CLASSIC FILMS OF HORROR
AND THE SUPERNATURAL
By Barry Van-Asten
Released USA 31st July 1935.
Jim Carter....................................Spencer Tracy
Betty McWade............................Claire Trevor
Pop McWade...............................Henry B Walthall
Alexander Carter (Sonny)...........Scotty Beckett
Dancer.........................................Rita Cansino [Rita Hayworth]
Building Inspector Harris............Willard Robertson
Captain Morgan...........................Morgan Wallace
Producer.......................................Sol M Wurtzel
Screenplay....................................Philip Klein and Robert M Yost
Music............................................R H Bassett
Editing..........................................Alfred De Gaetano
Art Directors................................Duncan Cramer and David S Hall
Dance staged by...........................Sammy Lee
Spencer Tracy and Clair Trevor
Spencer Tracy plays scheming con man Jim Carter, who we meet at the beginning of the film on board a ship working as a stoker. Carter is arrogant and thinks he is superior to those around him and gets caught taking bets, shirking his work and faking an injured arm. He seems unconcerned when he gets fired, believing he is destined for greater things, but it is during the Depression and work is hard to find. However, we next see him working at a carnival, blacked-up and taking hits in the face on a coconut stand. He is again fired and after meeting Pop McWade, a kindly old man who offers to pay for the steak for Carter’s black eye, Pop shows Carter his carnival attraction – Dante’s Inferno!
Carter: ‘Hey, what are you selling?’
Pop: ‘A little glimpse of hell and a few suggestions as to how to keep out of it!’
Inside, Carter sees a painting of Cleopatra; a bust of Dante and a painting of Dante with Virgil who escorted him through the nine cycles of the Inferno. There is a painting of Salome with the head of John the Baptist, but it is a painting of Alexander the Great which captures Carter’s imagination because Alexander conquered the world at the age of thirty, the same age as Carter. Pop, seeing that Carter is ambitious and in need of work, takes pity on him and offers him a job.
In the next scene Carter is wearing a helmet supposedly worn by Alexander the Great and wielding his sword, posing before the painting, and it is here we meet the beautiful Betty McWade, Pop’s niece who explains to Carter the story of Alexander and the Gordian Knot, which he cut with his sword rather than try to untie it. Betty sells tickets for her Uncle Pop while Pop attempts to draw in a crowd. Failing to do so, Carter decides to have a go at ‘barking’ and gets quite a large crowd interested in the Inferno – ‘They’re on the inside! Beautiful women and big strong men!’
Having sold out, Betty and Carter go for burgers, visit a fortune teller and have some fun on the rides. It is on one such ride that Carter proposes to Betty, and she accepts!
Carter's first meeting with Betty
A few years on we see Carter as the entrepreneur, happy family man and devoted husband, feeding his young child ‘Sonny’ (Alexander). He is ambitious to build a new Inferno and needs land to expand, so he proposes an ‘Inferno concession’ as a way of making money and selling shares, but one stall holder, Dean, who runs the ‘shoot the shutes’ ride, is reluctant to sell his lease. Carter gets round this by discovering that Dean is behind in his rent so he buys the lease from under him; this ruins Dean, played by Robert Gleckler.
On the opening night of the new Inferno, there is a fanfare and Carter hints at what is to be seen on the inside, as he introduces ‘the women who made strong men weep!’ – Cleopatra,
Salome, Lucrecia Borgia, Charlotte Corday, and ‘His Satanic Majesty, in person – the Devil!’
The Inferno is very popular and Pop, dressed as Virgil, shows groups around the first of the nine cycles of the Inferno.
Dean enters and sees Carter alone. We assume he is going to make an attempt on his life but Dean tells Carter that his wife died that day and having no reason to live Dean leaps to his death over the parapet, into the watery Lake of Fire below.
Carter becomes very wealthy and very greedy and bright lights list his new business ventures, such as: Carter’s Pleasure Pier, Carter’s Crystal Palace, Carter’s Palais de Danse, Carter’s Casino de Paree, Carter’s Ambassador Club... meanwhile, Carter is in his office at Carter’s Amusement Enterprises Inc, and on the wall is Carter’s inspiration – the painting of Alexander the Great. Then in juxtaposition from business man to family man, we see Carter at home, playing trains with his little boy ‘Sonny’. Betty is concerned that Sonny was turned down at a good school because of the parents’ undistinguished background, but Carter devises a way for Betty and him to move in better social circles, by doing charity work and ingratiating himself to enable his son to go to a good school.
Carter’s other idea is to build a gambling vessel, a ‘casino ship’, an idea that Pop finds detestable.
Carter receives a phone call and is told by Building Inspector Harris that the Inferno is unsafe, but Carter dismisses it.
It is the night of their sixth wedding anniversary, the 12th of August and Betty receives a gift of a diamond bracelet and a music box for little Sonny. Building Inspector Harris calls at their home and Carter blackmails him into keeping quiet about the unsafe report and also offers him a bribe, which he takes.
Carter is now beginning to move in better circles and at a charity gathering at the Inferno, there is an accident and a large piece of the building falls on Pop and some guests he is showing round. The Inferno collapses and panic ensues. Pop survives the accident and Betty visits him in hospital, bringing him his favourite book – the Inferno by Dante. Carter is also at his side and when Betty leaves Pop opens the book saying ‘we make our own heaven and hell, here on earth!’ He then shows Carter the punishments for the ‘evils of lust, avarice, blasphemy, perjury, murder and suicide’. We then see a fantastic eight minute vision of hell (using film footage from the earlier 1924 film ‘Dante’s Inferno’). We are shown bodies writhing in agony and flames and tormented souls in chains; the souls of suicides are transformed into trees, as can be seen in the frightening illustrations of Gustave Dore 1832-1883 for The Divine Comedy 1862-68.
A scene from the Inferno sequence
After the sequence we are brought back to reality by the shout of a newspaper seller: ‘Extra! Extra! The suicide of Building Inspector Harris!’
In court Carter denies blackmail and bribery and even lies about Harris visiting his home, which shocks Betty, and she too is called to testify and she feels forced to protect her husband and also lies. At home Betty is packing and planning to leave Carter and take Sonny with her. Carter apologises, but it is too late and Betty and Sonny leave him. She later tells Pop she is starting divorce proceedings.
We next see Carter on board his gambling ship, the S.S. Paradise, inspecting the engine room. Because of a strike the ship has no crew and they are force to hire an unskilled crew. We then cut to Betty who is worried because Sonny has gone missing. She wires Carter on the ship, where another vision of hell is unfolding, that of drinking and dancing and gambling. The crew are incompetent and get drunk below deck. In the ballroom we see the beautiful young dancers, Rita Cansino, played by a sixteen year old Rita Hayworth in an early film appearance, and her partner Gary Leon, in a dance sequence staged by Sammy Lee.
Carter is at the table when he receives the wire from Betty:
‘Mr James Carter
Sonny has disappeared fear kidnapping Police making every effort to find him terribly worried will keep you advised
Carter returns to his room in distress and hears the music box he gave his son – Sonny is in the room because Jonesy secretly brought him on board. Carter sends a message to Betty and Carter is visibly angry with Jonesy for his actions.
A fire breaks out at a table and the ballroom becomes consumed by flames as whistles blow and bells ring. Panic starts and Carter gets Sonny to the safety of the lifeboats and rescues the Captain at the wheel and they decide to beach the ship; the Captain will steer her and Carter must keep the engines working and turn the ship.
Flames destroy the painting of Alexander the Great and the crew revolt in the chaos of this ‘floating inferno’. As pipes burst all around him, Carter succeeds in turning the ship around.
Betty hurries to the tragedy in her car and is re-united with Sonny. Carter survives and with Betty at his side he says ‘Betty, Pop was right, I’ve been through a hell of my own making and I dragged you into it! The film ends and we are led to believe that Carter, who is essentially a good man at heart, will turn his life around and do the right thing; we have witnessed his descent and have arrived with him at the end of a psychological journey in which many opportunities presented themselves to him whereby Carter could have taken a different road and encountered a different outcome, and we have stood at the signposts along the way, and watched him err.
Tracy was not happy with the film and regarded it as the worst film ever made, but I think he is being too hard on it, as there are some fine performances from Tracy, Clair Trevor, Henry Walthall and Alan Dinehart. I don’t think everyone will agree that this is a classic film, or even a good film, but that it should create such an impression on a young boy and survive in the mind for over thirty years is quite remarkable and makes it for me a truly memorable and charming piece of film history!
I Married a Witch
USA. 30th October 1942.
Paramount Studios. 77 minutes.
Jonathan Wooley.............................. Frederic March
Nathaniel Wooley............................. “ “
Samuel Wooley................................. “ “
Wallace Wooley................................ “ “
Jennifer............................................. Veronica Lake
Dr Dudley White............................... Robert Bletchley
Estelle Masterson............................. Susan Hayward
Daniel............................................... Cecil Kellaway
Margaret.......................................... Elizabeth Patterson
J. B. Masterson................................. Robert Warwick
Director........................................... Rene Clair
Screenplay....................................... Robert Pirosh and Marc Connelly
Director of Photography.................. Ted Tetzlaff
Music Score by................................. Roy Webb
Special Photography Effects by........ Gordon Jennings
Art Direction..................................... Hans Dreier and Ernest Fegte
Edited by........................................... Eda Warren
Costumes.......................................... Edith Head
Make-Up Artist................................. Wally Westmore
Sound Recording.............................. Harry Mills and Richard Olson
Set Decoration.................................. George Sawley
Based upon a story entitled ‘The Passionate Witch’ by Thorne Smith, who died before the book was finished. Norman Matson completed the book and it was published in 1941.
‘Long, long ago, when people still believed in witchcraft.....’
The film begins in seventeenth century New England and we are beside the dying embers of a witch burning ceremony at night. Watching are the Puritans Jonathan Wooley, played by Frederic March and his mother, who accused a witch named Jennifer and her father Daniel, for turning ‘cows pink and blue and making sheep dance a minuet’. Jennifer cursed Jonathan in the hayloft, a strong curse in which he and all his descendants will be unhappy in love and have disastrous marriages. Jonathan himself is ‘betrothed’ to Purity Sykes, and is fast on the road to being hen-pecked!
An oak tree is planted over the ashes of the two witches, Daniel, whose spirit is eight-hundred-thousand years old and Jennifer, who is a mere two-hundred and ninety years old, and it is believed that the oak tree will hold their evil spirits prisoner in its roots. There then follows a few scenes in which the spell takes effect: Jonathan’s descendant, Nathaniel Wooley proposes to his beloved Martha beneath the old oak tree in the year 1770. Then at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, we witness domestic war between Samuel Wooley and his wife; and in 1904 a newly married couple set off in their car for ‘marital bliss’.
‘And so on until...’
Two-hundred and seventy years after the burning (which by the way was not the method for disposing of a witch in New England), we are in the year 1942 and Wallace Wooley and Estelle, his bride to be, are arguing. Wallace is running for Governor and is giving an electoral speech. There is a great storm and lightning strikes the old oak tree, breaking a branch and the spirits of the two witches escape as ‘witches’ smoke’ – they want to go to the corn field and ‘ruin the crop’ as a warm-up to their wicked mischief, but the crop is no longer there, so they go to a nearby house and see young people dancing through the window. Wallace comes outside and the witches hide in bottles, which are taken inside to the bar; here they learn that Wallace is to marry the day before the election for Governorship. The witches escape the bottles and ride off on a broomstick, still in their smoke form. Jennifer wants a body: they notice the Pilgrim Hotel and Daniel casts a spell to create a fire, which it does and Jennifer enters in to find herself a body.
Wallace happens to be passing the hotel in his car and stops to assist; he is sure he can hear a voice within, so he goes into the smoke-filled hotel and finds the hand of the beautiful Jennifer (Veronica Lake). She is naked so he offers her his jacket and manages to carry her to safety. She is examined at hospital and is unhurt. When Wallace returns home he finds Jennifer in his armchair with his cat Suzy. He asks her how she got there and we see a broomstick in shot as she says: ‘you wouldn’t believe me if I told you!’ On the wall is a portrait of Wallace’s ancestor Jonathan Wooley whom Jennifer recognises. Wallace puts Jennifer in a taxi from which she later disappears, leaving only her shoes behind, and when Wallace goes to bed he finds Jennifer sitting up in his bed, wearing his striped pyjamas. Wallace believes she has been sent by the opposition in the election to cause a scandal but then thinks she is infatuated with him because he rescued her from the burning building. It is almost 2.30 a.m. and we cut to the clock which fast forwards through the hours, and Wallace is stroking her hair, under some enchantment and he mentions Romeo and Juliet and Dante and Beatrice... At 8 a.m. Margaret the maid enters with breakfast and is shocked to find Jennifer there in his pyjamas, and she wastes no time in eating Wallace’s waffles.
Estelle Masterson and her father, (who by the way is happy with the publicity from the Hotel fire because Wallace is on the front page of the newspaper: ‘Wallace Wooley hero as Pilgrim Hotel burns’), are downstairs as the wedding is to take place at noon.
'Kettle, kettle, on the hob...'
Wallace leaves with the Mastersons and we see Jennifer slide down the banister still in Wallace’s pyjamas; she puts a sleeping spell on the maid and wants her father, Daniel, who suddenly appears as smoke among the flames in the fireplace. In a rather beautiful little scene we see the witches preparing a love philtre:
Jennifer: ‘Kettle, kettle on the hob
Hurry up and do thy job!’
Daniel: ‘Steam and hiss and iron do
Cook an all compelling brew!’
Jennifer: ‘So that he who sips will be
Slave to love’s captivity!’
Now with her love philtre, she slides back up the banister and when Wallace returns she attempts to make him drink the brew. Unfortunately the painting of Wallace’s ancestor falls on Jennifer’s head and he gives her the love philtre, unaware that it is anything more than water! She is under her own spell! Wallace leaves for the wedding and when Daniel arrives and realises that Jennifer has mistakenly drank the potion, they decide to go to the wedding.
They arrive at the wedding ceremony and Daniel creates a magical wind to rush through the room which delays the proceedings. In an upstairs room Daniel has Wallace’s revolver and gives it to Wallace, asking him to shoot Daniel as he wants to see the Wooley descendant burn in the modern way, strapped to a chair heated by electricity. But Wallace puts the gun down and so Daniel casts a spell:
‘Pistol, pistol, let there be
Murder, in the first degree!’
The gun magically turns and shoots Daniel and his ‘borrowed body’ dies as he escapes as smoke and hides in a bottle once more. Wallace returns to the wedding and collapses at the altar! Another shot rings out upstairs! Jennifer has shot at Daniel in the bottle and he is forced to re-enter the dead body. Wallace is surprised to find him still alive and Daniel, drunk from the bottle of alcohol, stumbles and falls from the balcony and gets arrested. The Mastersons catch Jennifer in Wallace’s arms and tell them to ‘get out!’ the wedding is off!
It is a foggy night and Jennifer and Wallace are driving when they happen to stop outside a house where a Justice of the Peace named Henry lives, who just so happens can perform marriage ceremonies, and so they get married!
Jennifer uses magic to light a fire and confesses to Wallace that witchcraft caused them to meet and that she is a witch, but Wallace laughs it off, and she tells him she’ll help him to win the election tomorrow!
The next day, Wallace goes to see Daniel behind bars and tells him Jennifer and he were married, while Jennifer, in the form of witches’ smoke, goes about magically influencing everyone to vote for Wallace for Governor – ‘we want Wooley!’ He wins the Governorship and now Wallace actually believes Jennifer must be a witch.
Daniel arrives and wants to punish Jennifer and send her back to the oak tree at midnight, so he takes away her witch powers. As midnight approaches Jennifer wants to say goodbye to Wallace so they try to get away in a taxi, but they don’t realise Daniel is driving! There is lightning and a Police motorbike chases them and the car takes to the air! It is five minutes to midnight when Wallace realises the car is flying and Daniel crashes it into the oak tree! They survive the crash as midnight chimes and Jennifer says to Wallace ‘love is stronger than witchcraft! I’ll remember everything – the sound of your voice; your worried looks; the warmth of your arms around me; the touch of your lips...’ and they kiss.
‘Goodbye Wooley!’ and her ‘borrowed body’ dies in his arms as she rises as smoke. He carries her to the house and Daniel and Jennifer watch from outside as the poor man is stricken with grief. Daniel slips into another bottle of spirits by the window, as smoke and Jennifer re-enters her body – ‘love is stronger than witchcraft!’ And she swiftly puts a cork in the bottle, trapping Daniel forever!
We then cut to a future shot of Wallace and Jennifer as parents of a daughter also named Jennifer (played by Ann Carter who appeared as the little girl in the ‘Curse of the Cat People’) riding a broomstick around the house, pretending to be a witch. We then hear Daniel laughing from inside his corked bottle behind a locked metal cage door above the mantelpiece as the film ends.
Shot in black and white this lovely romantic comedy with its supernatural element is a real treasure of a film and Frederic March, Veronica Lake and Cecil Kellaway are delightful. Veronica Lake, whose beauty is unsurpassable is mesmerising and gives a perfect performance in a very memorable role. Wonderful!
Werewolf of London
Released USA, 13th May 1935
Universal Pictures. 75 minutes.
Dr Wilfred Glendon.......................Henry Hull
Dr Yogami.....................................Warner Oland
Lisa Glendon..................................Valerie Hobson
Paul Ames......................................Lester Matthews
Sir Thomas Forsythe......................Lawrence Grant
Miss Ettie Coombes.......................Spring Byington
Hugh Renick..................................Clark Williams
Hawkins.........................................J. M. Kerrigan
Lady Forsythe................................Charlotte Granville
Mrs Whack....................................Ethel Griffies
Mrs Moncaster..............................Zeffie Tilbury
Executive Producer........................Stanley Bergerman
Associate Producer........................Robert Harris
Original Story................................Robert Harris
Art Director...................................Albert S. D’Agostino
Make-up........................................Jack P. Pierce and Armand Triller
Musical Score................................Karl Hajos
Musical Supervision......................Gilbert Kurland
Special Effects...............................John P. Fulton
Film Editor.....................................Russell Schoengarth
Wilfred Glendon and Hugh Renick are two botanists who have been on a six month expedition travelling in Tibet in search of the rare Mariphasa Lumina Lupina ‘lunar’ flower which is said to draw its natural energies from the moon.
A Holy man arrives and Renick asks: ‘is there really such a flower father?’ to which the Holy man replies: ‘There are some things it is better not to bother with!’
It is the night of the full moon and the coolies have refused to go into the valley which they believe to be full of demons, so the botanists set off alone.
A peculiar energy field makes proceeding onwards difficult and Renick drops back; Glendon sees the elusive plant through his binoculars and on reaching the secret bloom finds he is not alone: a man in the form of a beast, a wolf, is observing him and attacks Glendon. During the struggle Glendon is bitten but manages to fight off the werewolf.
We next see him in his laboratory at Glendon Manor, directing his ‘artificial moonlight beam’ at the plant specimen he brought back to London. A small futuristic device with a screen allows Glendon to see who is approaching at the door, and his wife, Lisa (Valerie Hobson) comes for him as they are hosting a garden party. Here we meet Paul Ames, an old beau of Lisa’s who now lives in California, and still possibly has feelings for Lisa. Glendon and Lisa seem to be having difficulties in their marriage as stuffy old Glendon cannot pull himself from his work and his wife likes to be social and enjoy good company. It is at the party where we also meet the mysteriously creepy though not very menacing, Dr Yogami (Warner Oland), who claims to be a fellow botanist. He meets with Glendon, mentioning that they met briefly in Tibet, by night. Yogami was also collecting the ‘phosphorescent wolf flower’ but his specimens died on the return journey and he would like to see Glendon’s plant. Glendon refuses and Yogami later tells Glendon that the ‘flower is an antidote for werewolfery’ – ‘the werewolf is neither man nor wolf, but a Satanic creature, with the worst qualities of both!’ The flower as natural antidote suggests that the werewolf is an ancient condition managed by the plant and the fact that it is neither completely man nor wolf seems to indicate that the condition has less to do with sorcery and the supernatural but more to do with a mental disorder, somehow triggered by the arrival of the full moon.
Glendon looks doubtful and is sceptical about such matters, being a man of science. Yogami then states that there are two such cases of werewolfism known to him, in modern London, and that the condition is contracted from the bite of another werewolf – he then touches Glendon on the right arm, where the werewolf bit him. This introduction of the notion that the werewolf becomes such a creature through contact (a bite or scratch) from another werewolf is a novel idea and establishes a familiar theme in later films.
After being introduced to Lisa, Yogami exits and Lisa says to Glendon: ‘what a strange man!’
A week later Glendon and his assistant Hawkins are still attempting to make the plant open its buds with his artificial moonlight machine; eventually they succeed and the buds open. Glendon then notices the hairs on his hand are beginning to grow and thicken so after Hawkins is out of the way he cuts the flower and forces the thorn into his wrist and the sap stops the transformation process.
Dr Yogami again comes to speak with Glendon who does not want to be disturbed. But it is the first night of the full moon and Yogami requires the two Mariphasa blooms to ‘save two souls!’ Glendon refuses the request and Yogami leaves after saying ‘the werewolf instinctively seeks to kill the thing it loves best!’ And here we see another useful device that brings in the love element as ‘victim’.
Dr Yogami and Wilfred Glendon
Later, the two blooms are snipped off and stolen from the laboratory by Yogami while Glendon is in his study, reading a book on – ‘De Lycanthrophobia: Transvection – transvection from man to werewolf occurs between the hours of nine and ten at the full of the moon. The essence of the Mariphasa blossom squeezed into the wrist through the thorn at the base of the stem is the only preventative known to man. Unless this rare flower is used the werewolf must kill at least one human being each night of the full moon or become permanently afflicted’. That the sap of the bloom can satisfy the urge to transform is an excellent idea that sadly was not developed in future werewolf films. Also that the ‘kill’ appeases the ‘beast within’ and prevents one from existing permanently in the form of the werewolf is another novel concept that did not become established in werewolf lore.
Lisa and Paul are going to a dinner party at Aunt Ettie’s while Glendon reads in his study. Suddenly, the cat begins to hiss and spit and claw at Glendon who is in the early ‘unseen’ stages of transformation, so he rushes to his laboratory for the floral antidote. Having completely transformed he sees that the blooms have been snipped off, yet his mind turns towards his wife, Lisa, ‘the thing it loves best’, so he hides himself beneath a hat and cloak and goes out onto the streets! He heads straight for Aunt Ettie’s house and Ettie, who has drunk too much at the party, has been taken to her bedroom to sleep it off. Yogami is at the party along with Paul and Lisa and they all hear howling – Glendon has climbed the wall to the balcony of Ettie’s bedroom and frightened her. Being disturbed Glendon retreats without the satisfaction of the kill and Ettie is comforted by Lisa. We then cut to Glendon stalking the foggy London streets, Goose Lane, in fact, and he attacks and kills a young woman, mutilating her beyond recognition.
On the second night of the full moon, Glendon goes to a pub and here we meet Mrs Whack and Mrs Moncaster, two stereotypically Dickensian characters who rent out rooms and like to drink a lot! Mrs Moncaster offers Glendon a room and she takes him to her home to see the room. Once inside he locks the door and prays for it (the transformation) not to happen, but of course it does happen and he leaps through the window. He heads for the London Zoological Gardens and the wolves are restless at his approach; here he chases a woman who is having an illicit affair with the gatekeeper who has gone to check on the wolves. Glendon noisily returns to the lodging room and the two drunken old ladies, Whack and Moncaster, spy through his keyhole and see the wild beast, but they decide not to tell anyone, as they have been drinking and who would believe them!
The next day the newspapers are full of the murder. Yogami goes to the Police and tells them about the Mariphasa plant and that the killer is a werewolf and will kill again, but the Police don’t believe him.
Glendon in his laboratory
Back at Glendon Manor, Glendon checks on the flower to see if it has bloomed yet, which it hasn’t, so he decides he must get away, for the third night of the full moon. He drives to Falden, a country estate belonging to his wife’s family and will spend the night locked up in a place called ‘Monk’s rest’, a monastic cell and a place not opened for years, with the proviso that the door cannot be unlocked before dawn! However, Lisa has the same idea and is at Falden with Paul before he returns to California. Paul declares his love for Lisa, but she does not return that love. Glendon begins to transform and seeing Lisa with Paul walking in the garden, he breaks through the barred window of the cell and leaps down. He is in pursuit of Lisa, who screams and in the struggle is knocked to the ground. Paul wrestles with the werewolf who gets struck unconscious and later we see Paul telling his Uncle, Sir Thomas Forsythe, who works at Scotland Yard that he recognised the werewolf to be Wilfred Glendon! Also last night there was a maid murdered at the Bedlington Hotel and it appears a certain Dr Yogami was a guest at the Hotel and some ‘lunar flowers’ were found discarded in his room. There is now a Police search for both Glendon and Yogami.
Meanwhile, Glendon has been hiding beneath his conservatory at Glendon Manor and in his laboratory the last remaining bud on the Mariphasa has bloomed! But while Glendon has his back turned, Yogami creeps down the stair and snips the flower, thrusting the thorn into his wrist! Glendon begins to transform and strangles Yogami to death; he then goes after Lisa. He breaks into the upper floor of the house and when Paul arrives he attacks him outside and knocks him unconscious. Glendon returns to the house, Aunt Ettie faints and on the stair is his wife Lisa: ‘It’s Lisa, don’t you know me? Lisa!’ There seems to be a brief moment of recognition, but it is too late and Glendon goes to attack Lisa. Just then, a shot is heard and Sir Thomas Forsythe has arrived with several Police officers and shot Glendon. With his dying breath Glendon thanks Forsythe ‘for the bullet’ and says goodbye to Lisa and sorry for not making her happier. He then dies and transforms back into human form.
The ending of the film in which the creature speaks on his death bed seems contrary to his earlier appearances in which his only vocal sounds had been grunts, snarls and howls, as all good werewolves should be. But the moment the werewolf speaks it loses its credible ‘wild beast’ element and I think the film fails on this point. It is a pity the transformation scene at the end did not occur before speaking and most subsequent films do not make that mistake. Another way in which the film is lacking is the make-up. A terrible thing to say about the master Jack P. Pierce, but I think his creation is not as severe or convincing as his later work for ‘The Wolf Man’ (1941) and Larry Talbot is a far more believable ‘monster’ than Wilfred Glendon. But that aside, ‘Werewolf of London’ is still a very important film in the werewolf canon. Often incorrectly cited as the first werewolf film, it is certainly the first werewolf film to establish some of the traditional themes associated with werewolfism and now familiar with us, such as the contraction of the condition, by contact from another werewolf bite; the transformation during the nights of the full moon and the understanding of the influences of the mind, as in ‘lycanthropy’ (not ‘lycanthrophobia’ as suggested in the film) as a significant factor and not the old medieval notion that werewolfery is caused by a curse from a witch. The film also introduces new ideas in the werewolf genre such as the ‘moon flower’ and that the creature must kill in order to prevent becoming a permanent werewolf. Unfortunately, the film was not a great success but for the reasons stated above I believe it is an important and influential work in the development of the werewolf and therefore definitely worth watching!
Released USA 4th August 1932
RKO 66 minutes.
‘Murder’ Legendre..................Bela Lugosi
Madeline Short/Parker............Madge Bellamy
Dr Bruner.................................Joseph Cawthorn
Charles Beaumont...................Robert Frazer
Neil Parker...............................John Harron
Silver (servant).........................Brandon Hurst
Pierre (witch doctor)................Dan Crimmins
Von Gelder (zombie)................George Burr MacAnnan
Chauvin (zombie).....................Frederick Peters
Ledot (zombie).........................John Printz
Coach driver............................Clarence Muse
Story and Dialogue..................Garnet Weston
Art and Technical....................Herbert Glazer, Sidney Marcus,
Herbert Farjeon, Harold Anderson,
Guy Bevier Williams
Art Director.............................Ralph Berger
Make-Up.................................Jack P Pierce and Carl Axcelle
Art Dept Sets...........................Conrad Tritschler
Sound......................................L E Clark
Assistant Director...................William Cody
A horse-drawn carriage travelling by night in the West Indies carries a young couple, Madeline Short and her fiancé Neil Parker, who are soon to be wed. The journey is interrupted by a funeral taking place in the middle of the road, because the natives are ‘afraid of the men who steal dead bodies’ and they are buried in the road ‘where people pass all the time’, explains the coach driver. The young couple seem bemused, but the carriage continues. However, they soon stop once more at a clearing and the driver asks a mysterious figure the way to the house of Monsieur Beaumont. The sinister fellow by the roadside is Legendre (Bela Lugosi) who does not answer the driver, but steps towards the coach, his attention fixed on the beautiful, young white woman inside. There is complete silence as Legendre’s hypnotic eyes are burning into the carriage. Just then, the driver notices figures following Legendre and shouts ‘zombies!’ The carriage quickly speeds away but not before Legendre has managed to grab Madeline’s scarf and tuck it close to his heart. The couple pass a cemetery on the way and enter the carriageway of the house of Beaumont, where they alight from the coach as silhouettes of zombies is seen walking in a chain behind Legendre on the hill.
We next meet Dr Bruner, a missionary man and the three of them go to see Monsieur Beaumont. The couple are to be married at the house and Silver, Beaumont’s strange servant, shows them in. Beaumont, a wealthy plantation owner whom Madeline met previously, had invited her to his estate where they would hold the wedding ceremony. Our charming host appears and does not take his eyes off Madeline; his intentions it seems are not pure and he is obviously in love with Madeline Short and totally ignores her husband to be, Neil Parker, who noticing the way he is with her becomes a little jealous. Silver then shows them to their rooms.
A carriage arrives, driven by a mysterious, gaunt-faced man wearing a German Military Iron Cross on his bare chest and a hooded cowl. Neil sees the arrival from his window and sees Beaumont get into the carriage. He is taken to a sugar cane mill, worked by zombies who turn great wheels and carry heavy sacks (we see one zombie stumble and fall into the machinery without a sound as if it is a common occurrence). It is a nightmarish vision of Hell and the noise of the machinery is like an infernal roar. Beaumont is there to see Legendre, who appears elegantly dressed and wicked, like Satan himself – he has been on a journey in search of ‘men’ for his mill!
Legendre anticipates that Beaumont wishes to discuss Madeline and shows him the scarf he stole from the carriage:
Legendre ‘There was a young man’.
Beaumont ‘They’re to be married, tonight – you’ve waited too long to do anything!’
Legendre ‘What do you want me to do?’
Beaumont ‘If she were to disappear, for a month...’
Legendre ‘And what do you hope to gain by her disappearance?’
Legendre agrees to help Beaumont ‘acquire’ Madeline’s affection, in return for... and here Legendre whispers in Beaumont’s ear, the disgust slowly manifesting on Beaumont’s face and we can assume that Legendre wants more ‘men’ (corpses) to work his mill! Beaumont is then given a small phial in a box and Legendre says ‘only pin point, Monsieur Beaumont, in a glass of wine, or perhaps a flower’. Beaumont has doubts but Legendre is very hypnotic and persuasive – ‘send me word, when you use it!’ Beaumont goes to leave, saying ‘I’ll find another way’, to which Legendre answers ‘there is no other way!’
Moments before the wedding the bride is being attended to as native voodoo drums are heard through an open window. Beaumont escorts Madeline downstairs, to the ‘wedding march’ and attempts to change her mind, declaring his own love for her, which fails, and so a little crestfallen he says ‘one last gift before I lose you forever!’ and he hands her a rose, which she puts to her nose and adds to her bouquet.
That night, after the wedding, Legendre is in the garden of Beaumont’s house and he takes a candle from the gate post and wraps Madeline’s scarf around it and proceeds to take a knife and carve it into the form of a woman. Inside the house, there is a toast to the bride, who is playing a game of reading her husband’s fortune and she sees Legendre’s face in the glass of wine; she sees ‘Death’. Outside, Legendre lights the candle and Madeline faints and dies!
At Madeline’s funeral the coffin is carried into the vault. Neil, grief-stricken begins drinking to excess and sees Madeline’s beautiful image wherever he looks until he is grasping at shadows.
Beaumont and Legendre are at the cemetery accompanied by six zombies:
Beaumont ‘But what if they regain their souls?’
Legendre ‘they will tear me to pieces!’
Suddenly, Legendre clasps his hands in some sort of magical gesture and the zombies set to work, entering the vault and removing the coffin. Neil has also made his way to the cemetery, stumbling drunk amongst the graves; he sees that the vault is open and goes in. There is no need for the camera to follow him; his scream of pain at finding it empty says it all.
Neil goes to see Dr Bruner who explains the superstitions and practices of Haiti and suspects Madeline is alive and in the hands of natives. Dr Bruner then takes a book on Haiti Law and translates it from the French to Neil: ‘the use of drugs or other practices, which produce lethargic coma, or lifeless sleep shall be considered attempted murder. If the person has been buried alive, the act should be considered murder, no matter what results follow!’
Neil then suspects Beaumont, and Dr Bruner declares ‘before we get through with this, we may uncover sins that even the devil would be ashamed of!’
Madeline is playing the piano in the Great Hall at Legendre’s castle; her eyes are glazed and she is emotionless and unable to speak. Beaumont adores her and sits next to her, but this is not what he wanted. He places a necklace around her pale neck and she doesn’t even notice. He looks at the necklace, saying ‘Foolish things! They can’t bring back the light of those eyes! I was mad to do this, but if you’d have smiled on me, I’d have done anything for you; given you anything – I thought that beauty alone would satisfy, but the soul has gone! I can’t bear those empty, staring eyes!’ Madeline rises – ‘oh forgive me Madeline! Forgive me!’ I can’t bear it any longer! I must take you back!’
Legendre is on the stairs and has overheard Neil – ‘Back! To the grave Monsieur?’
Beaumont ‘No, you must put the light back into her eyes, and bring laughter to her lips – she must be gay and happy again!’
Legendre ‘You paint a charming picture Monsieur, one that I should like to see myself!’
Madeline walks upstairs and Legendre and Beaumont drink a glass of wine – ‘To the future!’ Beaumont drinks but then notices a strange aroma to the wine and looks puzzled –
Legendre ‘Only a pin point Monsieur – a flower, or perhaps a glass of wine!’ Legendre has poisoned the wine with the zombie drug! ‘I have taken a fancy to you Monsieur!’
Silver, Beaumont’s servant tries to hit Legendre with a tray but Legendre fixes his hypnotic gaze upon him and six zombies take Silver screaming upstairs, where he is thrown into the cold sea below. Legendre’s hands are clasped and there is an inhuman cry – it is the screech of a vulture that has appeared at the window.
Dr Bruner and Neil are on horseback in search of an old witch doctor named Pierre. When they find him he tells them that he is the only one to have returned from the mountain called ‘the land of the living dead’ – ‘there is an evil spirit man that is called Murder!’
Dr Bruner and Neil have made camp close to the shoreline on the rocks below the castle of Legendre. Neil has taken sick with some sort of fever and Dr Bruner heads off alone to the castle of the living dead.
In a split-screen sequence we see Madeline on the castle balcony and Neil resting in camp. He reaches out to her across the screen and rises and calls her name. Neil also goes off towards the castle. When he gets there, Legendre is busy watching Beaumont as the first stages of paralysis are setting in while carving a candle effigy of him. At the top of the stairs, Neil collapses and Legendre rushes towards him, clasps his hands and Madeline makes her way towards them. She takes a knife and attempts to thrust it into Neil’s throat, but somehow resists. Legendre impresses his will with greater force and she again tries to bring the knife down to Neil’s throat, but this time, a cloaked arm appears from behind the curtain and stops her, at which the knife falls to the floor.
Neil regains consciousness and rises to follow Madeline who has made her way to the rocks, intent on drowning herself in the sea. Neil pulls her from the edge. Meanwhile, Legendre has descended the steps behind and clasped his hands once more as six zombies appear as if from nowhere. Neil shoots at them with a pistol to no effect as they force him to the edge of the rock with the sea roaring below. Dr Bruner (he of the cloaked arm) has silently made his way down the steps and knocks Legendre unconscious. Neil quickly moves from the edge of the rocks and the zombies topple over the cliff one by one!
Madeline suddenly becomes aware of whom she is and a smile crosses her lips as she strokes Neil’s face and remembers. But Legendre awakes and Madeline returns back to her zombie state. Trying to escape up the steps, Legendre throws white powder bombs at Neil and Dr Bruner below, causing them to choke. He clasps his hands and the hideous vulture appears. Beaumont then struggles down the steps with what strength he has left and throws Legendre over the edge of the cliff to his death, before following him over to his own death!
Madeline is then awake again, released from the curse of Legendre and she smiles as the light once again returns to her eyes and she says: ‘Neil, I, I dreamed!’ and the film ends on a comic note as Dr Bruner interrupts the couple who are about to kiss as he wants a match to light his pipe!
Inspired by the 1929 publication ‘The Magic Island’ by William B Seabrook, which investigates Haitian voodoo practices, this minor classic is remarkable for several reasons. Firstly, there is Lugosi’s mesmerising performance as the truly chilling zombie master ‘Legendre’; fresh from his success as Dracula (1931), Lugosi is astounding and almost single handed, holds our attention for the duration of the film. Secondly, ‘White Zombie’ is the first full length feature film on zombies and it firmly establishes the image of the walking dead in zombie cinematic folklore. It was shot in eleven days and many of the actors have their background careers in the silent era of film making. This sometimes shows in some scenes, particularly between John Harron as Neil Parker, a rather weak performance and Joseph Cawthorn as the pivotal character who relays information, Dr Bruner. Madge Bellamy on the other hand has a few good scenes and generally gives a better performance as the sexual tension between Beaumont and Madeline rises. As for Robert Frazer as Charles Beaumont, we get a superb performance that completely complements Lugosi’s Legendre and poor Beaumont is as much a victim in the tragedy, for he has fallen victim to a pretty face, and subsequently, victim to Legendre’s voodoo, in the dramatic climax.
There is a wonderful dream-like atmosphere throughout and some elements of the film seem almost expressionistic in the way they are lit.
Legendre is the archetypal evil villain and he sustains the interest and momentum throughout, imposing his will upon those around him to do his bidding. People to him are just items to be used and abandoned without care. Beaumont, on the other hand, is at heart a good man turned bad through love’s obsession, because he is besotted with the lovely Madeline and would do anything to have her love. When he is denied that love he turns to the dark figure of Legendre and his voodoo. When Beaumont attains his ‘living corpse’ to love and showers gifts upon her, she has no will left to return that love or to even speak and so he realises to what depth he has fallen and what damage he has done and attempts to put things right. But salvation comes too late for him and he must pay the ultimate price to resolve the consequences of his actions!
THE BLACK CAT
aka ‘The House of Doom’
released USA 7th May 1934
Universal 65 minutes.
Suggested by the immortal Edgar Allan Poe classic
Hjalmar Poelzig.....................Boris Karloff
Dr Vitus Werdegast...............Bela Lugosi
Peter Alison...........................David Manners
Joan Alison............................Jacqueline Wells
Karen Werdegast/Poelzig.....Lucille Lund
The Majordomo....................Egon Brecher
The Police sergeant...............Henry Armetta
The Police Lieutenant............Albert Conti
Producer................................Carl Laemmle Jnr.
Director.................................Edgar G Ulmer
Story.......................................Edgar G Ulmer and Peter Ruric
Original Music.......................Heinz Roemheld
Make-up................................Jack P Pierce
Art Director...........................Charles D Hall
Sound Dept............................Gilburt Kurland
Camera..................................John J Mescall
Film Editor..............................Ray Curtiss
In the opening shots of the film we see a very busy railway station, and we are suddenly on board the Orient Express, bound for Budapest. In a private carriage are a young couple, Peter and Joan Alison, on their honeymoon. Unfortunately, the carriage has been double sold and a gentleman named Dr Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi) enters the carriage, his gaze lingering a little too long on Joan. After preventing the luggage from falling on Joan, he introduces himself and explains that he is visiting an ‘old friend’. He opens the window blind and we follow his gaze out as we cut to exterior shots of the train, speeding through the night, which gives the illusion of time passing for we next arrive at the window once more and enter the carriage to see Joan asleep and Peter drifting off too. Werdegast stares intently at Joan and he is gently caressing her hair. Peter sees this bizarre happening and Werdegast proceeds to tell him his history, saying that eighteen years ago he left a girl ‘so like your lovely wife, to go to war... she was my wife!’ Werdegast then goes on to mention Kurgaal Prison, below Amsk by Lake Baikal – ‘many men have gone there – few have returned – I have returned!’
The train stops at Gombos Station, near Vizhegard. It is raining and Werdegast, Peter and Joan take a taxi:
Werdegast: ‘Take me to engineer Poelzig’s house!’
There is thunder and lightning and the driver seems to take a macabre delight in informing his passengers that they are driving over the battlefields of war where there was blood and bodies everywhere. Hjalmar Poelzig has designed and built his house on the site of the former Fort Marmorus – the greatest graveyard in the world! Suddenly the taxi comes off the road and collides with a fence, turning on its side and the battlefield claims another victim – the driver of the taxi!
Joan is injured and so she is carried to Poelzig’s house, which is an architectural triumph, built in a futuristic ‘modernist’ Art Deco style. Poelzig’s servant, the Majordomo receives them and escorts them upstairs. There is another futuristic ‘toy’, an intercom system to Poelzig’s bedroom, where we see him rise from the bed, automata-like, in silhouette; there is a woman sleeping next to him who does not wake. Meanwhile, a maid brings water for Joan’s wounds and Dr Werdegast tends to her and gives her an injection. Poelzig enters wearing a dark dressing gown, his hair sculpted like a fantastic mountain peak, and Werdegast says ‘It has been a long time Hjalmar – the years have been kind to you’. Poelzig does not answer him and Werdegast explains about the accident, but Poelzig is intensely fascinated by Joan’s beauty, his eyes almost burning holes into her flesh. They leave the room.
Werdegast: ‘You sold Marmorus to the Russians, scurried away in the night and left us to die! Is it to be wondered at that you should choose this place to build your house – a masterpiece of construction, built upon the ruins of the masterpiece of destruction – a masterpiece of murder!’ and he laughs like a maniac, yet Poelzig remains silent in his chair. Werdegast continues: ‘the murderer of ten-thousand men returns to the place of his crime; those who died were fortunate! I was taken prisoner to Kurgaal... Kurgaal, where the soul is killed – slowly... Fifteen years I’ve rotted in the darkness, to wait, not to kill you: to kill your soul, slow... Where is my wife Karen and my daughter?’ It appears the Poelzig fell in love with Werdegast’s wife Karen and took her to America, Spain, South America and finally to his present location. Before Poelzig can answer, Peter appears and Poelzig plays the charming host and offers him and Werdegast whiskey.
We are told that Poelzig commanded Fort Marmorus in the last years of the war. Poelzig became one of Austria’s greatest architects, ‘and Dr Werdegast’ says Poelzig, ‘is one of Hungary’s greatest psychiatrists!’ It turns out that Peter is a writer of mystery stories.
A black cat suddenly appears and Werdegast drops his drink and flies into a panic and throws something at the cat, killing it. Then Joan appears as if she is sleep-walking and walks up to Werdegast, who is still in shock, and says ‘you are frightened, doctor?’ Werdegast does not answer and she then turns to Poelzig – ‘you are our host’, to which he replies – ‘at your service, Madam’, and kisses her hand. He then explains how Werdegast is the victim of a common phobia but in an extreme form – ‘an intense and all-consuming horror of cats’. Peter carries Joan back to bed as she needs to rest and he returns to Werdegast and Poelzig, who are outside the bedroom door and Poelzig shows them to their rooms.
Joan seemed affected by the cat being killed:
Werdegast: ‘certain Asian books say that the black cat is a living embodiment of evil and that that evil enters into the nearest living thing...’
Poelzig: ‘the black cat does not die; these same books if I’m not mistaken, teach that the black cat is deathless – deathless is evil! – It is the origin of the common superstition that the cat with nine lives’.
Werdegast’s room adjoins Joan’s, so he swaps rooms with Peter. It is 4.37 a.m. when they retire to bed. We then see Poelzig wandering down a dark passage with his black cat, admiring his glass cabinets where young women are on display in a suspended state of preservation; a bizarre collection of beautiful corpses like rare fragile flowers. At the next moment we see him entering Peter’s bedroom thinking Werdegast is asleep there and is surprised to see Peter rise up from the bed. Werdegast appears at the connecting door between the rooms and he and Poelzig go through to Werdegast’s room to talk:
Werdegast: ‘Where is my wife?’
Poelzig: ‘Very well, Vitus! I shall take you to her!’ And they both go downstairs and into the basement (an old entrance to the gun turrets).
Werdegast: ‘I can still sense death in the air’.
Poelzig: ‘There is still death in the air!’
Further on, down a spiral staircase and along a passage and through a door. Poelzig: ‘And this is the old chart room for the long range guns – the guns are gone, but the charts are still here’. Werdegast is then shown a woman who was his wife, Karen, her body hanging as if floating in mid air in the glass cabinet.
Poelzig: ‘You see Vitus I have cared for her tenderly. She died, two years after the war, of pneumonia’. He is also told that his daughter died too!
Poelzig: ‘I wanted to have her beauty always – I loved her too Vitus!’
Werdegast: ‘Lies! All lies Hjalmar! You killed her, you killed her as I am about to kill you!’ Werdegast then produces a gun, but the black cat appears once more and frightens Werdegast, sending him crashing into a glass wall panel, clutching his head. Poelzig then leads him back up the stairs to his room and Poelzig returns to his own room, and the woman on the bed enquires as to what has happened – ‘what is it Hjalmar?’
Poelzig: ‘oh it’s nothing, only an accident on the road below’ and he caresses her face, saying ‘I want you to stay in the room all day tomorrow Karen – you are the very core and meaning of my life! No one shall take you from me, not even Vitus; not even your father!’
In the next shot we see Werdegast’s assistant Thamal (who is pretending to be Poelzig’s servant) take his knife as if to hunt Poelzig down and kill him, but Werdegast stops him, saying ‘not yet Thamal! Put that away’. We then cut to Poelzig sitting in bed reading from his book – ‘The Rites of Lucifer’ – in the night, in the dark of the moon, the High Priest assembles his disciples for the sacrifice. The chosen maiden is garbed in white...
The next morning, Werdegast knocks on Joan’s door to check on her wound dressings. She doesn’t appear to remember much about the accident. Just then Poelzig enters, enquiring after her health and stares intensely at her bosom, which she hastily covers with her hands. Werdegast notices this exchange.
Poelzig: ‘Tonight is the dark of the moon, and we shall gather...you better come Vitus, the ceremony will interest you!’
Werdegast: ‘Don’t pretend Hjalmar, there was nothing spiritual in your eyes when you looked at that girl! You plan to keep her here?’ Poelzig: ‘Perhaps!’
There is then a challenge to a game of chess and if Werdegast wins Peter and Joan may go free, unharmed, and so the game begins!
We see the young couple in a tender moment together and they are both anxious to leave.
Just then, the chess game is interrupted when two Police officers arrive wishing to know about the accident and how the death of the driver occurred. The Police are satisfied with the answers and Peter and Joan are keen to get to Vienna, unfortunately the officers are on bicycles so they cannot give them a lift to the train station – the express leaves at 11 p.m. The chess game continues and Poelzig asks his servant, the Majordomo to take the couple in the car to the station, but he is told that the car is out of commission and needs repairing. Peter then uses the telephone to call the Hotel to send a car, but the telephone is dead – ‘even the phone is dead!’ says Poelzig to Werdegast.
The couple are determined to leave as quickly as possible, sensing something is wrong so they decide to leave their luggage behind. Peter notices his automatic pistol has gone missing. Meanwhile, at the chess table –
Poelzig: ‘Check mate! You lose Vitus!’
Thamal is standing in the doorway, preventing the couple from leaving, he grabs Peter and strikes him unconscious; the majordomo grabs Joan and she faints. Thamal carries Joan upstairs to her room and puts her on the bed; Poelzig locks her in. Thamal then carries the still unconscious Peter to another room down the spiral staircase and along the passage and locks him in a dark room.
Poelzig plays the organ like a deranged phantom of the opera and Werdegast notices the key to Joan’s room and takes it and goes to see her. He tells her how much danger she is in, that Poelzig is a mad beast who murdered his wife and child.
Joan: ‘And you let him live!’
Werdegast: ‘I wait my time, it shall be soon, very soon, until then I must do his bidding – that is why even my servant obeys him... Did you ever hear of Satanism, the worship of the Devil, of evil?’
Joan shakes her head like some innocent child and says ‘no’.
Werdegast: ‘and tonight, the dark of the moon, the Rites of Lucifer are celebrated, and if I’m not mistaken, he intends you to play a part in that ritual, a very important part!’ Joan cries and embraces him as he tells her to be brave. He locks her back in the room and downstairs, Poelzig has noticed the key is missing and holds out his hand towards Werdegast for it.
In the next scene, Karen Poelzing, Hjalmar’s wife, dressed in black, meets Joan:
Karen: ‘Who are you? I’ve never seen you before, have I?’
Joan: ‘No, I, I don’t think you have’.
Karen: ‘I’m Karen, Madame Poelzing’.
Joan: ‘Karen! Not Karen Werdegast?’
It appears Karen is Dr Vitus Werdegast’s daughter and Joan mentions that she has met her father and he has come for her. Karen believes her father is dead, just as her mother is dead. Poelzig has overheard the conversation from outside the door so he goes in with his black cat. Karen goes through to her own room and Poelzig follows her. We can only guess at the atrocity being committed behind that door, and the horror she is suffering at Poelzig’s hands, for her screams are chilling.
In the following dramatic scene, Poelzig is on the balcony, brooding like a mad Messiah with the wind blowing and the moon in the sky- the dark of the moon! He is vibrant with death and what has happened to poor Karen? Meanwhile, his guests are arriving for the ceremony. We see Poelzig wearing a dark robe with white collar and cuffs and an inverted pentagram around his neck. At the bottom of the stairs, his guests follow him into a temple as he takes up position at a sideways double cross altar. The organ plays and Poelzig, as High Priest, folds his arms and outstretches them in symbolic magical gestures and proceeds to read a Latin invocation. Upstairs, Joan is being ‘prepared’ by servants in white who take her to the altar, where she faints. Among the guests are Werdegast and Thamal.
Poelzig and The Rite of Lucifer
Peter is still confined in his dark cell but he manages to find the light switch and open a secret doorway. Back in the temple, one of the female participants in the ceremony faints, giving Werdegast and Thamal the opportunity to untie Joan and get her away to safety.
A servant with a gun struggles with Peter, who is again knocked unconscious. Thamal comes to his assistance, but gets shot in the process. Joan tells Werdegast that she has seen his daughter, Karen, who is Madame Poelzig. We see Poelzig disrobe and rush down the stairs in search of Joan and Werdegast is re-united with his daughter, who lies dead beneath a sheet on a slab, murdered for disobeying Poelzig’s order not to leave her room! In rushes Poelzig, pushing Joan aside and going for Werdegast’s throat as they fight. Thamal has just enough strength to lock the iron door and help Werdegast get Poelzig into the wrist restraints on a wooden rack. Werdegast tears open Poelzig’s shirt, ripping it from his back, saying ‘do you know what I’m going to do now? Tear the skin from your body, slowly, bit by bit!’ he then chooses a scalpel and sets to work on Poelzig’s face, which is seen in silhouette and shadow – ‘how does it feel to hang on your own embalming rack, Hjalmar?’
Peter grabs the gun and Joan gets the key to the iron door from Thamal’s lifeless body; Werdegast helps her but Peter, fearing he is hurting her and not wanting to let her go, shoots Werdegast in the back:
Werdegast: ‘I only tried to help. Now, go please, go!’
The couple exit as Werdegast stands at an electric control panel – ‘It’s the red switch, isn’t it, Hjalmar? The red switch ignites the dynamite!’ He pulls the switch and there is five minutes before the house and everyone in it are destroyed. We see the explosion as the couple escape and stop a car on the road.
In the final scene Peter and Joan are on a train to Budapest and Peter is reading a review of one of his mystery novels which suggests the plot is ridiculous and unbelievable, but after what they have been through, anything could happen!
This is the first appearance on screen of Karloff and Lugosi together and they make a memorable performance! The story appeals to the sensation-seeking public of the time, when tales of black masses and murder were popular in the English Press, and so the film was a great success! Those who are able to look beyond the script will notice subtleties that are quite remarkable for its time and suggest things which were not allowed to be seen! There are many themes introduced which are rather dark such as: Satanism, sacrifice, necrophilia, ailurophobia (cat phobia), torture, bondage etc yet there are moments when Poelzig appears quite human, and I think this is what makes him all the more frightening as a character because he is not completely mad, he is intelligent and articulate and charming but we do not see the other side to his persona, such as the murder of his wife (and step-daughter) Karen, and what he gets up to with his gallery of corpses below the house! And that house, ultra modern for its time and masculine, no sensual curves, just straight lines and angles. Some scenes appear a little disjointed and awkward but this only adds to the strange atmosphere because it seems to reflect the lines of the house. The scene where the mass is taking place and there is a montage of faces is handled well and the chess scene could have been extended (removing the Police officers) to heighten the suspense... but on the whole, this is a great film with two great actors really enjoying their roles!
Released USA 14th February 1931
Universal 75 minutes
Count Dracula............................Bela Lugosi
John Harker................................David Manners
Van Helsing.................................Edward Van Sloan
Doctor Seward..........................Herbert Bunston
Lucy Weston................................Frances Dade
Nurse Briggs................................Joan Standing
Producer.....................................Carl Laemmle, Jr.
Associate Producer.....................E M Asher
Play Script....................................Garrett Fort
Art Director.................................Charles D Hall
Make Up......................................Jack P Pierce
Recording Supervisor..................C Roy Hunter
Film Editor...................................Milton Carruth
Supervising Film Editor...............Maurice Pivar
Set Decoration............................Russel A Gausman
‘Dracula’ the novel by Bram Stoker.
From the play adapted by Hamilton Deane and John L Balderston.
A coach and horses is racing over a mountain trail in the Carpathians and inside a young woman reads from a tourist guide: ‘Among the rugged peaks that crown down upon the Borgo Pass, are found crumbling castles of a bygone age’. There are five occupants in the coach and one local man says that they have to reach the Inn before sundown, because it is Walpurgis Night – ‘night of evil – Nosferatu!’ The woman next to him, presumably his wife, puts her hand to his mouth, as if to say too much has been said and that word must not be said aloud! He removes her hand and continues, saying ‘on this night Madame’ (directly to an older lady opposite) ‘the doors they are barred and to the Virgin, we pray!’ (he makes the sign of the cross).
In the next scene, we are at the Inn and preparations are being made to welcome the coach, which arrives and the passengers alight. But one man, Mr Renfield in a fine suit and hat with a walking stick says in his best thirties plum English ‘I say Porter, don’t take my luggage down, I’m going on to Borgo Pass tonight!’ The natives seem a little confused and afraid and pay little attention to his request –
Renfield: ‘No, no, please, put that back up there!’ And here the Inn-keeper explains ‘the driver, he’s afraid – Walpurgis Night... good fellow, he is, he wants me to ask if you can wait, and go on after sunrise?’
Renfield: ‘Well I’m sorry but there’s a carriage meeting me at Borgo Pass at midnight!’
Inn-keeper: ‘Borgo Pass?’
Inn-keeper: ‘Whose carriage?’
Renfield: ‘Count Dracula’s’ There is a look of horror that sweeps over the face of the Inn-keeper ‘Count Dracula’s?’... This exchange goes on for a short while until it is established that the young gentleman is going to Castle Dracula –
Inn-keeper: ‘No! – You mustn’t go there! We people of the mountains believe at the castle there are vampires – Dracula and his wives – they take the form of wolves, and bats; they leave their coffins at night and they feed on the blood of the living!’
Renfield: ‘Oh, but that’s all superstition, why, I, I can’t understand why...’he is interrupted and the party are informed that the sun is going down and that everyone must go inside! But the young Englishman is unafraid for he is on business and must not let his client down, so he climbs back into the carriage as the Inn-keeper’s wife offers him some protection in the form of a crucifix which she puts round his neck, and off he goes, bound for Borgo Pass!
Then we see an imposing view of Castle Dracula and in the crypt are many coffins; one opens and a hand appears and even the rat has to turn away in disgust! Then, the other three coffins open and women in white, Dracula’s ‘wives’ appear as we see for the first time, Dracula (Lugosi) in almost full view wearing his cape as the camera tracks towards him, all the while the sound of rats gnawing and wood creaking which adds to the atmosphere. We track right up to his pale face and hypnotic eyes and then there is the sound of a wolf howling as Dracula mounts the stairs.
In the following scene a carriage driver all in black (Dracula) is awaiting Renfield at Borgo Pass. The coach arrives through thick fog and Renfield is swiftly despatched along with his luggage. Dracula’s eyes fix upon him like a bird of prey as Renfield asks ‘The coach from Count Dracula?’ The driver beckons Renfield inside and takes his luggage. The coach winds and speeds along a mountain road and Renfield looks out of the window to speak to the driver, but there is no driver, just a bat flying in front and leading the horses! Suddenly the coach pulls up at Castle Dracula and Renfield steps out, still shocked as to the whereabouts of the driver. The large front door of the castle opens with a creak by itself and our hapless fellow enters in. Once inside, the scale of the castle becomes apparent; Renfield seems dwarfed by the architectural columns and expanse of the room and he seems to be in the Great Hall and there is a sweeping staircase among all the centuries of decay. The Hall is like some great cathedral, dark except for the moonlight pouring in at the broken windows. Dracula is descending the staircase, slowly with a candle and magically walks through cobwebs without breaking them. Armadillo’s appear from under a chair and Renfield has his back to the stair so he does not notice Dracula, when he does turn and see the Count, we get the famous line in Lugosi’s inimitable accent: ‘I am Dracula!’ Renfield seems frozen with fear at this point but soon recovers himself, removes his hat and says: ‘It’s really good to see you! I don’t know what happened to the driver and my luggage and... well, and with all this, I (Renfield indicates with his arms at the decay around him), I thought I was in the wrong place!’ Dracula leads Renfield upstairs with a sinister smile and gives his classic line: ‘I bid you welcome!’ as he turns for Renfield to follow him. There is a look of surprise on Renfield’s face but he follows Dracula; just then, there is a wolf howling and Dracula stops in his tracks and turns to the window, pointing to it as he delivers his next great and memorable line: ‘Listen to them! The children of the night! What music they make!’ They continue up the staircase and Renfield is amazed to see Dracula walk through a cobweb without disturbing it. Dracula smiles to himself to see Renfield use his walking stick to break the web and clear the way through – there is a shot of a great scurrying spider as Dracula says ‘The spider spinning his web for the unwary fly – the blood is the life Mister Renfield!’ They continue walking and enter another door into a large room which is elegantly furnished with a fire burning and food on the table:
Dracula: ‘I’m sure you will find this part of my castle more inviting!’
Renfield: ‘Well rather, it’s quite different from outside... oh, and the fire, it’s so, cheerful!’
Renfield is concerned about his luggage but Dracula informs him that it has been sent up to his room. Dracula takes Renfield’s walking stick, hat and coat like a good host and Renfield sits down at the table. A wolf howls and Dracula says in sinister tones that would make any sane person flee in terror: ‘I trust you have kept your coming here, a secret?’
Renfield: ‘I followed your instructions implicitly!’
Dracula: ‘Excellent Mister Renfield! Excellent!’
They then get down to business and talk about the lease on Carfax Abbey which Dracula wishes to rent while he is staying in England. Everything is in order and all Renfield needs is Dracula’s signature. Renfield notices a look of depravity swiftly cross Dracula’s face, as if the mask slipped for a moment, and he hands Dracula the lease to look over. As to luggage, Dracula will be taking only three boxes:
Dracula: ‘I have chartered a ship (he says gleefully) to take us to England! We will be leaving tomorrow evening!’
Renfield: ‘Everything will be ready!’
Renfield then cuts his finger on a paper clip and the camera tracks to Dracula’s face who is staring intensely at poor Renfield, holding himself in check. We see the blood on Renfield’s finger and Dracula can contain himself no more, and like a wild beast he loses all his restraint and walks towards Renfield. Suddenly, the crucifix from the Inn-keeper’s wife falls from around his neck and into the shot of his bleeding finger. Dracula raises his cloaked arm to shield him from it as Renfield sucks the blood from his finger, saying ‘Just a scratch!’
Dracula has a hungry look but manages to compose himself and offers Renfield a glass of wine ‘this is very old wine! I hope you will like it!’ Dracula pours the wine and Renfield drinks it. Dracula declines as he never drinks wine!
Renfield: ‘It’s delicious!’
Dracula exits the scene and the camera tracks around Renfield who begins to feel a little light-headed. The door opens and the three vampire ladies in white enter in a cloud of smoke. Renfield goes to the French windows to get some air; a bat comes into shot and flies away as Renfield staggers and falls unconscious to the floor (probably the effects of the ‘wine’). The three vampire ladies move in on him slowly but are brought to a halt by the appearance of Dracula outside the French windows in slow moving silhouette. Dracula enters and the three ladies slowly walk backwards out of shot, while Dracula, moving cat-like upon his victim or as a spider upon a fly caught in its web, descends upon the unconscious body of Renfield as the camera fades to black.
Aboard the Vesta—bound for England
There is a ship being tossed around on a stormy sea and the wind is thundering as the crew have difficulty on deck. Renfield is below and he opens a box: ‘Master!’ The sun has gone down and Dracula’s hand appears before he fully rises:
Renfield: ‘You will keep your promise when we get to London won’t you Master?’
Dracula does not speak but he says more with his hypnotic eyes than words could.
Renfield: ‘You will see that I get lives – not human lives, but small ones – with blood in them! I’ll be loyal to you Master – I’ll be loyal!’ Dracula exits and goes on deck to survey the crew as the storm rages and we cut to the next scene which shows the ship in the port at Whitby. The Captain is dead, tied to the wheel and the rest of the crew have been slaughtered too!
Renfield: ‘Master, we’re here (said to the box containing Dracula). You can’t hear what I’m saying, but we’re here – we’re safe!’ and there is a crazed look on his face.
A noise is heard below decks and men inspecting the scene of the tragedy open the hatch to find Renfield staring up at them, completely out of his mind with a mad, sinister laugh.
The headline in the newspaper reads: ‘Crew of corpses found on derelict vessel. Schooner Vesta drifts into Whitby Harbour after storm, bearing gruesome cargo...’ and the close-up reads: ‘sole survivor a raving maniac. His craving to devour ants, flies and other small living things to obtain their blood puzzles scientists. At present he is under observation in Doctor Seward’s Sanatorium near London’.
In the next scene we are in noisy, foggy London and a flower seller girl offers Dracula a flower for his buttonhole. Dracula is wearing a top hat and tails and he fixes his hypnotic gaze upon the young girl as he moves in closer and she screams. He casually walks away to the alarm of Police whistles being blown on the discovery of her lifeless body. He suddenly enters a theatre and has the female usher in his power to do his bidding, which is to deliver a message to a person Dracula wishes to meet accidently. The usher enters a private box and informs Dr Seward that he is wanted on the telephone; Dracula overhears his name mentioned and introduces himself, saying he has just leased Carfax Abbey which adjoins Seward’s Sanatorium. Dr Seward presents his daughter Mina, her friend Miss Lucy Weston and Mina’s fiancé John Harker. Lucy is impressed with the Count and his noble accent and talk of his castle in Transylvania, and being a romantic her mind turns to the poetic:
Lucy: ‘The Abbey always reminds me of that old toast, about lofty timbers – the walls around are bare, echoing to our laughter, as though the dead were there!’ and she continues ‘Quaff a cup to the dead already – Hurrah for the next who die!’ Mina and John don’t like the morbid sentiment and silence Lucy, but Dracula is amused and says ‘To die, to be really dead – that must be glorious! There are far worse things, awaiting man, than death!’ The scene falls to darkness as the next act of the on stage drama begins.
At home Mina impersonates Dracula with his slow delivered accent and teases Lucy for being an ‘old romantic’ –
Lucy: ‘Laugh all you like, I think he’s fascinating!’ There is a faraway look in her eyes at the thought of Castle Dracula in Transylvania and perhaps of being the Countess too! Lucy opens her window and retires to bed, but Dracula is standing outside and watching her. As Lucy reads in bed a bat enters the room through the window; she closes her eyes and suddenly the bat has become Dracula, and like a stalking tiger he nears the bed and has his blood lust.
Lucy is dead after surgeons attempted to save her life with a blood transfusion: ‘Dr Seward, when did Miss Weston have the last transfusion?’
Dr Seward: ‘About four hours ago!’ There was an ‘unnatural loss of blood’ and ‘on the throat of each victim, the same two marks!’
At the sanatorium a male nurse named Martin has taken a spider away from Renfield and thrown it out of the window; Renfield begs and begs for it back but to no avail.
Then in a laboratory five men are around a table:
Van Helsing: ‘Gentlemen, we are dealing with the undead!’
Van Helsing: ‘Yes, nosferatu – the undead: vampires! The vampire attacks the throat; it leaves two little wounds... Dr Seward, your patient Renfield whose blood I have just analysed, he’s obsessed with the idea that he must devour living things, in order to sustain his own life!’
Dr Seward: ‘But Professor Van Helsing, modern medical science does not admit of such a creature – a vampire’s pure myth – superstition!’
Van Helsing: ‘I may be able to bring you proof that the superstition of yesterday can become the scientific reality of today!’
We then see Dr Seward and Van Helsing in an office discussing Renfield, who escapes from his room for hours at a time. Martin brings Renfield to them. Van Helsing examines his hands and Renfield pulls away, saying ‘keep your filthy hands to yourself!’
Dr Seward: ‘now, now, Renfield!’ Renfield is apologetic and wants to leave and says that if he doesn’t he may give Mina ‘bad dreams’. Just then there is the howl of a wolf as the sun is setting and in Carfax Abbey a coffin lid is opening. The camera pulls away in a clever shot so as not to reveal the undignified way in which Lugosi would exit the coffin, and when the camera pans back Dracula is standing there looking elegant.
Van Helsing: ‘That sounded like a wolf!’
Dr Seward: ‘Yes it did, but I hardly think there are wolves so near London!’ [Carfax Abbey is located in Purfleet in Essex]
Martin: ‘He thinks they’re wolves! Me, I’ve ‘eard ‘em ‘owl at night before, he thinks they’re talkin’ to ‘im; he ‘owls and ‘owls back at ‘em – ‘e’s crazy!’
Van Helsing takes something from his breast pocket, ‘I might have known, I might have known – we know why the wolves talk, do we not Mister Renfield? And we know how we can make them stop!’ and he thrusts a sprig of Wolfbane at Renfield, who in turn is startled and stumbles back before Martin grabs hold of him:
Renfield: ‘You know too much to live Van Helsing!’ and he is taken away.
Van Helsing: ‘Wolfbane – it is a plant that grows in Central Europe – the natives there use it to protect themselves against vampires!’ (said to Dr Seward).
Renfield is watched day and night; he is on his bed in his room when he hears a howl and answers it: ‘Yes Master! Master you’ve come back!’ Dracula is outside and using his mind power to communicate with Renfield, who says ‘No Master, please, please don’t ask me to do that, don’t, not her, please, please don’t Master, don’t, please, please... oh no!’
Mina is in bed when the bat enters through her window and Dracula appears at her bedside; the nocturnal beast pushes his face against her neck which moves out of shot and dissolves.
Sometime later Mina is relating a dream she had to Mister Harker, saying that after reading she felt drowsy and heard dogs howling and how it ‘seemed the whole room filled with mist – it was so thick, I could just see the lamp by the bed – a tiny spark in the fog – and then I saw two red eyes staring at me...’ Dr Seward and Van Helsing are listening to Mina also, ‘I felt his breath on my face, and then its lips...’ Harker tries to comfort her saying it was only a dream and Van Helsing removes her scarf and examines her throat and find two little marks which have been there since the morning after her dream:
Harker: ‘What could have caused them Professor?’ and right on cue the maid announces ‘Count Dracula!’ who enters and bows. Dr Seward introduces the Count to Professor Van Helsing. Dracula explains that he has been telling Mina tales of his country which may have caused her to dream so vividly. Mister Harker takes a cigarette from a cigarette box and Van Helsing notices that in the mirror on the inner lid of the box, Dracula casts no reflection. He is amazed to see Mina talking to Dracula but in the mirror there is only Mina and no Dracula. Mina says goodnight and exits and Van Helsing shuts the lid of the box and takes it in his hand saying to Dracula ‘a moment ago, I stumbled upon a most amazing phenomena, something so incredible, I mistrust my own judgement – Look!’ and he lifts the box towards Dracula and opens the box to reveal the mirror. Dracula suddenly recoils and knocks the box out of Van Helsing’s hand, smashing the mirror. He is furious, like a demon about to exercise his power, but he recovers himself and apologises to Dr Seward ‘I dislike mirror – Van Helsing will explain!’ Van Helsing looks arrogant and as Dracula exits through the French windows, he says ‘For one who has not lived even a single life-time, you’re a wise man, Van Helsing!’ Harker notices a dog running across the lawn which is Dracula in his wolf form –
Van Helsing: ‘He was afraid we might follow – sometimes they take the form of wolves, but generally of bats!’ He then goes on to explain that Dracula is a vampire and that he casts no reflection.
Mina is walking alone in the garden and we see Dracula lurking in silhouette, beckoning her towards him and wrapping his cape around her as he turns and drinks her blood once more.
Renfield has escaped his room again and overhears Van Helsing talking to Harker and laughs like a maniac –
Renfield: ‘It’s happened again! (he says to Harker) Take her away!’ There is a bat at the doorway to the garden and Harker attempts to make it flee.
Renfield believing it was Dracula says that he told them nothing and that he is loyal to Dracula. To Van Helsing he denies that he knows Dracula. The maid screams and Harker rushes into the garden to find Mina; Renfield laughs like a maniac once more and as the maid faints to the floor, Renfield crawls on all fours towards her and we are not shown what diabolical horror he does upon her. Harker carries Mina back indoors as we see Dracula observing from behind a tree: she is still alive!
Meanwhile Lucy has begun to walk the earth as the undead and there have been reports of a ‘woman in white’ attempting to snatch young children; two girls had been enticed by the promise of chocolate, taken to a secluded spot and been bitten on their throats. Mina tells Van Helsing on the garden balcony that she saw Lucy and he says he will save her soul. Mina then talks with Harker –
Mina: ‘It’s all over John, our love, our life together!’ Harker is silent and hurt and he blames Van Hesling for making her crazy. Mina’s room has been prepared with Wolfbane and Harker wants to take her away. The sun is setting and Nurse Briggs is under strict orders not to remove the Wolfbane from around Mina’s neck or open her window!
A coffin lid opens and Dracula is abroad once more! Harker resolves to let Mina stay as Dr Seward wishes it and puts her safety in Van Helsing’s hands. But they must find the corpse of Dracula and put a stake through his heart if they are to save her and destroy his grip of terror!
Renfield appears and Dr Seward telephones Martin to come and collect him –
Renfield: ‘A red mist spread over the lawn, coming on like a flame of fire... and then he parted it, and I could see that there were thousands of rats, with their eyes blazing red, like his only smaller and then he held up his hand, and they all stopped, and I thought he seemed to be saying – rats, rats, rats, thousands, millions of them, all red blood – all these will I give you, if you will obey me!’ Dracula has entered the house from the garden.
Van Helsing: ‘What did he want you to do?’
Renfield: ‘That which has already been done!’ and he laughs.
Van Helsing: ‘Dracula is in the house!’ Martin takes Renfield away and they all exit except for Van Helsing.
Dracula: ‘Van Helsing! Now that you have learned what you have learned, it would be well for you to return to your own country!’
Van Helsing: ‘I prefer to remain and protect those who you would destroy!’
Dracula: ‘You are too late! My blood now flows through her veins – she will live through the centuries to come as I have lived!’
Van Helsing: ‘Should you escape us Dracula, we know how to save Miss Mina’s soul, if not her life!’
Dracula: ‘If she dies by day, but I shall see, that she dies by night!’
Van Helsing: ‘And I will have Carfax Abbey torn down stone by stone excavated a mile around – I will find your earth box and drive that stake through your heart!’
Dracula: ‘Come here!’ he beckons Van Helsing towards him, but Van Helsing resists.
Dracula: ‘Come here!’ said with more force and Van Helsing goes towards him but manages to break free from Dracula’s hold.
Dracula: ‘Your will is strong Van Helsing!’ and Dracula walks towards him. Van Helsing reaches into his pocket –
Dracula: ‘More Wolfbane?’
Van Helsing: ‘More effective than Wolfbane Count’. Dracula lunges at him and Van Helsing produces a crucifix which has an instant effect on Dracula, who turns away and flees.
Mina wants her window open and Nurse Briggs leaves her a while. Suddenly Mina is in the garden on the balcony and she seems her old self again and Harker is happy that she seems well. She stares at his neck and goes to lean in but stops and sits down. Inside the house Dr Seward and Van Helsing discover that Mina is missing from her room. Back on the balcony, a bat appears and Harker tries to make it flee but Mina is not afraid and talks as if she is answering the bat. Van Helsing takes his crucifix as Mina’s eyes are dark and unblinking, fix their gaze upon Harker’s neck as she leans in to him. Van Helsing rushes upon the scene and thrusts the crucifix upon her as she screams. Harker and Van Helseing struggle together and Harker snatches the crucifix away, but on his going to Mina she reacts violently to the crucifix and she admits the truth to them, on how Dracula came to her and made her drink...
Suddenly a shot is fired and Martin is standing in the garden with the maid.
Van Helsing: ‘What is it Martin?’
Martin: ‘It’s that big grey bat again Sir.’
Van Helsing: ‘Bullets can’t harm that bat!’
Maid: ‘He’s crazy!’
Martin: ‘They’re all crazy!’
In the next scene it is four-forty a.m. and Mina is in bed. Dracula is staring through the mist and Nurse Briggs is hypnotised by the Count and she lets him into the house from the balcony doors, and he goes straight to Mina on her bed and satisfies his hunger!
Outside we see Harker and Van Helsing –
Harker: ‘That’s Renfield! What’s he doing at the Abbey?’
Van Helsin: ‘Come, Mister Harker!’
Dracula has Mina and they enter the Abbey. Renfield is there and they meet on the stair ‘Master, Master, I’m here!’
Dracula descends the stairs to intercept Renfield as Renfield rushes up to greet his Master. Harker and Van Helsing are peering in through a window grill and they see the scene before them – Harker shouts Mina’s name and Renfield explains that he ‘didn’t lead them here Master, I didn’t know, I swear!’ Dracula swoops upon Renfield like an eagle and grabs his throat and lifts him into the air!
Renfield: ‘Don’t kill me, let me live please! Punish me, torture me but let me live! I can’t die with all those lives on my conscience; all that blood on my hands!’
Dracula throws his lifeless body down the stairs and carries Mina away. Harker and Van Helsing break through the door and Dracula is now trapped as day is breaking! There is a scream and they break through another door and follow the Count to the crypt and search for his coffin. Van Helsing discovers two coffins and opens one and finds Dracula inside; he begins to open the next but stops, assuming Mina to be in there. Van Helsing makes a wooden stake from a piece of Dracula’s coffin lid and thrusts it into Dracula’s heart. Suddenly as we hear the moan of the Count we see Mina, she is not in the box, and she feels the pain of the Count’s demise and screams, alerting Harker to her whereabouts, who rushes to her and they embrace!
Dracula is no more, and Harker and Mina ascend the stair into the light to the sound of church bells!
Dracula (1931) is adapted from the Dean and Balderston play and it became a huge hit with cinema goers. Lugosi is seen as the definitive portrayal of the Count with his suave and seductive charms and he is a mesmerising presence; his enigmatic dialogue delivery is much imitated and remembered. There are some fine performances from fellow actors Dwight Frye, Helen Chandler and Edward Van Sloan and although the pace drops a little after the Count arrives on British shores there is a grand climax and some really well crafted scenes. The film can be seen as the seed from which countless films based upon the legendary vampire were born and it is regarded as a true classic of horror with moments of shock and terror that still hold to this day! Astounding!
THE WOLF MAN
Released USA 12th December 1941
Universal 70 minutes
Sir John Talbot...........................Claude Rains
Doctor Lloyd..............................Warren William
Colonel Paul Montford..............Ralph Bellamy
Frank Andrews..........................Patric Knowles
Gwen Conliffe...........................Evelyn Ankers
Charles Conliffe.........................J. M. Kerrigan
Larry Talbot...............................Lon Chaney Jnr
Produced and Directed by........George Waggner
Original Screenplay..................Curt Siodmark
Director of Photography...........Joseph Valentine
Art Director..............................Jack Otterson
Film Editor................................Ted Kent
Original Music by......................Charles Previn, Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner
Assistant Director.....................Vernon Keays
Make-Up Artist.........................Jack P. Pierce
Sound Director.........................Bernard B. Brown
Set Decorations.......................R. A. Gausman
In the opening shot we see a hand select a volume from the Encyclopaedia Britannica and turn to a page with a definition for ‘Lycanthropy’:
LYCANTHROPY (Werewolfism). A disease of the mind in which human beings imagine they are wolf-men. According to an old LEGEND which persists in certain localities, the victims actually assume the physical characteristics of the animal. There is a small village near TALBOT CASTLE which still claims to have had gruesome experiences with this supernatural creature.
The sign of the Werewolf is a five-pointed star, a pentagram enclosing a...
Following this we see Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jnr) being driven by a chauffeur (Eric Wilton) to see his father at Talbot Castle:
Driver (pointing) ‘Talbot Castle, Mister Larry!’
It is a sunny day and the car pulls up at the entrance to Talbot Castle and Larry is greeted by his father Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains):
Sir John: ‘Welcome home Larry!’
Larry: ‘I’m mighty glad to be here father’. They both enter Talbot Castle into the entrance Hall.
Larry: ‘Hasn’t changed much has it?’
Sir John: ‘Not in three-hundred years, except for a few modern conveniences’. Sir John introduces Paul Montford to Larry.
Larry: ‘We used to snitch apples together!’
Sir John: ‘Now he’s chief constable in the district!’ Larry and Sir John are standing by the fireplace and as Sir John pokes at the fire Larry looks to the portrait above:
Larry: ‘Father, I’m sorry about John’.
Sir John: ‘Your brother’s death was a blow to all of us (hands in pockets). Sit down won’t you?’ (Larry sits) ‘You know Larry, there’s developed what amounts to a tradition about the Talbot sons; the elder, next in line of succession and so forth is considered in everything; the younger, frequently resents the position in which he’s found, leaves home, just as you did’.
Larry: ‘Yes but, father, I’m here now!’
Sir John: ‘Fortunately! But isn’t it a sad commentary on our relationship that it took a hunting accident and your brother’s death to bring you!’
Larry: ‘Oh it really isn’t as bad as it sounds. I’ve watched every bit of news about you. I was mighty proud when you won the Belton Prize for Research!’
Sir John: ‘The whole business is probably my fault; you see the tradition also insists that the Talbots be a stiff-necked and demonstrative type – frequently this has been carried to very unhappy extremes!’
Larry: ‘Don’t I know that!’
Sir John: ‘Larry, let’s decide you and I, that between us, there shall be no more such reserve!’ (they shake hands).
Larry: ‘I’ll do everything that I can Sir’.
Sir John: ‘That should be considerable – those eighteen years you’ve been away should have qualified you to be of immeasurable benefit to the estate; since in a great many ways we are a backward people, but don’t quote me...’ Just then they are interrupted by the arrival of two servants carrying a large box marked Glass, from London. It is a new part for Sir John’s telescope which he keeps in the attic, now converted into an observatory. Sir John and Larry go upstairs to the observatory and Larry fits the new lens for him. Larry worked at an optical company in California and did some work on Mount Wilson Observatory. Sir John tests the lens and asks Larry if he’s interested in astronomy, to which he replies that when it comes to theory he is ‘pretty much of an amateur’.
Sir John: ‘All astronomers are amateurs – when it comes to the Heavens there’s only one professional!’ Sir John is very pleased with Larry’s work and has work to do before lunch, leaving Larry to test the telescope for himself. He looks out towards the local village (its name is not mentioned in the film but from subsequent films concerning the wolf man Larry Talbot we know it is Llanwelly, a village not too far from Cardiff, in Wales). Above the shop Conliffe’s Antiques, through a bedroom window, he spies a beautiful young woman (Gwen Conliffe, daughter of the proprietor, Charles Conliffe) putting her earrings on. Forgetting that he is looking through a telescope, Larry tries to reach out to her and realises his mistake.
In the next scene, Larry is outside Conliffe’s Antique shop looking in the window. He goes in and takes off his hat and he is greeted by Gwen ‘Good afternoon Sir, may I help you?’
Larry: ‘Why yes, er, I’m looking for a gift, something in earrings’.
Gwen: ‘Certainly, here’s some very nice ones’. She shows him but he does not take his eyes off Gwen. ‘These diamond ones are very smart, or how about these pearl ones?’
Larry: ‘No I don’t think any of those will do. What I’m really looking for is er, something half-moon shaped with spangles on it, golden’.
Gwen: ‘Oh I’m sorry we haven’t any like that just now!’
Larry: ‘Oh yes you have! Don’t you remember?’ Gwen looks surprised. ‘On your dressing table up in your room!’
Gwen: ‘In my room!’
Larry: ‘Yes, would you mind getting them for me?’
Gwen: ‘Oh, but they’re not for sale!’
Larry: ‘Well I can’t say that I blame them, they look so well on you!’ There is an awkward moment between them.
Gwen: ‘Oh, well, er, perhaps my father can help you, I’ll call him!’
Larry: ‘No! No that won’t be necessary; as er, long as I can’t have the earrings, perhaps I’ll buy a cane’. He looks at the walking canes and Gwen seems puzzled.
Gwen: ‘Tell me, how did you know about the earrings in my room?’
Larry: (fondling a cane) ‘Oh I’m psychic! Every time I see a beautiful girl I know all about her (snaps his fingers) just like that!’
Gwen: ‘Oh, erm, well what kind of cane would you like? We have day wear or evening wear!’
Larry: ‘Oh it doesn’t matter’.
Gwen: ‘This one is very smart, solid gold top!’
Larry: ‘No, I don’t think that’ll do’ (without looking at the cane).
Gwen: ‘Well, how about the little dog? That would suit you!’
Larry: ‘No thanks’. He picks up a cane with a large handle. ‘Well, here’s one! Make a good putter!’ He demonstrates his putting with it.
Gwen: ‘Yes it would’.
Larry: ‘That’s funny, another dog!’
Gwen: ‘Hmm, no that’s a wolf!’
Larry: ‘A wolf!’
Gwen: ‘Mm hmm’.
Larry: (looking at the handle) ‘A wolf in a star! – what does that mean?’
Gwen: ‘Well, I thought you said you were psychic?’
Larry: ‘Well I am, but, this is only wood and silver, and it hasn’t blue eyes!’
Gwen: ‘Er, well erm, that stick is priced at three pounds’.
Larry: ‘Three pounds! Fifteen dollars for an old stick!’
Gwen: ‘Well that’s a very rare piece. It shows the wolf and the pentagram, the sign of the werewolf!’
Larry: ‘Werewolf! What’s that?’
Gwen: ‘Oh, that’s a human being who at certain times of the year changes into a wolf!’
Larry: ‘You mean runs around on all fours and bites and snaps and bays at the moon?’
Gwen: ‘Oh, even worse than that sometimes!’
Larry: ‘What big eyes you have grandma!’
Gwen: ‘Little Red Riding Hood was a werewolf story! Of course there have been many others. There’s an old poem:
Even a man who is pure in heart
And says his prayers by night,
May become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright!’
Larry: ‘Yes but er, what’s this pentagram business?’
Gwen: ‘Every werewolf is marked with that and sees it in the palm of his next victim’s hand’.
Larry: ‘Look lady, if you’re trying to scare me out of here you’re not getting very far!’ He pays for the cane, ‘I’ll take the cane!’
Gwen: (laughs) ‘Please, tell me have you ever seen me before?’
Larry: ‘Of course, how do you suppose I knew about the earrings?’
Gwen: ‘Well, I can’t remember ever...’
Larry: ‘Tell you what we’ll do – we’ll take a little walk tonight, then we’ll talk it over!’
Gwen: ‘No!’ Noises are heard outside, the clatter of horses and carts.
Larry: ‘See you at eight!’
Gwen: ‘No!’ She opens the shop door and we see a Gypsy caravan coming down the village street.
Larry: ‘Gypsies, Huh?’
Gwen: ‘Yes, they’re fortune tellers; they pass through here every autumn’.
Larry: ‘You know, I haven’t had my fortune told in years: how about tonight?’
Gwen: ‘No!’ She goes back into the shop and closes the door.
Larry: ‘Fine! I’ll be here at eight!’
In the next scene Larry is in the observatory with his father and they are discussing the validity of the werewolf legend, which according to Sir John ‘must have some basis in fact’, he turns the pages of a book and mentions the dual personality and psychological aspect of the condition; he even quotes the poem about the wolf and the wolf bane that Gwen told Larry in Conliffe’s shop. Sir John is pleased that Larry has taken an interest in the people of the village as he will be running the estate eventually.
It is eight o’ clock and Gwen (wearing her half-moon earrings) has shut up shop and waits outside. There is a mist and Larry sneaks up behind her. At first Gwen seems reluctant but Larry says ‘Oh come on, I don’t want to go alone, I’m really afraid of the dark, and you see I wore my cane too!’
Gwen then calls for her friend ‘Jenny’ (Jenny Williams) who appears from the shop door. Larry looks a little put out but the young ladies laugh and take an arm each and head off for the Gypsy camp. In the misty, moonlit woods they notice wolf bane growing and Jenny quotes the poem as she picks some. At the Gypsy camp, Jenny goes first to have her fortune read and Bela bids her to cut the cards. While this is taking place Larry and Gwen decide to take a little walk and he tells her about the telescope incident and she tells him that she is engaged to be married soon.
Bela looks distressed and throws the wolf bane from the table to the ground and raises his hand to his forehead to reveal a pentagram scar on the right side of his head. Jenny sees this and Bela takes Jenny’s hands:
Bela: ‘Your left hand shows your past; your right hand shows your future!’ Bela looks at Jenny’s right hand and sees the pentagram enclosed within a circle, the sign of the werewolf’s next victim. Jenny is distressed:
Jenny: ‘What’s the matter?’
Bela: ‘I can’t tell you anything tonight! Come back tomorrow!’ Bela rises.
Jenny: ‘What did you see: something evil?’
Bela: ‘No! No! Now go away! Go quickly! Go!’
Jenny: ‘Yes! Yes I’m going!’ Jenny runs out of the tent and Bela looks at the wolf bane on the ground and clutches his head. His mother, Maleva notices his behaviour and the horse becomes very disturbed, sensing something is wrong! Bela is transforming!
There is the howl of a wolf and Jenny is running through the woods.
Larry: ‘What was that?’
Gwen: ‘I don’t know I’ve never heard anything like it before!’
There is a scream and Jenny is attacked by a wolf. Larry runs to her rescue but he is too late. Gwen is afraid for Larry and follows him. Larry gets there just in time to see the wolf tear Jenny’s throat out as she lies on the ground. The wolf rises on two legs and there is a struggle as it attacks Larry and also tries to tear at his throat. Larry manages to hit it four times with his silver handled cane and the wolf dies, but Larry has been bitten on his chest!
He stumbles and falls as Gwen comes to him:
Larry: ‘A wolf!’
Bela’s mother Maleva appears on her horse-drawn wagon and Gwen asks for her help which she does. She takes them back to Talbot Castle where Sir John and Paul Montford are talking. Larry is brought into the Hall and Maleva stands back, waiting silently in the doorway before leaving quietly. A man named Twiddle (Forrester Harvey) appears and says that Jenny Williams’ body has been found near the marsh and that she has been murdered!
Paul: ‘Wolf! Gypsy woman! Murder! What is this?’
Paul Montford goes with Mr Twiddle to examine the body and the scene of the crime and Sir John takes Larry to his room.
At the site of the murder:
Paul: ‘Jenny Williams attacked by some large animal!’
Doctor Lloyd says that the jugular vein has been severed by the bite of powerful teeth and the cause of death is ‘internal haemorrhage’.
Mr Twiddle takes notes.
They find the body of Bela nearby with his skull crushed and bare feet. There are animal tracks around the body and they also find Larry’s wolf’s head cane!
We next see Larry in bed as his father; Paul Montford and Doctor Lloyd enter his room. They ask him if the cane belongs to him:
Larry: ‘That’s the one I killed the wolf with!’
They then tell him that Bela the Gypsy was found dead. Larry shows them where the wolf bit him but there is no wound and he suggests that it has healed. The Doctor thinks it wise not to question him further until he has rested because he has suffered a trauma.
Larry: ‘But, don’t make me try to believe that I killed a man when I know that I killed a wolf!’
The Doctor patronises him saying he needs to rest and they will talk later.
Following this Sir John, Doctor Lloyd and Paul are discussing the case:
Doctor Lloyd: ‘Patient is mentally disturbed!’
Sir John: ‘You Policemen are always in such a hurry; as if dead men hadn’t all eternity!’
We then cut to the church steps and we see the coffin of Bela on a carriage. Larry is standing at the roadside and two ladies who came out of the church stand by and say:
Woman one: ‘It’s the Gypsy fortune teller!’
Woman two: ‘And the man that killed him!’
Woman one: ‘Yes!’
The coffin is taken of and put into the church crypt. Larry follows it through the graveyard and into the crypt where a torch burns. He goes over to the coffin and opens the lid, but he is disturbed and retreats behind a column. Maleva then enters from another entrance with the Reverend Norman (Harry Stubbs):
Reverend: ‘But my dear woman, we can’t bury this man without prayer!’
Maleva: ‘There’s nothing to pray for Sir, Bela has entered a much better world than this, at least, all you Ministers, always say Sir!’
Reverend: ‘And so it is! But that’s no reason to hold a pagan celebration; I hear your people are coming to town dancing and singing and making merry!’
Maleva: ‘For a thousand years we Gypsies have buried our dead like that, I couldn’t break the custom even if I wanted to!’
Reverend: ‘Fighting against superstition is as hard as fighting against Satan himself!’ He turns and goes.
Maleva goes to the coffin and opens the lid and says a short prayer:
‘The way you walked was thorny, through no fault of your own, but as the rain enters the soil; the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end! Your suffering is over, Bela, my son. Now you will find peace!’
She closes the lid and leaves. Larry goes to the coffin and goes to strike the lid with his fist, but resists and cries instead.
In the next scene we are at the shop of Charles Conliffe and Gwen is upset at Jenny’s death. Some women enter the shop looking for Gwen saying she shouldn’t have been out with Larry Talbot when she’s engaged to Frank Andrews! Gwen’s father stands up for Gwen but Gwen is in the parlour room and hears the whole conversation. Jenny’s mother, Mrs Williams is one of the women and she blames Gwen directly for her daughter’s death! Just then Larry appears at the shop door and makes an entrance ‘All right, tell me!’ as he slams the door shut! His face is fixed with anger as he holds the wolf’s head cane in his hands as if to use it on them and the women all rush out of the shop in fear.
And after all that Larry turns to Mr Conliffe and says ‘what’s gotten into them?’ Surely it is obvious!
Mr Conliffe: ‘Well, I, I really don’t know!’ Larry apologises for the trouble he has caused and asks to go and speak to Gwen. In the parlour, Gwen asks what happened and Larry explains that he saw a wolf and killed it, but now there is no wound!
Gwen: ‘Maybe there wasn’t a wolf, it was dark and foggy and well, perhaps the story I told you about the werewolf confused you?’
Larry: ‘Why does everyone insist that I’m confused?’
Just then Frank Andrews arrives with his dog that takes an instant dislike to Larry and barks incessantly before having to be taken outside. Frank is the gamekeeper for the Talbot estate:
Larry: ‘Glad to know you Andrews!’ Larry stretches out his hand for Frank to shake but he doesn’t shake hands, in fact, Frank appears very rude and he does not even speak to Larry and can’t seem to take his eyes off Larry’s cane.
Larry: ‘I er, just came over to see that Gwen was alright. I guess I’d better be going now. Goodbye Gwen!’
When Larry has left Frank warns Gwen about Larry saying that he’s been away for eighteen years and he is the ‘son of Sir John Talbot!’ There is a deeper mystery here which we are unaware of!
Frank: ‘There’s something very tragic about that man and I’m sure that nothing but harm will come to you through him!’
We next see Gwen and Frank at the Gypsy fair where there is dancing and music; Larry is there, alone with his cane! He suddenly sees Frank and Gwen and attempts to hide amongst the crowd and go home, but frank notices him: ‘there’s Larry Talbot!’ and wants to say hello just so there is no hard feelings about their last meeting, so he shouts ‘Larry Talbot!’ Larry joins them and has a go on the rifle range, shooting wild animals. Also at the fair are Sir John and Paul Montford watching Larry from a distance. When the wolf target springs up Larry pauses and cannot shoot, so he fires and misses. Frank shoots the wolf for him! Larry, obviously distressed leaves the fair and passes Maleva’s caravan:
Maleva: ‘You’ve been a long while coming!’
Larry: ‘I’m not buying anything!’
Maleva: ‘And I’m not selling anything! I expected you sooner!’
Larry: ‘Oh I remember you, that night, and in the crypt’.
Maleva: ‘Go inside!’ Larry goes into the tent and Maleva tells him that the wolf was her son Bela who was a werewolf:
Maleva: ‘A werewolf can be killed only with a silver bullet, or a silver knife, or a stick with a silver handle!’
Larry: ‘You’re insane! I tell you I killed a wolf, a plane ordinary wolf!’ Maleva gives him a pentagram charm to keep him safe:
Maleva: ‘It can break the evil spell!’
Larry: ‘Evil spell! Pentagram! Wolf bane! Oh, I’m sick of the whole thing! I’m gonna get outa here!’
Maleva: ‘Whoever is bitten by a werewolf and lives becomes a werewolf himself!’
Larry: ‘Ah, quit handin’ me that. You’re just wasting your time!’
Maleva: ‘The wolf bit you didn’t he?’
Larry: ‘Yeah, yeah he did!’
Maleva: ‘Wear this charm over your heart always!’
Larry: ‘Alright! Alright! I’ll take it, what’s it worth to ye? I’ll give ye...’
Maleva: ‘Do you dare to show me the wound?’
Maleva: ‘Do you dare to show me the wound?’ Larry shows her the wound.
Maleva: ‘Go now and Heaven help you!’ Larry goes. Paul is still observing him. Maleva then goes around camp telling everyone to pack-up as there is a werewolf in the vicinity. The Gypsies pack-up to go. Larry bumps into Gwen as he is leaving; she and Frank had a quarrel. Larry says he will take her home. Gwen notices the charm around Larry’s neck and says ‘what’s that?’
Larry: ‘Oh that, that’s a charm. I just saw the old Gypsy woman, huh, they give you quite a sales talk don’t they!’
Gwen: ‘Let me see. It’s a pentagram!’
Larry: ‘Yes. She said that I was a werewolf!’
Gwen: ‘Oh but surely... you don’t believe it?’
Larry: ‘Gwen, (he removed the charm from his neck) I won’t need this, (he puts it over her head) I want you to have it: It’ll protect ye!’
Gwen: ‘Protect me, from whom?’
Larry: ‘Me, just in case’.
Gwen: ‘I never accept a present without giving something in return: here’s a penny!’
Larry: ‘It isn’t enough!’ Larry kisses Gwen but they are suddenly disturbed by the Gypsies who are hurriedly packing-up. Gwen leaves and Larry asks one of the Gypsies what all the excitement is and he is told that ‘there’s a werewolf in camp!’
Larry leans against a tree and in his confusion his mind runs over all the things that have happened recently, he sees Maleva, Bela, a wolf and a pentagram, poor Jenny Williams and striking the wolf; his cane and the wolf bane...
Back at Talbot castle, in his room, he looks at his hands for any sign that something is wrong and maybe the growth of more hair than usual. He seems relieved but then looks at his feet and finds his legs and feet extremely hairy. He is in the process of transforming and sits in a chair. We see the change from the aspect of his feet which increase in hair and become wolf-like in appearance. We next see Larry as the wolf man walking through the woods, bare foot wearing his shirt and trousers. It is foggy and the atmosphere is heightened by the black leafless trees, the snarling beast and the wonderful make-up by Jack Pierce. The background music accompanies the imagery perfectly.
The wolf man comes across a lone gravedigger named Richardson (Tom Stevenson) who stops to light his pipe. There is a howl and Stevens sees the monstrous shape amongst the trees but before he knows it, the creature is fast upon him and bites his throat. There is another howl and all the villagers rise from their beds or stop whatever they are doing to listen! Mr Twiddle is in the street and says it is coming from the churchyard so he and Paul Montford decide to go there and investigate. They find Richardson’s dead body; again the jugular has been severed. The Doctor is there with Paul and animal tracks are found which appear to be made by a wolf!
Early next morning Larry is lying on his bed with his clothes on and bare feet. He wakes and realises what has occurred and clutches his chest where there is the pentagram scar. There are muddy paw prints on the carpet and on the window sill which Larry tries to remove by rubbing at them with his feet and shirt sleeve. At the window he sees Paul Montford in the garden coming from the woods and following the wolf prints right to Talbot Castle and up to Larry’s room. Paul looks up at the window and Larry hides!
Sir John tells Larry that Richardson the grave digger was killed last night and the tracks lead up to the house:
Sir John: ‘No, animal tracks – a wolf!’
Larry: ‘A wolf! Where do ye suppose a wolf came from?’
Sir John: ‘Well, he might have escaped from a circus or a zoo!’
Larry: ‘What is this story about a man turning into a wolf?’
Sir John: ‘You mean the werewolf?’
Larry: ‘Yes Sir’.
Sir John: ‘Well, it’s an old legend; you’ll find something like it in the folklore of nearly every nation, the scientific name for it is Lycanthropic; it’s a variety of schizophrenia’.
Larry: ‘Ah, that’s all Greek to me!’
Sir John: ‘Well it is Greek! It’s a technical expression for something very simple: the good and evil in every man’s soul; in this case evil takes the shape of an animal’.
Larry asks if his father believes in ‘these yarns’:
Sir John: ‘Larry, to some people life is very simple, they decide that this is good, that is bad; this is wrong, that’s right; there’s no right in wrong, no good in bad, no shadings and greys, all blacks and whites!’
Larry: ‘That’d be Paul Montford?’
Sir John: (nodding) ‘Exactly! Now others of us find that good, bad, right, wrong are many-sided complex things; we try to see every side. But the more we see the less sure we are! Now you ask me if I believe a man can become a wolf!’ Larry looks at Sir John expectantly for the answer.
Sir John: ‘Well, if you mean can it take on the physical characteristics of an animal? No, it’s fantastic! However, I do believe that most anything can happen to a man in his own mind!’ Just then the bells start ringing for Church:
Sir John: ‘You know Larry; belief in the hereafter is a very healthy counterbalance to all the conflicting doubts man is plagued with these days! C’mon!’ and they leave for church.
It is a lovely sunny day and the Church is busy. There is lots of gossip on the church steps and Mrs Williams (Jenny’s mother) is suggesting that Larry is responsible for her death. Just then Larry and Sir John arrive outside in the car and go into the Church after seeing Gwen and her father outside. The organ plays and the shafts of light fill the architectural space with a magical glow. Sir John takes his seat at the front of the Church while Larry hangs back in the entrance. One by one the congregation begin to turn around and look at Larry, who perhaps because of what he is experiencing has lost what faith he had in the Almighty. They all turn to stare, Paul Montford and Frank Andrew, then Gwen and her father and eventually Sir John turns too! They all rise and Larry, holding his hat makes his exit!
Sometime after we see Paul Montford examining a plaster cast of a paw print which has been confirmed to be a wolf, back at Talbot Castle in the presence of Sir John, Frank Andrews and Doctor Lloyd. Larry enters and says that it isn’t a wolf; it’s a ‘werewolf!’
Paul Montford makes fun of Larry, who asks Doctor Lloyd if he believes in werewolves. The Doctor gives a psychological explanation and the ‘mind’s power over the body – the case of the stigmata appearing in the skin of zealots’.
Sir John: ‘Self hypnotism’.
Larry: ‘But if a man isn’t even thinking about the thing, isn’t interested in it, then, how, how could he hypnotise himself with it?’
Doctor Lloyd says that it may be a case of mental suggestion plus mass hypnotism and Sir John shrugs at the idea, not liking it one bit!
Larry: ‘If you mean by that, he could be influenced by the people about him’. Sir John looks physically disgusted at the suggestion!
Larry: ‘Doctor, can these sick people be cured?’
Paul Montford: ‘Not they! An asylum’s the only safe place for them!’ Larry stares at Paul with real hatred for the remark. Then Paul and frank leave to set some traps to try and catch the wolf. Larry goes to rest and Sir John and Doctor Lloyd talk some more as the Doctor wants Larry to go away but Sir John will not be swayed as he wants Larry to stand firm and prove his innocence!
Sir John: ‘Five generations of Talbots haven’t been affected by that village! That boy stays here!’
Doctor Lloyd: ‘Oh very well, we’ll see how he is in the morning’.
And so the traps have been set in the woods, and there is howling as the mist swirls around the broken trees and the music erupts as Larry as the wolf man has caught his right foot in one of the traps! Dogs are barking as they hunt for him and the wolf man thrashes around in pain. Paul and his men lose the tracks and set off for the marsh. Just then Maleva the old Gypsy arrives in her horse-drawn wagon and helps Larry. She kneels beside him and says:
‘The way you walked was thorny, through no fault of your own, but as the rain enters the soil; the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end! Find peace, for a moment, my son!’
The wolf transforms back into Larry and he opens the trap and sets his foot free. There is a look of madness upon him as the dogs are approaching. He limps away but he is seen by two of the hunting party who tell him to stop and ‘come here!’ which he does.
‘Master Larry!’ they are surprised to see him there and he says that he is out hunting also and he limps away. Then Paul comes and asks who the men were talking to, they tell him; Frank is next to ask who the man limping through the foggy woods is and he too is surprised that it is Larry.
We next see Larry outside Conliffe’s antique shop throwing pebbles at Gwen’s bedroom window to attract her attention. She rises and comes to the window and sees that Larry is in need of help and lets him in. He tells her that he is going away but Gwen wants to go with him.
Larry: ‘You wouldn’t want to run away with a murderer would you?’
Gwen: ‘Oh Larry, you’re not, you know you’re not!’
Larry: ‘I killed Bela, I killed Richardson; if I stay around much longer you can’t tell who’s gonna be next!’ (then the realisation hits him) ‘Wait! It, might even...’
Gwen: ‘Please, I’ve still got the charm you gave me remember?’ Gwen shows him the charm and Larry grabs her hands:
Larry: ‘Yeah, oh yeah, I know, but I’m afraid!’ He then sees the pentagram in the circle in the palm of Gwen’s right hand, the sign of the werewolf’s next victim! He lets her hands go:
Gwen: ‘Larry, what is it?’ just then Gwen’s father comes downstairs.
Larry: ‘Your hand!’ Gwen looks at her hand.
Gwen: ‘I can’t see anything!’
Charles Conliffe: ‘Mister Talbot!’
Gwen: ‘Father, I’m going with Larry!’
Larry: ‘No! It’s no use!’ and Larry rushes out of the shop as Gwen, who wants to follow him is held in her father’s arms.
Back at Talbot Castle, Larry is on his way out as Sir John comes downstairs. Larry says he has to get away and explains about Bela being a werewolf and how he killed him with his silver handled cane and was bitten; he shows Sir John the wound in the shape of a pentagram:
Sir John: ‘That scar could be made by most any animal!’
Larry: ‘Yes but it’s the sign of the werewolf; they say that he can see it in the palm of the hand of his next victim!’
Sir John: ‘That’s hard to believe!’
Larry: ‘I saw it, tonight in Gwen’s hand!’
Sir John: ‘Larry! Larry! How can I help you get rid of this fear, this mental quagmire you’ve got yourself into; what can I say to you?’
Larry: ‘You don’t understand!’ Outside dogs are barking. ‘You think I’m insane, why...’ he looks around as the dogs bark: ‘What is that?’
Sir John: ‘That’s Paul Montford and the men; they caught nothing in the traps so now they’re going to hunt the wolf’.
Larry: ‘They’re out hunting for me!’
Sir John: ‘Stop it! Stop it!’ (on the stairs) ‘You can’t run away!’ Sir John climbs the stairs to reach eye level with Larry and then climbs above him.
Larry: ‘That’s it, that’s what she said!’
Sir John: ‘Who?’
Larry: ‘The Gypsy woman’.
Sir John: ‘Gypsy woman? Now we’re getting down to it! She’s been filling your head with this gibberish, this talk of werewolves and pentagrams: you’re not a child Larry, you’re a grown man and you believe in the superstition of a Gypsy woman!’
Larry: ‘No! But the scar, the footprints in my room... Look father, I was caught in a trap tonight, I don’t know how I got there, the old Gypsy woman helped me get away, and now they’re all out hunting for me!’
Sir John: ‘Listen to me! You’re Lawrence Talbot! This is Talbot castle! You believe these men can come in here and take you out!’
Larry: ‘No! I’ll go out to them! I can’t help myself!’
Sir John: ‘Then I’ll see to it that you can’t go out to them! C’mon Larry!’
Sir John and Larry are in Larry’s room and Sir John has strapped him to a chair and all the doors and windows are locked and bolted.
Sir John: ‘What is it?’
Larry: ‘Take the cane with you’.
Sir John: ‘What will I want with a cane?’
Larry: ‘Please, just take it with you, please!’
Sir John: (patting Larry on the right shoulder) ‘Alright!’ (and he takes the cane). Sir John leaves Larry to join the hunt.
We are then in the woods at the shooting stand where Paul and Doctor Lloyd are ready with their rifles to shoot whatever the beaters drive out of the undergrowth. Sir John arrives and tells the Doctor what he has done with Larry, saying he has ‘strapped him to the chair and turned him to the window so that he could see something of the hunt!’ Sir John leaves the shooting stand and walks alone through the woods. He sees the old Gypsy woman, Maleva:
Maleva: ‘You’re not frightened are you Sir John?’ Sir John goes over to her. He mentions about filling Larry’s head with superstition and ‘witches tales’ and says that he was not staying at the hunt and was on his way home because he wanted to be with his son. Shots are heard and Sir John rushes off!
Then Gwen comes running through the woods and sees Maleva and says she is looking for Larry.
M,aleva: ‘Come with me or he will find you!’ Gwen runs off and we see the wolf man following her. He leaps at Gwen and attacks her, trying to throttle her. Gwen screams and Sir John comes to rescue her. The wolf man drops Gwen and rushes at Sir John, who proceeds to hit the beast with the cane! They fall and struggle and eventually Sir John kills the wolf man with a succession of blows from the cane. Maleva goes over to them and over Larry’s dead body, says:
‘The way you walked was thorny, through no fault of your own, but as the rain enters the soil; the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end! Your suffering is over. Now you will find peace for eternity!’
The wolf transforms back into Larry Talbot and when Sir John realises; he drops the cane and goes to him. Gwen is very distressed and Frank holds her as she cries on his shoulder!
The Wolf Man is one of the most popular of the Universal ‘monsters’ and I have to say it is a personal favourite of mine as I have seen it countless times and know every scene and line of dialogue. The script by Curt Siodmark is fantastic and he creates an atmosphere that runs throughout the film, whether at Talbot Castle, the ancestral home of the Talbots, or at Conliffe’s shop in that very special scene in which Larry first meets Gwen; or the wolf man roaming through the moonlit woods, thick with fog! (We must not forget the great efforts of the set decorations by R. A. Gausman). There are subtle moments and several viewings reveal the relationships between the characters, who by the way, have an individual believable ‘personality’ and charm that makes this film a true classic both in the performances and the story. Siodmark has almost single-handedly created and developed the ‘werewolf’ we have come to know: the transformation triggered by the full moon; the pentagram as the sign of the werewolf and as the sign of its next victim; destruction by a silver bullet or object; the ‘condition’ as a ‘curse’ as opposed to just a physical affliction which arouses sympathy etc. The character of Larry Talbot, the only remaining son of Sir John Talbot with all the ancestral Talbot expectations of running an estate, is a doomed character from the beginning and we are drawn into his world, which at times seems quite child-like, and maybe why we don’t see him as a murdering beast but as a gentle giant of a man in love who happens to be under the spell of the werewolf. Siodmark threads his own folklore through the script and we have embraced it as actual fact; the poem which ends ‘and the autumn moon is bright’ was created by Siodmark and suggests that the wolf form only happens at the autumn full moon when the ‘wolf bane blooms’. In subsequent werewolf films the last line of the poem was changed to ‘and the moon is full and bright’ to incorporate the aspect of a monthly transformation, and perhaps include certain neurological changes that can occur with the moon’s influence. This combination of supernatural legend and medical fact (such as in schizophrenia etc) establishes a plausible reason why on the one hand a man may believe he has become a wolf, and on the other hand, actually become a wolf!
The make-up by the great Jack Pierce is outstanding for its time of creation and completely out does his earlier work for ‘Werewolf of London’. And of course who can forget the wonderful score by Charles Previn, Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner which totally adds to the atmosphere! The film continues to amaze and has influenced so much in the horror/werewolf genre that we are indebted to it! A wonderful and timeless classic!
THE UNDYING MONSTER
Released USA 27th November 1942
20th Century Fox
Robert Curtis............................................James Ellison
Helga Hammond......................................Heather Angel
Oliver Hammond.....................................John Howard
Dr. Jeff Colbert........................................Bramwell Fletcher
Miss Cornelia Christopher ‘Christy’.......Heather Thatcher
Inspector Craig........................................Aubrey Mather
Walton, the butler....................................Halliwell Hobbes
Mrs Walton..............................................Eily Malyon
Strud Strudwick.......................................Charles McGraw Foster.......................................................Clive Morgan
Tom Clagpool..........................................John Rogers
Charlie Clagpool......................................Donald Stuart
Kate O’Malley.........................................Virginia Traxler Director...................................................John Brahm
Writing credits........................................Lillie Hayward and Michael Jacobs Producer..................................................Brian Foy
Executive Producer.................................William Goetz
Original Music........................................Emil Newman, David Raksin, Arthur Lange, Cyril J. Mockridge
Director of Photography.........................Lucien Ballard A.S.C.
Set Decorations......................................Thomas Little and Walter M. Scott
Art Directors...........................................Richard Day and Lewis Creber
Film Editor..............................................Harry Reynolds Sound......................................................George Leverett and Harry M. Leonard Costumes.................................................Billy Livingston
‘Hammond Hall at the turn of the century when the age-old mystery of the Hammond monster was at last revealed to all England; that mystery, which although by 1900 had become a legend was indeed a real tragedy and constant threat to the lives of all the seemingly, doomed members of the house of Hammond.’
As the camera enters the moonlit Hammond Hall upon the strike of midnight, we find a woman asleep in a chair by the fireside where her dog, a Great Dane named Alex lies. As approaching footsteps disturbs the dog, the woman, Helga Hammond, sister of the master of the house, wakes to see Walton, the butler; she feels cold and is waiting up for her brother Oliver to return home, whom she is concerned about. Helga decides to go to bed and the dog is taken outside at which he starts to bark. The butler mentions that there may be poachers on the grounds.
Helga: ‘How big and bright the stars look tonight!’
Walton: ‘Aye, and there’s frost on the ground too! It was just such a night when some men...’
Helga stops him and Walton hopes that Mister Oliver hasn’t taken the short cut back along the pass by the edge of the cliff.
Helga: ‘Why shouldn’t he?’
Walton: ‘When stars are bright on a frosty night, beware thy bane on the rocky lane.’
Helga: ‘Surely you don’t put any stock in that old legend?’
Walton: ‘It’s only twenty years ago since your grandfather was killed!’
Helga: ‘Grandfather killed himself!’
Walton: ‘After he’d seen it!’
Helga: ‘That’s ridiculous. There’s nothing to that story about a monster.’
Walton: ‘O I shall never forget that night when I found your grandfather down there, on that path by the edge of the cliffs after he’s met it. So horribly mangled, and that insane look on his face!’
Helga then telephones Dr. Jeff Colbert to see if Oliver has left his place at South Down and he says he left two minutes ago. Helga then decides to go to bed but is stopped by the sound of a hound howling:
Helga: ‘It’s probably a dog caught in a trap.’
Walton: ‘That’s no dog!’
The camera then cuts to a woman, Dr. Jeff’s nurse, Kate O’Malley, running by the edge of the cliffs with a lamp. As the howling continues something attacks Kate and she screams.
Mrs Walton: ‘Sounds like a lost soul!’
A carriage is brought round to the front of the Hall and after Walton fetches Oliver’s revolver Miss Helga decides to go after the thing and shoot it, but Mrs Walton doesn’t want her to go out. Helga goes out in the carriage taking Alex the dog as Strudwick, the driver takes them to the rocky lane. They climb down the rocks as Helga calls out ‘Oliver!’ The dog, Alex begins to bark and they find the master’s dead spaniel and nearby, alive but unconscious is Oliver Hammond! They put him in the carriage and hear a woman moan, it’s Kate who is also still alive but badly injured. Back at the Hall, we see Oliver awake in his bedroom with his wounds dressed. He doesn’t remember being in the lane by the cliffs and then it starts to come back to him as he remembers: he was fighting a beast which attacked Kate. She is still unconscious.
Helga: ‘What was it Oliver?’
Oliver: ‘I don’t know...I didn’t see anything.’
Dr. Jeff who has been with Kate says that she is in a coma. He asks Oliver what happened and Oliver says that he saw a light and thought it was a poacher, but the light was Kate’s lamp and she had left Dr. Jeff’s a few minutes before Oliver left. He offered to see her to the village when they were attacked.
Oliver (to Helga): ‘Helga you’re next, you’re the only Hammond left besides me, if I die!’
In the next scene, while Oliver sleeps Helga and Dr. Jeff are seated beside the fire. The camera is positioned behind the fireplace as the smoke and flames rise into the air which creates a visually dreamy effect, as if the house is watching them. Helga is upset and the Doctor blames himself for Kate getting hurt and not seeing her safely home. And the Doctor leaves Helga alone.
The next day, we are at London’s Scotland Yard where we meet Bob Curtis and Christy in the forensics laboratory as Inspector Craig arrives to tell them about the ‘Hammond case’. They go with the Inspector to see Helga in the office and she tells them about the legend that centuries ago one of her ancestors sold his soul to the Devil and supposedly still lives in the secret room at Hammond Hall, issuing forth at intervals to make the sacrifice of a human life in order to prolong his own. The next scene begins with Bob and Christy in the carriage travelling to the Hall to begin their investigations.
Christy: ‘What a divinely gloomy old house!’
Bob: ‘Just the sort of place a reliable ghost would haunt!’
Helga: ‘It’s one of the oldest inhabited houses in England.’
Christy continues on in the carriage while Helga and Bob take the short cut by the edge of the cliff to the rocky lane. At the lane they see Oliver and Warren who was once engaged to Kate before breaking up and the local police force who can find no tracks. Bob examines the dead spaniel and can find no teeth marks or other clues, but he does find something near the dog which he hides.
Back at the Hall they are awaiting luncheon when Christy senses something strange in the house. A door slams and Millie, the new maid played by Heather Wilde screams. Mrs Walton goes to check as Millie, in a state of shock says that the monster slammed the door in her face! Of course there is nothing there but we are next startled by the sound of clanking chains coming from the crypt. They head for the crypt where Sir Magnus Hammond and many of the Hammond ancestors over five centuries are buried.
The Hammond crypt
In the crypt we see the statue of Sir Reginald Hammond, a Crusader who was killed at Palestine at the time of King Richard. Then there is the reclining figure of Sir Oliver Hammond who killed himself. Bob Curtis notices a chain moving behind a stone s tomb. Then there is mention of the secret room which has been untouched for centuries and locked-up several years ago. Curtis wants to see the room so the key is found and Mr and Mrs Walton watch the party as they go into the secret room.
Mrs Walton: ‘They’re going to the secret room!’ Mrs Walton and her husband, the butler, creep to the stairs. ‘That Christopher woman suspects something!’
Mr Walton: ‘They won’t find anything.’
Mrs Walton: ‘We should see to it that they don’t!’
Mr Walton: ‘Shhh! would you add another crime to all the others?’
Mrs Walton: ‘There are some things it’s better not to know about!’
And so Dr. Jeff, Oliver, Helga, Bob Curtis and Christy go to the secret room down some stairs. They see Walton creeping around on his way to the cellar to fetch some wine for dinner. They unlock the door and go down more steps where they see by the light of the lamp a stone tablet with an inscription: When stars are bright on a frosty night, beware thy bane in the rocky lane.
The current inhabitants of Hammond Hall do not believe in superstition and think nothing of the curse, but Oliver offers to show Curtis a book in the library on the family history. On the sandy floor of the secret room are recent footprints, yet it has supposedly been locked for several years and Oliver has the only key! Dr. Jeff Disturbs the footprints on purpose and makes it look like an accident, he doesn’t like Curtis or the investigation. He then goes to check on Kate. Meanwhile, Curtis catches up with Helga, whom he is suspicious of because if anything happened to Oliver she would be sole heir to the estate. He also suspects Dr. Jeff of wanting Oliver out of the way so that he can marry Helga.
In the library, Dr. Jeff has found the book titled ‘Hammond History’ and takes it from the shelf just before Curtis comes in looking for it. Jeff makes pretence of looking for the book but explains that he can’t find it. Suddenly, Curtis remembers something about Dr. Jeff that he practiced in London specialising in nervous diseases and the brain. Curtis is curious as to why Jeff left London which angers Dr. Jeff. Just then, Mrs Walton storms in shouting for the doctor saying that Kate is dying, telling him it looks like she’s been drugged!
In the next scene Bob Curtis and Christy are in the rocky lane by the remains of the spaniel searching for any clues that might have been missed. Mr Walton is spying on them. Curtis is sure that Helga is hiding something! Just then, Christy finds a tuft of hair and Curtis shows her what he found earlier, a ‘scrap torn from a muffler’. In the secret room, Mr Walton is stoking the fire as Curtis creeps up on him wanting to know what he is burning. ‘Paper’ answers the old butler, and Curtis takes a sample from the fire.
Then we see Curtis down in the crypt with a lamp and someone jumps upon him as they struggle and fight in the crypt, knocking over the statue of Sir Reginald Hammond. It’s Warren, Kate’s one time fiancé and he swears he knows nothing about the monster. Curtis finds the chains and realises they are Warren’s poaching traps. We then see Dr. Jeff covering Kate’s dead body; Helga is there too and the others are informed downstairs. There will have to be an inquest. Oliver blames himself for not fighting harder to protect her and he has a premonition that the monster will attack once more!
Then there follows a courtroom scene which is being held at the Hall and the Jury must here all the evidence as to Kate’s murder. A local poacher, Charlie Clagpool takes the stand with his brother Tom, Charlie has a broken arm and has a motive for the crime as he had words with Mr Hammond. Then Warren takes the stand and says that he saw the Clagpool’s on the night of the crime as he was setting traps in the woods. Helga and Oliver are upset and disappointed to hear that Warren, a worker on the estate has been poaching, but he says that he needed the money due to his gambling and hid the chains and traps in the chapel.
When Dr. Jeff takes the stand he states that death ensued from concussion of the brain and severe haemorrhage. Curtis asks if there were any contributing circumstances other than those mentioned. The doctor says that Kate O’Malley was in a comatose condition all the time prior to death and never regained consciousness.
Curtis: ‘Was she drugged?’
Dr. Jeff: ‘Definitely not!’
The verdict is given and it is the ‘opinion of coroner’s jury that Kate O’Malley died of injuries sustained during an attack by a person or persons unknown, or by a large savage animal, species unknown.’ Curtis is not happy with the verdict and thinks he can prove it was murder. Inspector Craig tells him he can’t touch Kate’s body as the villagers are superstitious, but Curtis needs a specimen if blood and Kate’s parents are refusing an autopsy.
Curtis tests the sample of cloth from the muffler, burning it in a test tube and it matches with the sample he found Mr Walton burning in the secret room.
Curtis: ‘It could have been a wolf!’ he then shows the Inspector and Christy a piece of hair he found at the scene of the crime and it matches exactly with that of a wolf! But then the only sample of hair he has mysteriously disappears.
Back at the Hall, the clock is striking midnight. Mr Hammond is still up with Alex the Great Dane and he asks Walton if everyone has gone to bed, to which he answers: ‘Oh yes sir, some time ago.’ Curtis has not come back to the Hall as he is arriving on the late train. Oliver Hammond is standing by the window.
Mr Walton: ‘It’s another bitter cold night sir.’
Mr Hammond: ‘Yes.’ He goes towards the door.
Mr Walton: ‘You’re not going out sir?’
Mr Hammond: ‘Why not?’
Mr Walton: ‘There’s frost on the ground!’
Mr Hammond: ‘Nonsense Walton! I’m only going out to see if the gate’s locked.’
Mr Walton: ‘Oh but sir!’
Mr Hammond: ‘Stop worrying Walton. I shan’t go near the rocks. I’ve no wish to precipitate another tragedy!’ and he goes off with the dog.
Mr Hammond checks the gate is locked and then sees a lamp within one of the bed chambers. It’s the chamber where poor Kate’s dead body is lying. The figure in the darkness with the lamp hides as Mr Hammond enters the room to find Kate’s body uncovered. Mr Hammond leaves and we see the hand of the intruder. We next see Curtis in his dark laboratory, heating a test tube. Just then Dr. Jeff enters and he is holding a pistol: ‘Don’t move!’
Curtis: ‘Oh hello Doctor! Come on in!’
Dr. Jeff: ‘What the devil are you up to?’
Curtis: ‘Forgive me old man for breaking in this way; I had to make a blood test. There wasn’t time to run down to my lab at Scotland Yard so I took the liberty of availing myself of yours!’
Dr. Jeff: ‘I could have shot you!’
Curtis finds that the blood in the test tube has traces of cobra venom extract. Dr. Jeff: ‘Really? That’s interesting! Whose blood is it?’
Curtis: ‘Kate O’Malley’s!’
We then discover that the doctor knows what the monster is and has done all along. Then there is a sudden howl coming from the direction of Hammond Hall. The doctor takes a syringe full of the cobra venom extract and then we are at Hammond Hall to find the monster lurking in the shadows, entering the bedroom of Helga Hammond. The monster attacks her as she screams.
Christy: ‘It’s here! It’s in the house!’ Mr and Mrs Walton rush upstairs to see the monster climbing out of the window and escaping with the body of Helga Hammond in his arms. Then Christy sees him by an outer door and she screams. The next moment Curtis has returned and they run after the monster.
Curtis sent for the Police and they arrive too. The monster howls and clambers along the rocky lane. Dr. Jeff arrives with his lamp followed by the Police as the monster hides behind a rock with Helga slung over his back. He climbs down the rocky cliff edge and Curtis follows in the climax to the film where the monster and Curtis fight. As the monster is ascending back up the cliff edge the Police are waiting for him and shoot him as he gets to the top.
Then the monster is revealed and we see the werewolf transform back into human form to be none other than Oliver Hammond as he falls down the cliff to his death. The doctor explains that he was a victim of lycanthropy as all the male ancestors of the Hammond family had been; Mr Hammond was unaware of his affliction. The doctor had been using the cobra venom extract as some sort of cure.
The film begins well and we see a mystery slowly unravelling, but unfortunately the strongest part of the film, its supernatural element and its Hammond ancestry do not reach expectations and much more of this could have been revealed, such as the family legends. After the beginning the film descends into an ordinary thriller or detective story with a minor supernatural twist at the end which picks up the pace for the climactic scenes. Although the film is no match for the far superior ‘The Wolf Man’ starring Lon Chaney Jnr, it does have some memorable moments: the opening shots of Hammond Hall, dark and gloomy, set the atmosphere; the spectacularly windswept and craggy rocky lane with its broken and bending trees and the crypt with its ancestral history.
The film is spoilt for me in some minor ways, such as the ghastly rhyme: ‘When stars are bright on a frosty night, beware thy bane on the rocky lane’ which attempts to echo the simple but more effective rhyme in ‘The Wolf Man’ – ‘Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night; may become a wolf, when the wolf bane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright’. In the novel we find the rhyme: ‘Where grow pines and firs amain./ Under stars, sans heat or rain,/ Chief of Hammand, ‘ware thy Bane!’ Also the two characters of Curtis (James Ellison who in the following year went on to star in the great Val Lewton classic ‘I walked with a zombie’ for RKO Pictures) and Christy (Heather Thatcher, ‘Gaslight’ 1944 for MGM), the former a sceptic suspecting everyone apart from the supernatural element and the latter cramming every scene with some sort of unnecessary throwaway comedic line. I don’t know why films of this era had to spoil the suspense by letting some awful caricatures of farcical stupidity litter a fine or not so fine script with weak gags and moments of silly behaviour, it just seems odd.
Unlike Larry Talbot in The Wolf Man, Oliver Hammond fails to arouse our sympathy and his character is too one-dimensional; there is no love interest or romantic link between the main protagonists to provide a reason for the battle between good and evil etc. In fact, the relationship between Oliver and his sister Helga (Swanhild in the novel) in my opinion, and my opinion likes to see bright moments of love in murky, sinister and ugly situations, already has a whiff of the House of Usher about it! Despite this, I would still consider the film a minor classic in the genre and definitely give it a place amongst my top ten horror films!