In my last post I referred to Son of Frankenstein (1939) as the “last great Universal Horror movie.” I wrote that assuming someone might say: “But what about The Wolfman?” (I didn’t assume anyone would retort: “But what about “The Son of Dracula?”)
The Wolfman (1941) is a fine film, one that created an icon of horror that has been copied numerous times since. But it is not a great film. I think its impact was due mainly to Jack Pierce’s make up and John Fulton’s lap dissolve transformation scenes.
Beginning with Son of Frankenstein, which launched a new cycle of monster movies, Universal assigned studio functionaries to their monster films, like George Waggner, Curt Siodmak, or Roy William Neill. Contrast this with the impressive list of artists involved in 1930s Horror: James Whale, Robert Florey, Edgar G. Ulmer, Karl Freund, or Tod Browning. In the 1930s, Horror Films were “A” list productions, in the 1940s they were “B” movies churned out for a quick buck along with Sherlock Holmes or Abbott and Costello films. While pre-WW2 films of this cycle, like The Wolfman or The Mummy’s Hand (1940), were clearly better budgeted and crafted than the sequels and team-up films that followed, all of these movies were a step or two down from the sophisticated fare of the previous decade.
That doesn’t mean they weren’t fun or enjoyable, but it’s stretching it to try and hold them up favorably to the ground-breaking, sometimes truly chilling masterpieces that created a whole genre.
Here are few things, however, I loved about the 1940s Universal Horror Movies:
- The opening scene in Frankenstein vs. The Wolfman (1943) where grave robbers break into Larry Talbot’s crypt and unleash the Wolfman. Genuinely creepy.
- Lon Chaney, Jr.’s Kharis
- Evelyn Ankers, Ilona Massey, and Elena Verdugo. Universal made sure it included a hot actress in nearly every film, and either glammed them up with striking gowns or draped them in negligees. A special nod to Virginia Christine, who was exotic and sexy in The Mummy’s Curse (1944) and many years later went on to fame as “Mrs. Olsen” of Folger’s Coffee.