Even by 1941, Lon Chaney was a legend in Hollywood. His makeup skills were inspiring future generations and gave us modern-day artists like Tom Savini and Rick Baker. While his son didn’t inherit his father’s makeup skills, he did leave his own mark on the horror film genre. Lon Chaney Jr. is the only actor who can claim to have played the legendary Dracula, Frankenstein monster, mummy and, the starring role in 1941s The Wolf Man. While considered by most to be one of the best of the Universal Horror films, it’s somewhat surprising that it never had its’ own sequel. From his second appearance in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, our resident werewolf was sharing the spotlight with the other monsters on the block. However, Lon Chaney Jr. can hold claim to be the only actor to have portrayed the Wolf Man, truly making the character his own.
Lon plays our lead, Lawrence Talbot, who returns to his home in Wales following the death of his brother. He reconciles with his father Sir John Talbot, played marvelously by Claude Rains (The Invisible Man). He soon sparks up a romantic interest in Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers, The Ghost of Frankenstein) only to quickly be sidetracked after he is bitten by the werewolf, Bela, played by Bela Lugosi in a small but pivotal role. Maria Ouspenskaya appears for the first time as Maleva, the gypsy, and Ralph Bellamy rounds out our primary cast as Colonel Montford, hot on the trail of the murdering wolf creature. The movie is full of atmosphere with foggy moors and the ever-present town folk ready to roast evil alive if they had a bonfire.
Lon would return as Talbot in 1943s Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man opposite Bela Lugosi’s monster. It picks up years later after Talbot has been dead and buried only to have Talbot resurrected and once again on the prowl. This begins his quest to find a cure, somehow thinking Dr. Frankenstein’s journals would hold the answer. They didn’t and following a fight to the death with the monster, is thought killed. However, he didn’t die and came back in 1944s House of Frankenstein, this time sharing screen time with the legendary Boris Karloff. 1945s House of Dracula was same song, different verse but he managed to go out having a little fun with Bud and Lou in 1948s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Sadly, his cure from House of Dracula was forgotten and the wolf was growling again. After this, our resident werewolf was laid to rest until the lackluster remake in 2010. Lon did don the werewolf makeup a few other times, including a 1959 Mexican horror film, La Casa del Terror, and a 1966 episode of Route 66. However, his Universal Wolf Man would forever be the role he is best remembered for.
The new Blu-ray release is stunning, looking more crisp and sharp than ever before. A plethora of extras, as is the cases with all of the movies on the Universal Monsters Blu-ray set, makes this required and annual Halloween viewing.