Werewolf of London

“Ah-hooo, werewolves of London
Ah-hooo”

– Warren Zevon

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For a long time I thought 1941’s The Wolf Man was the only werewolf movie (other than the rally films) Universal had produced back in the Classic Monster period.  I was an early-twenty-something year old young man when I learned that Universal took a stab at a werewolf movie in 1935.  Honestly, you should never stop learning— life is full of teaching experiences. A prime example is that Universal didn’t give up on the werewolf idea.

Not to slight Werewolf of London by saying that, but, let’s face it, it is not The Wolf Man. To its credit, it is a good movie and is able to stand as its own beast. I saw it for the first time about four years ago, and if you arrive at it, as I did, having seen the Lon Chaney, Jr., classic first, Werewolf of London will feel like an inferior film. But it shouldn’t. It has a lot going for it, even without the deep mythology The Wolf Man created.

Botanist Wilfred Glendon is in Tibet looking for a rare flower, the mariphasa lupine lumina, which blooms under the light of the moon. He finds what he’s searching for in the mountains, but he is also attacked by…something.

Once he returns home to London to begin his research of the plant, he meets the mysterious Dr. Yogami. Yogami is a botanist as well and he claims that he and Wilfred met in Tibet, although Wilfred has no recollection of such a meeting. Yogami also tells Wilfred that the creature that attacked him was a werewolf and, having survived the attack, he will become a werewolf. The moon flower the scientist found in Tibet acts as a temporary remedy for the condition.

Wilfred, of course, does not believe a single word of this nonsense; it seems almost an absolute that Yogami just wants this moon flower for himself. Then Wilfred turns into a werewolf and has his whole world turned upside down— being a werewolf botanist takes a toll on his marriage, and his research, as he only has a limited number of the moon flower blooms to suppress the wolfing side of him.

It really bites when Yogami steals the darn plants. With no brief reprieve or longterm cure, Wilfred has to satisfy his lycanthropic urge to kill.

If you’ve never seen The Wolf Man (I can’t imagine many true horror film fanatics who haven’t), I strongly encourage you to watch this movie first. You will appreciate it, and like it, a lot more. Werewolf of London has a closer feel to Jekyll and Hyde, and not just in the monster’s look, but also in how Wilfred acts in wolf form.

This is a sleek film. There’s no exoticism, other than the “Tibet” scenes, no creepy castles or wise gypsies proselytizing. Compared to some of the other Universal horrors, this one feels the closest to being vanilla (even the lowest of the rally films has a zany zest and a certain Gothic sensibility). But there’s nothing wrong with this vanilla, it’s high end, gourmet vanilla.