‘The Wolf Man’ and others explore werewolf lore


“Werewolf by Night” may encourage you to look at other werewolf-themed films. Here are a few I recently rewatched. 

The Wolf Man (1941) for me has long been a Halloween-season favorite. I watched it again and it holds up as a great, atmospheric classic. 

Lon Chaney Jr. is Larry Talbot, returning to his family home in Wales to bury his brother and attempt a reconciliation with his father, played by Claude Rains. 

Larry gets mixed up in a murder when trying to rescue the friend of a local girl he’s fallen for. She’s being attacked by what he thinks is a wolf, but turns out was a werewolf – the local fortune teller, Bela (Bela Lugosi). The werewolf bites Larry, causing him to turn into the titular Wolf Man when “the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright,” according to a poem everybody in town seems to know and recite at pretty much any opportunity. 

This film really set the standard for werewolf tales to follow, and almost everything that’s come since owes something to this version. Rains is spectacular as the father unable to ever quite connect with his son. Chaney portrays a great sense of being forlorn, first as a clumsy suitor and eventually as a man faced with a creeping doom. The script accomplishes a lot in a mere 70 minutes, and the film’s ramifications will echo long after. 

I followed up watching The Wolf Man with a 1980s take on the werewolf story, “Teen Wolf,” from 1985, starring Michael J. Fox. 

Fox plays Scott Howard, an aspiring high school basketball player who can’t quite achieve his dreams on the court or with his preferred girl. He’s a starter on a team who loses; his best friend “Boof” (Susan Ursitti) is in love with him, but he can’t see that, instead pining for local drama starlet Pamela Wells (Lorie Griffin). 

When Scott is afflicted by the family lycanthropy curse, rather than being ostracized, Scott becomes a sports star. Can Scott win the big game? And can he keep his wolf-fueled popularity from going to his head? That’s the challenge faced in “Teen Wolf,” written by Jeph Loeb and Matthew Weisman. Comics fans will know Loeb from his notable run as a comics writer, including “Batman: The Long Halloween.” 

The film is mostly charming, though in places more misogynistic and homophobic than I remembered. Fox is an appealing actor throughout, though he’s better in “Back to the Future,” released the same year.

The success of “Teen Wolf” led to a sequel, which is not maybe as bad as its rep, but not good, despite the talented Jason Bateman. “Teen Wolf Too” repeats most of the bits from the first film, but with less charm. Had this been a hit, I predict we would have seen a lot more sequels try to use the “Too” phrasing.

Still, the concept proved tough to kill, and “Teen Wolf” returned as a TV series from 2011-2017. A film continuation of the TV series is scheduled for 2023.  

“The Wolf Man” (1941)

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