Wolves of all Nations

A Fever Dream Double Feature.

The Geographical Werewolf sub-sub-genre was inaugurated by Guy Endore’s terrific novel The Werewolf of Paris, and swiftly developed by Hollywood with Werewolf of London, where Henry Hull and Warner Oland got hairy around the Mother of Parliaments. John Landis’s AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, easily his most interesting and effective film, is today the best-remembered entry in the G.W. field.

SHE-WOLF OF LONDON fails to satisfy. Essentially a Scooby Doo version of SUSPICION, it shilly-shallies around for nine-tenths of its duration, with all the action happening offscreen. Things pick up markedly in the last ten minutes, with director Jean Yarborough pouring on the dry ice fog and dutch-tilting the camera like a drunken sailor, but the revelation that there’s NO WEREWOLF takes the wind out of his sails. The credit “Make-up effects by Jack P. Pearce” promises much to a Universal Studios horror fan, but the great monster-maker’s work turns out to be confined to some fake wrinkles (very MUMMY-like) on a maidservant.

June Lockhart, as the heiress convinced she’s a wolf-woman, is cute and appealing, but always seems an unlikely lycanthrope, while the true culprit is constantly sinister even when trying not to be. The most convincing relationship in the film is between the two cops, who are like a bickering old married couple, although they’re not very convincing as Scotland Yard detectives.

More interesting, if not necessarily very effective, is WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON, which doesn’t really attain the status of satire, at least not consistently, but is unusually directed — some weird, gratuitous bit of artsy technique enlivens most every scene — and does spin a few interesting things from its central conceit. Dean Stockwell, a fascinating actor whatever the film, plays Jack Whittier, a journalist recruited to work in the Whitehouse, bitten by a gypsy wolfman as he attempts to leave Hungary to take up his post. The opening reprises the Lon Chaney WOLFMAN with wit and low-budget panache, making the most of an obviously inadequate lighting budget.

“That it could happen… in America. That it could happen… now. That it could ever happen… to me…” the film kicks off with these words, tremulously uttered by Stockwell in V.O. over a long lens moonrise against the Washington skyline, while the titles play out and the music warbles, and none of these visual and aural elements quite connect with each other. This odd, off-key beginning is maybe the high point.

Elsewhere we get dwarf actor Michael Dunn as mad scientist Dr. Kiss, and arch references to the Watergate Hotel and lines like “Well, you won’t have Jack Whittier to kick around anymore.” Most amusingly, when Stockwell tries to concoct a less plausible explanation for his lapses of memory, he hits on the plot of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and suggests that he’s been brainwashed to act as an assassin for the communists. But while there are a few amusing political quotations, and a little bit of parody of Washington lifestyles, there’s virtually nothing about policy, making it a would-be political satire without any politics. It (ouch) lacks bite.

The print seems to be faded down one side, and is hideously speckled and cropped to 1:1.33, but that just added to the nostalgia value of the fashions and filmmaking. What became of Milton Moses Ginsberg, writer-director of this geo-lycanthropic politico-horror satire? According to the IMDb, after finishing this one he lay down to rest for twenty-six years, returning to our screens with THE HALOED BIRD, a short film, in 2001, in which he himself plays… the Golem.

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22 Responses to “Wolves of all Nations”

  1. I too felt cheated the first time I saw She-Wolf of London, I’m sure everyone did. Universal made more than a few of these let-down horror films, promising much and delivering squat. Even Chaney Jr.’s The Wolf Man I found less than satisfying the last time I watched it, Henry Hull’s Werewolf of London looks so much more stylish to me as lycanthropes go, love the widow’s peak and crew-cut, and the whole plot device of the exotic moon flower. So next we have Benicio del Toro as The Wolf Man, and while I like del Toro, the jury’s out on just what he can bring to the role that’s anything new and different.

  2. Yeah, I wonder if maybe somebody just got confused: “Del Toro? Yeah, he does good monsters.”

    At least Stephen Sommers isn’t doing it!

    Love the transformations in the Hull film, with him passing behind superimposed pillars and emerging from each slightly different in appearance. Love the eerie transformations of Lon Chaney also — I think that’s almost the only good use of lap dissolves for a transformation I can think of.

  3. Some good stories on The Howling DVD. The poor guy who plays the resurrected werewolf, Robert Piccardo, was sitting on a bench in horrific makeup, just feeling wretched, “Here I am, a classically trained actor…” and one of his co-stars passed and asked “Why the long face?”

  4. I spotted Jack Nance in the Howling clip. A shame he had to die so soon, his Henry from Eraserhead should’ve been the beginning of a long and rewarding career, I don’t think it was quite that.

  5. Lynch and many others did their best to promote him, but Nance was a sad case. Clinical depression takes its toll.

  6. And another thing, I would hope that whoever’s behind the making of the new Wolf Man film shows more reverence toward its predecessor than those who made the Brendan Fraser Mummy films. Freund’s Mummy was the first film I remember seeing as a child of five, and it delivers so much in the way of oneiric otherworldliness, a quality the newer films completely lack.

  7. Re. Nance, I knew he was a drinker, didn’t know about the depression. Those two things combined are toxic, one feeds into the other, so it’s no wonder that he came to the end that he did.

  8. Just looking at the character list for The Wolf Man suggests that the movie is surprisingly faithful to the original. I hope so anyway.

    Jack Nance seemed to age with astonishing rapidity between Eraserhead and Twin Peaks. He was a unique presence, much missed.

  9. Freund’s The Mummy made a great impression on the young Gore Vidal (yes, he was once a child, hard as that may be to believe) and he writes about it in his book on the movies, Screening History.

  10. Yes, and he later worked with David Manners in TV. He asked him to reproduce his crazy laugh from The Mummy. “I have quite forgotten it,” sniffed Manners. But Gore hadn’t, so he acted it out and got Manners to imitate his imitation.

  11. A friend just emailed to inform me that not only has Gerard Damiano died, director of Deep Throat (which they’re saying took in $600,000,000 over the years, most all of which went into the Mafia’s coffers), but also porn star Buck Adams (not to be confused with Buck Naked, George Costanza’s nom de porn), failed boxer turned public shtupper. They say it happens in threes, so who’s next? I knew of Damiano’s passing, but Buck’s death was news to me, he was 52.

  12. I pray to God it’s not Buck Angel, “the man with a pussy”, for all our sakes.

  13. You mean to say he has a mangina?

  14. I’m SO impressed you know that word.

    He’s an incredibly tough, bad-ass looking guy with a lady’s parts. As Bill Krohn said, “He’s more man than I’ll ever be.”

  15. That reminds me of something that happened years ago when I was riding a packed city bus down Woodward Avenue, Detroit’s Main Street. A gay black couple got on together but had to stand, holding on to the hand grip, conversing to one another but being themselves. A man and woman sat below where they stood, and the woman in particular was getting a huge kick out of what she saw as their ostentatious gayness. Well, one of them noticed and took offense. Speaking loud enough to where everyone on the crowded bus could hear him, he looked down and said to the seated woman, “Honey, I’m more of a woman than you will EVER be.” Everyone on the bus went ballistic with laughter. Myself included. You go girl.

  16. David,
    I just had to share this with you. I was visiting with a friend two days ago who worked for a number of years in Manhattan doing wardrobe, for films, plays, musicals, etc. Well, through the course of conversation she mentioned how she knew, and once stayed with, Buck Angel and his/her partner. She said that visiting with the two of them was one of the most fun times she’d ever had in her life. But as she was telling me this I was thinking, Buck Angel, I know that name. And sure enough, you had brought it up in this post. She specifically spoke of putting Buck’s dog in the tub for a bath, and how the two of them were lathering it down, and doing it in a frenzy of sorts. She brought up Buck and their friendship to demonstrate to me how one can enjoy another’s company in spite of their apparent strangeness as viewed by others.

  17. That’s lovely!

  18. Bizarrely, I had never heard of Buck Angel until yesterday when I ended up reading a long piece in Rolling Stone about how Buck’s significant other, a famous dominatrix, dropped him like a hot potato for her new love – Larry Wachowski…

  19. Yes, Wachowski’s name did come up in conversation, as well as the fact that Buck’s partner was a dominatrix! I’m going to have to get that article for my friend…

  20. My, it’s a small world.

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