Classic monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the mummy, the invisible man, the wolf man, and the creature from the Black Lagoon paved the path for modern horror marvels. Turning terror mainstream, these familiar faces of fear demonstrated that horror has a home in motion pictures.
Several of these favored fright feasts began life a literary horror. Authors like Brahm Stoker, Mary Shelley, and H.G. Wells. Others rose from the grave as original nightmares created specifically for Universal Pictures.
Universal Studios, in 1923, took a gamble with their production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1922). “Hunchback,” which did better than other film Universal released that year, catapulted Lon Chaney into the spotlight, due the brilliant star’s passion for perfect make-up (which he did himself). To showcase Cheney’s talents, Gaston Leroux’s “Le Fantome de l’opera” novel became the studios next feature. “Phantom of the Opera,” released in 1925, also gave birth to the horror genre of fear fed films.
Lon Cheney Jr.’s full moon manifestation was not the first Universal foray into the den of wolves. That title belongs to the May 1935 release “Werewolf of London.” Jack Pierce’s original makeup plan for transforming Dr. Gideon (Henry Hull) on film was rejected for this monster movie. “Werewolf of London,” perhaps, gained more popularity in 1978 due to Warren Zevon’s Halloween pop hit of the same name. It is also considered to have inspired feature films like “An American Werewolf in London” (1981) and “An American Werewolf in Paris” (1997).
Henry Hull is the great uncle to Courtlandt Hull, owner of Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum. This Bristol CT, 50-year-old monsterpiece of fear film fun is well worth a visit for any fan of fear films.
Just as “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” made Lugosi and Karloff famous faces of fear, “The Wolf Man” added Lon Cheney Jr. to that impressive list of legends. Werewolf whispers wind their way into the 1941 feature film early with Talbot’s wolf head cane purchase and the local’s love for related poetry (“Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night; May become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”).
Bela Lugosi, though may actually be the “first” werewolf. According to the gypsy Maleva, her son Bela (played by Lugosi) was actually the wolf that bit and was killed by Talbot.
In addition to Lon Cheney Jr. and Bela Lugosi, “The Wolf Man” enjoys performances by Claude Rains (Sir John Talbot), Warren William (Dr. Lloyd), Ralph Bellamy (Col. Paul Montford), Maria Ouspenskaya (Gypsy), and Evelyn Ankers (Gwen Conliffe).
Famous, fiendish, though not always, full moon Fun
When Laurence Talbot (Lon Cheney Jr.) was bitten by a wolf, in the 1941 Universal Studios monster movie, “The Wolf Man,” it was the beast’s bite (subsequently triggered by in-season wolfsbane), and not the full moon which cursed Talbot with lycanthropy. Jack Pierce’s masterpiece of make-up magic, originally created for “Werewolf of London,” would finally be revealed at the film’s finale. Other transformations merely showed fur-lined feet/paws to hint of Cheney’s change into the Wolf Man.
Pierce’s perfection of man to wolf wizardry took ten hours to process, though only appears on film for mere moments, depicting what appears to be an almost instant change. Using markers for the camera, Lon Cheney Jr, would lie in place to record several frames of various stages of the alteration. More makeup would be added and the process would be repeated. Each step would add more make-up; grease paint, yak hair, wigs and a prosthetic nose complete the progress over the course of filming.
Full moon magic replaced wolfsbane activation of the curse for future appearances of the wolf creature. The process was also streamlined and appeared more frequently in Cheney’s reprisals of the role.
The Curse Continues
Even though this famous furry fiend never saw solo sequels, Lon Cheney Jr. did appear, for Universal, as the wolf man for four more films. 1943’s “Frankenstein Meets the Werewolf” reunited Lugosi (as Frankenstein’s monster) and Cheney Jr. (as Talbot/Wolf Man).
Glen Strange (as the monster), John Carradine (Dracula) and Lon Cheney Jr. team up in the 1945 fear feature, “The House of Frankenstein.” The Mummy and Invisible Man, along with lesser-known Universal monsters (the Ape Woman and the Mad Ghoul) were slated to appear, but, sadly were never included.
“House of Dracula” (1945), itself a sequel to “House of Frankenstein,” saw the trio of terror (Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Wolf man) reunited for a return engagement.
Lon Cheney Jr. performed Larry Talbot’s final film foray featured comedy legends Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. “Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein” premiered in theaters on June 15, 1948. Bela Lugosi returned as Count Dracula, Glenn Strange resumed his role as Frankenstein’s monster, and Vincent Price “portrayed” the Invisible Man (in voice only).
Universal Studios reworked their lycanthropic legend for a modern motion picture reboot in 2010. “The Wolfman” cast Benicio del Toro as Lawrence Talbot/Wolfman and added Anthony Hopkins as his father, Sir John Talbot. Additional cast members included Emily Blunt (Gwen Conliffe), Hugo Weaving (Inspector Francis Aberline), and Geraldine Chaplin (Maleva). Max von Sydow makes a cameo (cut from the film, but restored with home video releases) as does makeup master Rick Baker (gypsy). Danny Elfman scored the remake.
Fans of the film were treated to a Halloween preview, of sorts. “The Wolfman” was one of 8 haunts at Universal Studios Florida’s 2009 version of Halloween Horror Nights: “Ripped from the Silver Screen.”
Theme park tributes to Classic Monsters can be found Universal Studios Florida. There, Universal Studios’ Classic Monsters Cafe curates a creepy cool collection of monster-themed treasures (including several of the largest Basil Gogos prints ever created).
Artist Nathan of Luna Moon Gothic crafted a spooktacular series watercolor creations which pay homage to these classic monsters. Check out their store on Etsy to dig up your own copy of this wickedly wonderful artwork (and discover other fiendishly fun finds).
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