays in the background, Talbot is dragged into an auditorium in the asylum, where his psychiatrist proceeds to explain that he’s delusional about that whole “full moon” thing, even as Talbot is transforming behind him, causing the other doctors in the room to crap their pants. Rather than run out of the room, of course, they point and try to call the doc’s attention to the situation just long enough for Talbot to get loose and start ripping intestines out of stomachs. This leads to a pretty good sequence of his terrorizing London, which of course has been a dream of Kenny’s since he was a wee tot. Gwen, as we learn, loves him anyway. When I point out that she is, in fact, his dead brother’s fiancé, Daniel says, “That was the custom at the time.” I reply, “That was the custom in ancient Rome…” Daniel’s retort: “I’m moving to ancient Rome. And killing my brother.” Lauren… glares at him.

Somehow, the course of conversation sparks Daniel’s rendition of Livin’ on a Prayer, which causes Mike to say he needs to be in a musical to get it out of his system. Talbot, meanwhile, has returned home and loaded up a rifle with silver bullets to look for daddy. Or, so it seems – when he actually tries shooting him, he finds out that Talbot Sr. took the powder out of the bullets a long time ago. The moon comes out and, for the first time in five movies, we finally get some werewolf-on-werewolf action. Sadly, most of it is CGI. Talbot Jr. wins the fight by throwing his father into the fireplace, where he immediately catches on fire, which Mike says is the part of the movie he has trouble with. I reply, “Well he’s old, he’s probably dried out.”

Werewolf Lawrence tangles with Hugo Weaving, and finally faces off with Gwen at a really romantic waterfall, which would be awesome if he wasn’t a wolfman that wanted to eat her spleen. She tries to appeal to the human inside of him, which seems to work just long enough for her to shoot him in the chest. So, like Sheldon observed on The Big Bang Theory, “Bitches be crazy.” As he’s dying, he grabs on to her hand and morphs back, and she acts really, really sad considering the fact that she just shot him in the chest. The film ends with Weaving clutching the wolf-head walking stick, clutching a bite wound, and having a look on his face that clearly expresses the fact that he’s thinking, “Aw crap, I’m gonna be in the sequel.”

We packed up and headed home after this one, content in the knowledge that we’d once again bested one of the all-time great monsters, although his DVD set got stuck with some really crappy films. We’re thinking next year we may go more contemporary… perhaps… it’s time to do battle with Chucky?

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