Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Myself, I've always been partial to the "Wolf Man" icon of the Horror Greats.

Erroneously labeled "Werewolf" in this series from 1970's Marvel Comics, the character above is a Wolf Man through and through.

The difference?

For starters, it should be stated "Lycanthropy" or "moon madness" is a verifiable psychological illness in the "real" world. They ain't called "lunatics" for nothing, folks. "Lycanthropy" usually means someone who believes they turn into a raging beast when the moon is full. The word encompasses fiction's bastardization of the premise over the years.

A "werewolf" is an "Old World" legend concerning men who make deals with the Devil, usually involving selling their souls for a belt of wolf-fur that, when worn, turns them into great, big slavering wolves. No "man" involved post-transformation, just a wolf, usually larger than most, which feasts on human flesh. An odd by-product of this supernatural transformation is the discarded clothes of the practitioner, which turn to stone until he removes the belt (or whatever item given him by Satan) and becomes a man again.

The "Wolf Man" however, is purely a film creation.

Lon Chaney Jr. played the iconic Wolf Man in the 1945 movie of the same name. There was another before that, in 1935, again "wrongly" titled WEREWOLF OF LONDON with Henry Hull suffering the curse of the beast and Warner Oland (the first Charlie Chan) the film's villain. WEREWOLF OF LONDON is a great movie, and Hull's Wolf Man, unlike Chaney Jr's more fuzzy-wuzzy version (okay, I just dissed Hall of Fame make-up artist Jack Pierce, but his Wolf Man is no Frankenstein Monster!) is what I call an actual Wolf Man:

I mean, that is unbelievably badass.

Somewhere in between, and perhaps the greatest Wolf Man design of all time, is Oliver Reed in CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961, Hammer Studios):


to see a bunch more sweet sculptures of horror icons!)

Pretty much the opening credits of CURSE do one thing better than any movie I've seen with a Wolf Man character...the opening shows a band of light across a set of yellow eyes--the eyes of Oliver Reed's Wolf Man--and over a period of a minute or so while the credits play, Reed's eyes begin to well up and tears stream down his face.

Now, I know this was because the colored contacts used in the 1960s were akin to pressing painted sandpaper on top of your eyeballs (according to Christopher Lee, who ran around in them as Dracula for most of the 1960s and early 1970s), so Reed "weeping" is eye irritation.

But in the context of the movie, of the Wolf Man as a victim himself, it's a beautiful (dare-I-pretense-it) metaphor for the tragedy.

Because a Wolf Man is, as the great screenwriter Curt Siodmak penned it (in a famous poem written specifically for THE WOLF MAN):

Even a Man who is Pure in Heart
And Says his Prayers by Night
May become a Wolf When the Wolfbane Blooms
And the Autumn Moon is Bright

Yeah, that is pure 100% my favorite poem of all time.

The tragedy of the Wolf Man is that he's usually a poor schlub like you or me, bopping along trying to date pretty girls, have a strawberry shake and catch the late show, when he's attacked by a "wolf-like creature" and injured, specifically bitten.

From that moment on, the schlub "dies" and is cursed to be immortal. Not a bad deal, except he becomes a Wolf Man during the full moon each month and tries to tear his loved ones to pieces. In fact, his loved ones are most likely to be his victims, as the "man" part will seek out those familiar to him, longing for help and understanding...and it is the beast, lusting for blood, who kills them.

I think this is why I always loved the Wolf Man more than Frankenstein's Monster or the Invisible Man or the Gill-Man...the Wolf Man cannot control his fury. He has to kill everything in his path. Other classic Horror Monsters make conscious decisions concerning their fate, but the Wolf Man has no choice. His animal instinct is to hunt and kill, merciless as nature.

To awaken from a dream of blood, as the Man must do once the beast recedes, is to awaken to a nightmare of what he has done. At the core of the Wolf Man's tragedy is this horror, the kind of horror none of us would want to bear, and that is why the Wolf Man is truly unique among his peers.

No comments: