Okay, a quick history lesson -- After the success of Dracula and Frankenstein, Carl Laemmle Jr., who was head of production at Universal Studios in the 1930s, wanted to bring another monster to the big screen. They were planning a movie called "The Wolf Man", which would star Boris Karloff, but that fell through so in 1935 they decided instead to create a Frankenstein sequel ... and this little gem. He called upon makeup legend Jack Pierce, who had already created the Dracula and Frankenstein monsters we know and love, and who would later go on to create Lon Chaney Jr.'s Wolf Man. Also involved was special effects guru John P. Fulton, who also worked on most of Universal's monster movies of the 30s and 40s. And so, at least some of the ingredients were here that would later created a classic werewolf that everyone would remember in the years to come.
Henry Hull gives a creditable performance here as a botanist cursed with lycanthropy, but the same cannot be said for the whole cast. I found Warner Oland's acting ability to be particularly suspect, as the villain of the story. The sets are fairly well designed and mostly believeable, and the directing is competent enough. The score has it's moments, although it is a little intrusive at times.
On the whole, the movie is well written and well acted, although admittedly there are huge sections which are just plain dull, and the werewolf here isn't particularly horrific. The only truly memorable sequence is the initial transformation. Already interesting interpretations are being made of the Werewolf myth -- here they say that a man will become a wolf "between the hours of nine and ten at the full of the moon", thereby introducing the idea that wolves only change at the full moon.
Although the movie was a fair commericial success, it just didn't scream of a franchise. But six years later, that "Wolf Man" project that Universal had been interested in would eventually come into being, and the rest is history ...
I remember seeing this movie as a child and being truly frightened. But you the know the thing of it is, is that the lighting for this movie emphasized the make up perfectly. Notice the shadowing and how effective the lighting gives the werewolf a terrifying look. I'll admit that the movie itself lacked a good script. Henry Hull was just too stiff. I would have to agree with other reviews about the make up now. Jack pierce called it the " Elvis werewolf", I guess I could agree with that as well. There are some memorable moments when Spring Byington brings some good comedy to the movie and tries to lift it up but, The change scenes are very well done. My favorite of course; is as he walks through the lab and starts to change.
The first appearance comes when our main character is in Tibet, being stalked by a werewolf. A little pair of eyes pokes up over a rock (see top photo), and the wolf leaps out and, well ... it looks silly. Just plain silly. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't exactly expecting Rick Baker quality make-up, but I was seriously disappointed.
But it seems the first actor just doesn't make a good wolf, because thankfully, when our protaganist begins to change, his makeup looks much better (see third photo down). It's well-designed, more convincing and most of all more inhuman. It is revealed to us in an excellent transformation sequence, where he walks past a series of pillars and each time we see him through the gaps he is a little more wolf-like. It is a memorable, wonderfully artistic little sequence which deserves to have 'classic horror scene' status.
Apparently, actor Henry Hull rejected Jack Pierce's original design, and insisted on a more stylised, 'less hairy' approach. Pierce agreed, but used his original design for "The Wolf Man" six years later, and that is ultimately the one that we remember.
The later transformations are achieved through a variety of means, including some fairly well-done crossfading and shots where the camera pans back and forth between his hands and his face, each steadily gaining more wolf hair in each shot. It's impressive, bearing in mind that this was really the first time they'd tried to achieve this, and they had very few references to fall back on. At the time, audiences were probably pretty freaked out by that quality of trick photography, but of course that alone doesn't make a good movie.
Henry Hull's performance is decent enough, although we don't emphathise with his character as much as we do with later lycanthropy-inflicted heroes. But the main problem is that when in wolf form, he behaves pretty much like a normal human being aside from his desire to kill at least one person each night. There's even one scene where he puts on a hat and coat before going out (see bottom photo). Presumably this is to disguise himself rather than to keep warm, but it's just wrong.