The release last year of the complete series of the 1930s and 1940s Universal Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein and Wolf Man movies on blu-ray has, no doubt, had many, like myself, revisiting some of the films from these cycles that they hadn’t seen in some time – only this time in much better quality. It is worth adding that, perhaps appropriately, the Invisible Man movies are nowhere to be seen on blu-ray with the exception of the original movie. Without doubt, these films look wonderful in high definition, and some of them really come to life in a way they hadn’t in their DVD incarnation.
Dracula’s Daughter (1936) is a key example. This is a weird, dark, and eerie film that came at the end of the first cycle of Universal horror films during the sound period. On blu-ray, all of that weirdness seems even more startling, and the picture quality for a film of this vintage is truly stunning.
Werewolf of London (1935), from a year earlier, was another that I enjoyed revisiting over the Christmas period. Not part of the Wolf Man series at all, but a stand alone effort from six years before Lon Chaney Jr started having a problem with facial hair, this one suffers a little from rather sedate pacing, but is still an interesting movie nonetheless and is certainly better than many of the Universal horror movies of the 1940s.
In fact, Werewolf of London was the last film I saw in 2017, and so it only seemed right that She-Wolf of London (1946) was the first I screened in 2018. This is probably the least-known of all the films on the recent blu ray sets, and yet it is also one of the best. As with Werewolf of London, it is not part of the Wolf Man series, but a stand alone feature starring June Lockhart as a young woman who fears she has the family curse of becoming a werewolf when there are a series of murders and attacks in a park close to her home.
I confess I don’t have much time for the “House of” series, in which the various Universal monsters come together in one film, that dominated the 1940s horror cycle. By this point, the series had, arguably, lost its way, becoming more fantasy (and comedy) than horror. She-Wolf of London isn’t really traditional horror either – no hairy beasts are seen within the movie at all, with the except of a couple of dogs. Instead, we have a film which seems to be a mix of Gaslight, the Val Lewton films for RKO, and even Rebecca. It seems almost ironic that Universal, who at one point led the way with regards to horror during the previous decade, here borrows from what other studios were doing. The central character’s obsession with her supposed family curse has a great deal in common with Cat People (1942) from the Lewton/RKO series and The Undying Monster, made by Fox. Sadly, She-Wolf of London doesn’t have the same intelligent script or sense of dread as Cat People, although it certainly treads some of the same ground thematically. It is still a taut little thriller, aided and abetted by some really fine performances, including the wide-eyed June Lockhart herself, but also Jan Wiley, who does well in a far less showy role. Sara Haden, meanwhile, chews up and spits out the scenery.
Running at only 61 minutes, the mystery element isn’t given room to be taxing, and the ending comes about rather suddenly, but the film seems remarkably classy compared to the other horrors that Universal were producing at the time, and the period atmosphere is nicely sustained throughout. Certainly an enjoyable way of spending an hour if you prefer your horror to be of a sinister rather than supernatural variety.