Wednesday, October 27, 2010

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) - a tragedy wrapped in shag carpet, accompanied by a large green fella who likes to grunt for no reason

"Twice as grim and a hundred times more terrifying!" proclaims the trailer. Thanks for making us do math, Mr. trailer guy.

While considered an obvious story device in retrospect, I do find the idea of a movie monster showdown curious. The general concept behind a horror film is typically that innocent people(s) are forced to deal with some form of evil, a mysterious threat that renders their normally safe surroundings disturbingly askew. You had a clear delineation between hero and villain. However, once these movies became popular, the monsters became the defacto heroes, as they were what interested audiences about these films, and not so much the "normal" characters. Sequels were made, and as these sequels ran out of ideas, and grosses dipped, studios started stitching together box office draws, so to speak. Even though these monsters came from different worlds that contained different rules, they were forced to cross over and meet in conflict. Now, after many decades of horror film showdowns and especially comic books, where heroes and villains cross comics to fight or team up, audiences demand this kind of thing, even debating who would win if certain fictional characters were pitted against each other. However, when movie monsters get together to tee off on each other, the results are typically disappointing. Freddy vs. Jason was okay, Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys sure as hell wasn't, but some of these ideas in and out of development are getting a bit ridiculous. Look no further than the upcoming film "Freddy vs. Jason vs. Pinhead vs. Jigsaw vs. Hitler vs. Dolly Dearest vs. Mommie Dearest vs. the wolf man vs. Virginia Woolf vs. clowns (any clowns, they're all evil) vs. 3-D". No, the movie isn't in 3-D. Instead, the actual third dimension is physically assaulted during the film. I'm curious to see how Industrial Light & Magic is gonna pull that one off.

The film opens with two graverobbers digging up the wolf man's corpse to steal whatever valuables he happened to be wearing at the time of his burial (maybe one of those Danzig necklaces). People are always doing this at the beginning of horror sequels. Surely there are safer ways to make money (shark hunting, for example). Needless to say, their money making scheme goes awry, and an angry furball is free to roam the streets. Thanks boys.

The next morning, Lon Chaney Jr. is found in the streets and taken to the local hospital. The cops are a little confused, as Lon died four years prior, so they figure he's just a Lon Chaney Jr. impersonator. Well, the moon decides to go full (thanks asshole), and Lon goes into full furball mode, killing some English bobby. Well, these porkers on the case deduce that the "officer" was killed by a wild animal, and the Lon Chaney Jr. impersonator who is back resting in a hospital bed is innocent, despite admitting to the crime. Shit starts finally coming together when they investigate Lon's tomb and find a graverobber corpse instead, and they also locate a photo of Lon and realize that he looks exactly the same as the dude in the hospital. Unfortunately, they are bit late in figuring out the obvious, as Lon has since escaped the hospital, biting through his straitjacket. I think if you can manage to get out of a straitjacket, you should be declared legally sane. You've earned it pal.

Well, he locates the gypsy from the first film to try and help him lift the werewolf curse. Lon is forced to seek help from modern medicine, and goes on a quest to find...Dr. Frankenstein! Well, he is the best doctor around. I mean, he made a living dude out of stitched together body parts, and that was back in olden times. Surely he can throw together some wolfsbane smoothie that'll knock out Lon's issues with uncontrollable fur. In another cross cinema move, the torch bearing mob from Frankenstein rabidly goes after the wolf man. I would be pretty pissed too with all these monsters running around.

the relevant footage begins at 1:50

As luck would have it, Lon (having reverted back to form) happens upon Frankenstein's monster frozen in a cave on the remnants of the doctor's estate. We can thank the mob for that bit of destruction from the earlier film, but that doesn't explain him still being frozen in ice (although it's been awhile since I've seen the original Frankenstein). Well, Lon frees him, figuring he can lead him to the doctor. As it happens, the monster is played by Bela Lugosi, who played the character Bela in the first Wolf Man, the gypsy's werewolf son who passed the curse onto Lon Chaney Jr.. Not only that, but Lon played Frankenstein's monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein, also featuring Bela as Igor. Boy this monster stuff can get confusing.

This confusing dynamic reminds me of a scene from
The Face of the Screaming Werewolf, from our good friend Jerry Warren. If you weren't aware, Jerry made several low budget monster movies like Teenage Zombies, Man Beast, and his masterpiece Frankenstein Island (you can check out a clip of it in my review of Memorial Valley Massacre). He would also take two foreign horror films and stitch them together, with added dialogue scenes to try and make sense of the plot (usually John Carradine giving a nonsensical speech on a cardboard set). Screaming Werewolf was one such example, where he cobbled together two Mexican horror films. Anyway, an archaeological dig results in a sweet mummy find, and they eventually try to revive it in a Frankenstein-esque experiment. Lo and behold, the mummy comes alive and rips off it's bandages's Lon Chaney Jr. as the wolf man! While the Universal monsters may have fought each other, often with Lon Chaney Jr. playing one of the roles, here Lon plays all three monsters within one single character. It's either a brilliantly inventive take on monster showdowns, or possibly the dumbest thing ever. I'll let you decide.

Lon, under the guise of a perspective buyer, gets a meeting with Dr. Frankenstein's daughter, in order to ask to see her father's research (he's gotta have some werewolf cure among that big stack of monster papers). This sets up the Frankenstein-esque finale that includes a showdown between Frankenstein's monster and the wolf man, after a first half that's similar to The Wolf Man, so really, the title lets you know exactly what you're getting here. Well, as you can probably imagine, things don't turn out all rosy, as if you attempt to meddle with god's plan (which includes curses, I guess), fate will body slam you into a dumpster filled with hubris (that's a metaphor, for the record).

However, this is a story that, in effect, is about an invincible man trying to kill himself, to shed his wolf curse so he can finally die in peace. This ups the "air of tragedy" factor from the original Wolf Man, helped by Lon Chaney Jr.'s solid performance. While he made more than his fair share of crap, he could be a good actor at times (check out his underrated late career turn in Spider Baby). He gives what might be his best performance here, conveying the inner struggle of the character despite the extremely forced nature of the script. After all, the wolf man character is the closest the monster world has to the character of Hamlet, albeit furry and hostile. That is, he's debating whether or not to live or to die in light of a tragic flaw. Unless, of course, he finds that wolfsbane smoothie, in which case he can finally stop moping about how sad his vagina is (another metaphor, of course).

P.S. Written as part of my eleven part lazy baker's dozen Halloween horror countdown. Frankly, I've lost count at this point.

No comments:

Post a Comment