Pale Moonlight

Barely over an hour long, it isn’t until forty minutes into The Wolf Man that Lon Chaney Jr transforms into a beast. It’s an unusually patient horror film, content to let Chaney’s empathy-drawing face work on the audience. His Lawrence Talbot is chivalrous, gentle, and sorrowful, back in his father’s village after a family death. Everything about Talbot becomes tragic.

Wolf Man engages in Universal’s usual genre tropes, including the disbelief among authorities or scientists that such things exist in modern times. There’s a notable fear of outsiders or outside cultures too, in this case the gypsies who dare to defy a priest when one of their own dies. He accuses Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya) of performing pagan rituals when she won’t pray for the dead. Obliviously, the priest retorts, “Fighting against superstition is as hard as fighting Satan.” At no point does he acknowledge his own ingrained beliefs might too be seen as superstition.

Wolf Man remains a strict mood piece and character study

That brief exchange is as deep as Wolf Man goes thematically. Wolf Man remains a strict mood piece and character study, a slight outlier compared to Dracula or Invisible Man, which were culturally suggestive. Other than its rejection of myths (which in-movie, are entirely true), the focus sits wholly on Talbot’s circumstance. Rather than induce horror, Wolf Man steers toward a depressive streak that finds Talbot repeatedly beaten by life.

Once engaged in the genre, meaning Talbot covered in fur, snarling and barking, Wolf Man becomes routine and same-y. Aside from the dense fog cover and thick, confining forests for visual power, the attacks lack genuine terror. Usually, the after effects find the entertainment value, as with a shaky journalist taking notes, clearly mortified about his job.

Sequels handled Talbot’s inner turmoil with more gravitas, their uneven quality aside. Until the climax, he’s not fully enveloped in how severe this situation is. Suddenly, stakes turn personal; Talbot isn’t stalking a no-name grave digger, but the woman he loves (or tries to, anyway). Afterward, Wolf Man is over in minutes. This story lacks the boldness and eerie tone it so needs. In surviving in pop culture, Wolf Man’s memorable symbology – the cane, the makeup, the sets – supersede the drama. Chaney is magnificent, as good as a Karloff or Lugosi. Here he plays a character that follows his own personal life, and mirrors those uneven emotions. He was a natural for this part. That helped establish Wolf Man’s legacy too.

Video

Miles ahead of Universal’s sloppy Blu-ray, Wolf Man offers the greatest difference between the HD and 4K presentations in this box set. Grain is now preserved, resolved perfectly, and as such, detail sticks around. Sourced from a near perfect print, this master excels in delivering incredible sharpness. Textural qualities pour from the screen, medium shots and close-ups equally firm. Against the mist covering the forest, there’s still fidelity.

Flawless gray scale meets HDR in a perfect balance. Stellar contrast is enhanced all around. Metal glistens and emboldens the scenery; brightness excels all over the frame too. Every light source looks enhanced, but thankfully not clipped. It’s subtle and doesn’t cause any drastic change to the vintage aesthetic. Adding boldness to oil lamps merely draws the eye around the frame. Deepened black levels give the shadows appropriate gravitas; they produce detail too with no crush noticed.

Audio

Smooth DTS-HD mono keeps the original audio intact and crisp. Dialog carries well and Chaney’s bassy voice brings weight with it. Clarity excels for something this aged, producing only minor distortion at the peaks. Even the score delivers, balanced and precise. Of the four (five, technically) movies in this current box set, Wolf Man easily wins the audio battle.

Extras

Respect for the wolf man carries over to the bonuses. Film historian Tom Weaver handles the commentary and there’s no one better. Monster by Moonlight is an older half-hour feature hosted by John Landis. From Ancient Curse to Ancient Myth dissects the various legends surrounding werewolves. Pure in Heart is a superb look at Lon Chaney Jr., focusing on his career and personal life.

Archives house posters and other documentation for viewing, scrolling automatically for seven minutes. He Who Made Monsters is a dupe from a previous disc, although no less of an excellent piece on Jack Pierce. Trailers for all of the Wolf Man sequels and a look at the Universal Lot for their 100th Anniversary remain.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Wolf Man
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Lon Chaney Jr helps The Wolf Man overcome a fairly dry genre story by keeping the focus on character over horror.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 45 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: