Monday, October 23, 2023

Ten Days of Terror!: The Werewolf

Film: The Werewolf
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

There are specific expectations we have with certain movie monsters. Vampires are going to have a hypnotic gaze and be vulnerable to sunlight and crosses. Frankenstein’s monster is going to fear fire. Werewolves come out during a full moon and are killed by silver bullets. So what happens when you take one of those monsters with clear expectations and do something completely different with it? That’s central to the uninterestingly named The Werewolf, a mid-‘50s horror movie that tries to latch on to the mad science craze of the Atomic Age.

We’re going to start with a drifter (Steven Ritch) who seems disoriented and unclear of who and where he is. He leaves a bar and is followed by another patron who knows the drifter is flush with cash (he paid for a drink with a $20, which is pretty good money for 1956, roughly a couple of hundred bucks). A fight breaks out, and while we don’t see the fight, we do hear the results. A local woman sees the fight, though, and our ruffian who tried to mug the drifter is dead, his throat ripped out.

What we get from this point forward is a situation where we as the audience know far more than the people we are watching on the screen. The locals, headed by Sheriff Jack Haines (Don Megowan) and his deputy, Ben Clovey (Harry Lauter), will slowly start to pick up information about the man who is clearly known to us as the werewolf. They’re going to be aided by local doctor Jonas Gilchrist (Ken Christy) and his nurse Amy Standish (Joyce Holden).

The things that we learn as the audience is that our werewolf is an amnesiac. His wife Helen Marsh (Eleanore Tanin) and their child Chris (Kim Charney) show up and let everyone know that the man they are hunting is named Duncan Marsh. We also meet doctos Emery Forrest (S. John Launer) and Morgan Chambers (George Lynn) also become known to us. They reveal that Duncan Marsh was in a car accident and they treated him with irradiated wolf serum. And that is what turns him into the werewolf, which comes out when he is stressed or threatened and has nothing to do with a full moon.

And really, that’s it. The two doctors who have created the werewolf realize that they need to recapture him and make moves to track him down. The townspeople slowly start realizing that the man they are pursuing may not be responsible for his actions, and like the traditional werewolf, is actually a victim. However, the Hays Code tells us that all monsters must die by the final frame of the film, so there’s not going to be any shocks about where we are eventually headed.

The idea that our werewolf has been created by a malfunctioning or a misuse of science is a new twist in the basic idea of a werewolf. Sadly, it is literally the only innovative thing in this film. There are no real shocks for us to deal with as we get from the first act to the third. A big part of that is the fact that a great deal of what we are seeing is the people in the film catching up to what we already know as the audience because of what we have seen. It’s clearly possible to tell a film this way—it’s certainly been done before and it’s a classic in terms of storytelling. Hell, Oedipus is told in this way. It simply needs to be done better than it is here.

And ultimately, that’s the issue with The Werewolf. It has one really interesting idea that it hangs the plot on, but it doesn’t really do anything with that but tell the story that is the most obvious version of what we are going to possibly get. That one bright spark of creativity got pulled down by the rest of the script and the plot being as standard as possible, perhaps to not lose the intended audience. There’s so much more that could be done that would be worth seeing, and it’s simply not here.

It's fine. The scenes where we change from human to werewolf are good, but honestly not better or really different from seeing the same thing with Lon Chaney Jr. back in the day. Even in the one place where we might have had some clear innovation or at least some advancement in technology we’re left with exactly what we expect.

Why to watch The Werewolf: It plays with the werewolf myth in an interesting way.
Why not to watch: That’s the only thing it does that is interesting.


  1. So this is one of the weaker films from the Universal monster series?