Tuesday, October 23, 2007

the werewolf (1956)

This season has been a great one for inexpensive b-movie box sets. I've already written about films from the Twisted Terror Collection, Fox Horror Classics and the Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection vol.2, and the past few months have also seen releases devoted to Roger Corman, Vincent Price and even producer Sam Katzman. Today's selection comes from the Katzman set, 1956's "The Werewolf," directed by Fred F. Sears (Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers) and written by Robert E. Kent (John Brahm's "Hot Rods to Hell").

Of all the classic movie monsters, the werewolf is probably my favorite. It's hard to say why, exactly, but maybe it's the mix of man and monster, making the werewolf the most human of all the monsters of myth, and also the most tragic. Maybe it's the forbidden appeal of tapping into animal instincts, or maybe it's the iconography- the wolf, wolfsbane, the full moon, the pentagram, the silver bullet. Maybe I just like dogs. Whatever it is, the werewolf really does it for me, monster-wise (with Frankenstein's monster coming in a close second), and it also helps that there have been a number of great werewolf movies over the years, from George Waggner's 1941 classic "The Wolf Man," to Gene Fowler Jr.'s "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" (1956), Joe Dante's "The Howling" (1981), John Landis' "American Werewolf in London" (also 1981), and more recently John Fawcett's "Ginger Snaps" (2000).

"The Werewolf" is a worthy addition to the werewolf film canon, as it explores the mythos of the lycanthrope in decidedly modern ways. The film's creature is somehow the by-production of atomic radiation, a common plot element in 1950s horror and sci-fi, but used here to good effect. "The Werewolf" is a film awash in dread. It focuses much attention on the fear of the townspeople, as they hunt the creature, and then once he's caught, wait to see what happens next. There is a sense of a people under a state of siege. This can be seen as mirroring the dread of the cold war and atomic age, living under the constant threat of global annihilation. The horror of the werewolf is tied to the mystery of radiation, and in modernity itself. In these respects, "The Werewolf" is not only anti-nuclear, but subtly an anti-war film as well.

At the same time, it does a good job of sympathetically portraying the title creature, of showing him as both a man and a monster, trapped in a situation not of his own doing and so far beyond his control. We are never allowed to forget the man behind the monster, and this makes his plight all the more moving. In some ways, he is more sympathetic than the people of the town who are out to get him. They are often shown as overzealous (over militaristic, one might say), and the first townsperson the werewolf encounters even tries to rob him. I generally subscribe to the belief that there is something of interest to be found in most films and popular culture artifacts in general, but "The Werewolf" is particularly ripe with meaning and subtext.

Depth aside, it's also a great looking film with crisp B&W cinematography. The performances are fine if unremarkable, though Steven Ritch is quite good as the werewolf, and I also liked big Don Megowan as the town sheriff. This film would make an excellent addition to your Halloween spoon-a-thon, check it out today!

Until next time, stay spooky...

No comments: