Movie: The Werewolf (1956)

Everybody knows lycanthropes transform under the light of a full moon and that they can only be killed by a silver bullet.  Apparently, nobody informed the talent behind 1956’s The Werewolf, because here is a film that plays by an entirely different set of rules.  This couldn’t have happened at a better time, as this picture breathes new life into a monster that was last seen as the object of ridicule in an Abbot and Costello picture. 

I watched this as the second disc in Arrow Video’s blu-ray box set Cold War Creatures: Four Films from Sam Katzman.  The first movie I had watched in this set was Creature with the Atom Brain.  Like that film, The Werewolf is an odd combination of horror, sci-fi and noir.  On paper, one wouldn’t think they elements would blend together, yet they work together so naturally here that I am surprised there aren’t more works like these.

The opening is straight out of noir.  In fact, it weirdly mirrors the title credits scene of Atom Brain.  On a dark, wintry night, a figure stumbles into view from out of the darkness.  In a rather long unbroken shot, he continues down the abandoned street until he enters a bar that may be a genuine log cabin.  It looks like the kind of place One Eyed Jacks from Twin Peaks might be if it was less sleazy.

The guy leaves in a daze and is followed by a large bar patron who tries to rob him.  They get into a fight in a seriously noir alley.  We hear lots of growling and one of these men flees.  Turns out the bar patron had his throat torn out.

What makes this picture stand out from others of its ilk is the source of the titular character’s condition isn’t supernatural.  Instead, a mad scientist played by George Lynn happened upon the unconscious body of Steven Ritch. Ritch was the victim of an automobile accident, but Lynn seems to think the cure is to inject him with a serum he’s developed to protect people from the effects of radioactive fallout in event of a nuclear war.

His source of his serum is the blood from a wolf, a creature I did not know had inherent protections against radiation.  I also wondered if he ever injected the wolves with the serum.  If he did, would they turn into weremen?

Ritch’s lapses into his wolf side aren’t timed to the cycles of the moon.  Instead, the transformation seems to happen when he gets angry, so he’s…the Hulk?  I’ll admit that is more interesting than something that is only a threat at select times when people can predict there will be trouble.

More than any other movie, this reminded me of the original Cat People, another successful cross-pollination of horror and noir.  Here, footsteps in the snow become wolf tracks, except it is wolf walking on two legs.  This is similar to the scene in Cat People where the camera goes down a dark sidewalk and we see, in a series of street lights, the wet paw prints of a big cat transform into those of a woman’s feet. 

One interesting aspect of this movie, and the others in the Cold War Creatures set, is a woman is given more to do, and is given more of a personality, than most other films of that era allowed.  Here, Joyce Holden plays the town doctor’s nurse, and she conveys authority and intelligence in every scene she’s in. 

Most of the picture is shot in the Big Bear area of California.  There is some beautiful footage here.  It isn’t too surprising director Fred F. Sears primarily worked in westerns, as the locale would be perfect for one.

Alas, the scenery changes from snow-covered to a complete absence of the stuff as characters walk what seems to be only a few steps into the next shot.  I don’t count this as a strike against the film, but I found it increasingly difficult to overlook.

Despite that weird, recurring flaw, The Werewolf is a thoroughly enjoyable movie.  It does something innovative with a monster that had long since lost its potential to scare, in a story styled as a noir.

Dir: Fred F. Sears

Starring Don Megowan, Joyce Holden, Steven Ritch, George Lynn

Watched as part of Arrow Video’s blu-ray box set Cold War Creatures: Four Films from Sam Katzman