IT SEEMS ALMOST criminal that this movie has been somewhat forgotten albeit from the hardcore cinephile.
Werewolf of London will forever be cemented in history as the first mainstream Hollywood feature to centre on lycanthropy and as such contains all the ingredients that would inspire more well-known horror films down the track, chief among these would be An American Werewolf In London.
The film centres on Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull), a wealthy English botanist who ventures into Tibet in search of the rare mariphasa plant.
Whilst on his expedition, Glendon is attacked by a werewolf but lives to tell the tale, but must carry the curse inflicted upon him.
Glendon’s quest was not a complete failure as he was able to obtain a sample of the mariphasa plant and as luck would have it contains the antidote (albeit a temporary one) to the traits of lycanthropy.
Upon his return to London, Glendon meets a fellow botanist, Dr Yogami, with a peculiar background, and just do happens to also be a werewolf.
A conflict arises between the two of them, particularly as Glendon learns that Yogami was the same werewolf that bit him in Tibet.
As his condition escalates, Glendon ventures transformed into the streets of London raising havoc and carnage and attacking and killing people along the way.
Glendon’s plight increases further when Yogami steals the plant sample for himself.
The rage boils over and an almighty clash arises, resulting in Glendon overpowering his foe.
Now succumbed to the curse, Glendon is drawn to his one true love, Lisa (Valerie Hobson) and is finally ploughed down when he is shot and killed in his attempt to murder her.
His dying words are ones of gratitude, as he transforms back to his former self, a tragic tale, which would be conveyed to its cinema going audience and many werewolf tales to come.
Hull’s performance is impeccably sound as Wilfred Glendon and captures both his profession and eventual transformation with great believability.
In fact, one could go on to argue that it is because of his performance and believability grounds this movie into reality and harnesses his despair even further.
Credit must also go to Jack Pierce, the man responsible for Boris Karloff’s make-up as The Monster in Frankenstein, and would produce the make-up here too, although a minimal version from what he had intended.
According to accounts from Hull’s family, he had insisted on pairing back effects so that his face could be more visible and recognisable.
Despite Pierce’s disapproval, Hull would succeed in getting what he wanted with the support of studio head, Carl Laemmle.
Pierce would however get to flex his creativity once more, six years later on Lon Chaney Jr in The Wolf Man, but event that didn’t go down too well and Pierce fast got a reputation that was unlikeable among his peers.
Despite all this, director Stuart Walker was able to steer the ship and deliver a solid movie as a result, which can feel a little dated by modern standards.
Classic horror enthusiasts may enjoy the trip back to where it all began, but it is tame compared to the films being generated today.
- Paul Farrell