DRACULA: Vincent Di Fate reviews the Dracula "Legacy Collection"

IN: Bob Madison addresses the Frankenstein set

THE WOLF MAN: Robert Tinnell's take on the Wolf Man "Legacy"

The B Monster delineates your "Horror Heritage"



Rather than raid their vaults to bring to light previously unreleased horror pictures, Universal has opted instead to repackage several of their classic horror titles as The Legacy Collection. With the exception of House of Dracula (it is included in the Dracula Legacy set), all of these titles -- and most of the extras -- were already made available some years back.

For The Wolf Man Legacy Collection, the studio included the namesake 1941 release starring Lon Chaney Jr., as well as Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943), Werewolf of London (Universal's first attempt at a werewolf story) and 1948's She-Wolf of London. Knowledgeable fans realize, of course, that Lon Chaney Jr. played the Wolf Man in three more films -- House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. However, I think Universal probably made a wise choice in packaging the collection as they have. But more on packaging later ...

Okay, we've covered the de rigueur boilerplate. Chances are if you read the B Monster regularly, you're more than a little familiar with these films and their history and the circumstances of their release. So forgive me if I don't waste precious minutes of your life with dry synopses and endless cast lists. Let's pretend we're sitting in the hotel bar at a horror movie convention and I'm holding forth most passionately on the subject.

The keystone of this collection is, of course, The Wolf Man (1941). This was Universal's last successful shot at creating an iconic monster until The Creature in the '50s (don't wave your arms about your head shouting something about the Creeper, please). They had tried once before with a lycanthrope some six years earlier and failed. But this time they got it right.

I often like to ask fellow fans which of the Universal classic horrors actually delivered. And by that, I mean as a total package, really and truly gave you what was promised. For me personally, I always throw out films like The Black Cat and Dracula's Daughter. Well, The Wolf Man delivers. And the big reason it delivers -- the main virtue among a host of virtues -- is the story. Curt Siodmak could write. The Wolf Man is tight, action-packed and thrilling. The characters are likeable and sympathetic. What's more, Siodmak manages to create a mythology practically from whole cloth. In fact, do yourself a favor: watch The Wolf Man back-to-back with Werewolf of London; you'll be amazed at the innovation in the newer film.

A big reason the script is so well regarded is the fabulous cast the studio lined up for the film. Chaney Jr. played all the classic monsters, save for the Invisible Man, but Lawrence Talbot, The Wolf Man, would be his signature role. And while Karloff and Lugosi both saw their famous creations interpreted by others (including Chaney Jr.), The Wolf Man was only portrayed by Lon.

And as for the rest of the cast? I'm still amazed at the caliber of actors they were able to attract. I mean, for me, even though the role is small, I think Lugosi is doing some really great work. He plays Bela, the cursed Gypsy man who ends up responsible for Larry Talbot's condition. There's a shot where you can see the pain in his eyes -- and that medium close-up alone is unforgettable.

Claude Rains turns in a great performance -- but then, didn't he always? Evelyn Ankers is the perfect leading lady. And Maria Ouspenskaya? I'd venture to say she, too, launched an iconic figure with her performance as the old Gypsy woman.

Director George Waggner does a wonderful job of storytelling. Whenever I watch the film I am reminded of a fairy tale. The art department created a magical fog-shrouded world for tragic Larry Talbot to inhabit. And the music is dead-on. Like I said before, The Wolf Man delivers, and delivers big.

Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man was sequel to both The Wolf Man and Ghost of Frankenstein. It also marked the beginning of the so-called "monster rally" films. It starts out quite promising, with two men attempting to rob Larry Talbot's tomb. The production design is splendid, and the direction, editing and music are most effective. To my mind, it is one of the scariest/creepiest scenes in the whole Universal horror run.

As is sometimes the case when breaking new ground, mistakes are made, even with the formidable Curt Siodmak writing the screenplay, and the film develops in an episodic fashion. What's more, changes were made after the film was shot that seriously dilute Bela Lugosi's performance of the Monster. The original script and production, for instance, required that the Monster was blind and could speak. Removal of both those conditions in post-production resulted in a Monster whose behavior could be described as confusing at best.

Overall, though, I find myself returning on occasion to Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man. I think it's fun, I like the cast (including the great Dwight Frye, Lionel Atwill and Madame Ouspenskaya), I like the sets, and what's more, I think it's a great little film to get young kids interested in the classic monsters.

And then there's She-Wolf of London (1946). Long before Lost In Space, June Lockhart headlined this short film that has nothing to do with the previous Wolf Man films. She plays a young London heiress who is apparently inheriting more than just money. Seems there's some sort of family curse that leads her to believe she's a werewolf.

The plain truth here is that this is a bad film all the way around. Who knew you could fit so little in an hour? Director Jean Yarbrough directs with indifference. The staging of the action scenes is dreadful. The cast is not particularly attractive or engaging. There are a couple of nice bits of set dressing and design but all in all, worth a look only to say you've seen 'em all. If it hadn't been included on this disc (or on the earlier double-feature releases of Universal horrors the studio released), I wouldn't even bother to own it.

Which brings me to the fourth and final film in the collection: Werewolf of London (1935). Henry Hull has the title role of botanist Wilfred Glendon. While on an expedition to find a rare flower in Tibet, Glendon is attacked by a werewolf. He returns to London and it is there that he himself begins to change -- and as a result starts hunting the thing he loves most.

Werewolf of London did not catch on like The Wolf Man. There are a number of reasons for this. Henry Hull is just not very sympathetic. He doesn't convey the tragedy in the way Lon Chaney Jr. would years later in The Wolf Man. Part of this is due to the script. And part of it is due, I suppose, to Hull's rather fussy demeanor. Larry Talbot is a guy we can sit and have a beer with. Wilfred Glendon would most likely refuse our company!

Again, the script is to blame for much of the film's problems. For one thing, the werewolf is a bit of a wimp. Mere bullets can kill him, and he is on occasion bested in a fight. More significant to the film's detriment, however, are the characterizations. There's only one truly sympathetic character among the leads -- Warner Oland as Dr. Yogami -- and even then there are inconsistencies in his character that are troubling. Wilfred Glendon is an arrogant, cold fellow with a superiority complex. His wife, Lisa, is spoiled and openly flirts with an old flame. She sends conflicting signals to her husband and the other man, and is, in general, terribly unreasonable. Her "aunt," played by veteran Spring Byington, is thoroughly unlikable -- a poor attempt at comic relief.

A few of the scenes, characters and decisions in the film suggest the writers and director Stuart Walker were trying to replicate some of what James Whale had done so effortlessly in his groundbreaking horrors. Hence, a sequence with two old lady alcoholics is meant to capture Whale's quirky but organic use of humor -- think Una O'Connor. Alas, the attempt fails miserably.

All the above notwithstanding, I have to say that I still enjoy Werewolf of London. Hull's make-up is crude and yet effective. The opening sequence, photographed at the venerable Los Angeles County film location Vasquez Rocks, is fun. And the historian within me enjoys watching the evolution of the werewolf character from Werewolf of London to The Wolf Man.

The overall packaging and presentation of The Legacy Collection is very nice. The various menus are lovingly rendered. In fact, you could actually let the menu run on Halloween night as a mood-setter -- the crickets and wolf howls are wonderful. I could not detect any loss in quality in any of the transfers between now and their original DVD releases. There are extras, the most notable being the very good Monster By Moonlight documentary that was first released as an extra on the original DVD release of The Wolf Man. Tom Weaver's audio commentary on The Wolf Man itself, again recycled, is of great value. And the few trailers present are always welcome.

Finally, Universal has included another "documentary" with the package in an effort to promote their recent "monster rally," Van Helsing. A number of fans have complained about this, but I would counsel caution in their criticisms. If not for Van Helsing, I'm not certain the Legacy Collection would exist. And I want the Legacy Collection to succeed, as I am, quite frankly, desperate to see the studio dig deeper into the vaults and release The Black Cat, The Raven and so on. Despite their best efforts on these releases, Universal is a business. If they aren't making money in a certain direction, you can be sure they will not venture any further. As for the quality of the "documentary" on how The Wolf Man inspired director Stephen Sommers on Van Helsing -- well, at best it's a glorified electronic press kit and not a very good one. But a thought occurred to me as I was watching it -- wouldn't it have been wonderful if Universal had done something so crass during the shooting of the original pictures? Can you imagine how we would savor those precious moments of recorded history? For good or ill, something of a "behind-the -scenes" record of Van Helsing exists. I can't fault the studio for that.

Bottom line, if you already own these films in a previous release, I cannot find a reason for you to purchase them, short of the collectible busts or you being a Van Helsing completist. If you missed out on the opportunity to purchase them during their original DVD release, then run out and get this. For myself, as much as I want Universal to succeed and do the aforementioned digging in their vaults, I can't imagine paying twice for films I already own with no new extras short of the busts.

Robert Tinnell is the writer/director of Monster Kid favorite Frankenstein and Me along with several other films. His latest projects include the horror screenplay The Voice and the monster rally graphic novel The Black Forest -- and you can learn more about all of this at:

"Beware the stalking being -- half -- human -- half -- beast!"
Werewolf of London

"A man transformed to a beast before your very eyes"
Werewolf of London

"Diabolical murder monsters lusting for a death-duel!"
Frankensetien Meets the Wolf Man

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