One fact that seems to be forgotten when talking about the Universal horror series of the 1930's and 40's is that the iconic Wolf Man is entirely their own creation. Whereas the more famous Dracula and Frankenstein came from the pages of literature, the Wolf Man was a story simply based on some old folk-lore. So credit to Universal then for coming up with something as fondly remembered as Dracula and Frankenstein are, but it also perhaps provides a clue as to why 'The Wolf Man' as a film simply isn't that great.Truly great horror films should also be scary (or at the least interesting) during the daytime scenes as they are during the nighttime scenes. Examples like 'Frankenstein', 'The Shining' and 'The Omen' to name but a few all accomplish this.
'The Wolf Man' doesn't. When we're trapped on the fog-curdled moors with a growling werewolf our only company it's as shiveringly enjoyable as any of it's cousin films. When it's bright and sunny however...it's dull exposition and leaden romance all the way. And as most Universal horror films are barely over 60 minutes, it's perhaps best to avoid showing your monster until the last 20 minutes.
However 'The Wolf Man' s still good fun, like most Universal horrors were, and still has a lot going for it. The afore-mentioned scenes on the foggy moor are so good they're worth mentioning twice, and the make-up of the werewolf has rightly gone down into legend.
Lon Chaney Jr as the returning Lord of the Yorkshire estate, Lawrence Talbot, is excellent and gives a troubled and sympathetic performance when he's bitten that gives the werewolf story the tragic centre it always needs. Bela Lugosi as the gypsy (conveniently named Bela) that bites Lawrence is a spooky delight as always and Claude Rains as Lawrence's father gives a bit of class and dignity to the film which adds to the tragedy.
It's just a shame that for a film set in Yorkshire, there's not a Yorkshire accent to be heard and is instead populated with Americans, cockneys and Lords. But that's Hollywood for you I guess.So no classic to go alongside 'Frankenstein' then, but rather a flawed gem to go alongside 'Dracula' instead. Great performances, stellar make-up as always and when the lights go down and the fog goes up it's a spooky treasure. It's just a shame that when the lights go up your interest is likely to go down as well.