The Wolfman is one of the classic horrors of the 20th Century, a murky, black-and-white picture starring Lon Chaney, Jr. at his finest, despite film historian Carlos Clarens remarking that his costume made him look "like a hirsute Cossack!" Universal Studios, in their golden age of monsters, created the famous portrayals of many great villains: Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster and Lon Chaney, Jr. as The Wolf Man, though the Wolf Man was not directly based on any work of literature as so many others were.
As Universal Pictures gears up to reboot their entire back catalog of classic monsters — reportedly eyeing up Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to play the Wolf Man in 2018 — it seems timely to look at the illustrious history of Universal's Wolf Man since its inception in 1941.
The Wolf Man (1941)
Although the most influential portrayal of The Wolf Man, the 1941 classic was actually Universal's second werewolf movie, following the less successful Werewolf of London (1935), which starred Henry Hull as the titular werewolf, Wilfred Glendon, in an entirely different story. Even before Werewolf of London, there was Fox Films's 1924 silent movie — named The Wolf Man but again using a totally different plot — with John Gilbert as the Wolf Man. This film is now lost.
Lon Chaney, Jr. (billed only as Lon Chaney) was already an established actor when he made The Wolf Man, and went on to play many classic monster roles for Universal — including the Mummy, Frankenstein's Monster and Son of Dracula — though the Wolf Man remains his most iconic role.
Surprisingly enough, despite the success of The Wolfman, Chaney never had his own full sequel to the 1941 original. Chaney returned as Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man in several movies, including Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), in which he takes a more heroic role, saving a man from a brain transplant at the hands of Bela Lugosi's Dracula. Chaney's last appearance as the Wolf Man was 1971's Dracula vs. Frankenstein.
The Legacy of The Wolfman
British studios Hammer and Tyburn had a crack at the werewolf movie, spurred on by the success of Universal Studios's monsters. These tended to draw inspiration from Guy Endore's 1933 novel The Werewolf of Paris, such as Hammer's The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) and Tyburn's Legend of the Werewolf (1975). Despite the name, the 1946 picture The She-Wolf of London is totally unrelated to either Endore or Chaney's story, starring June Lockhart as a woman accused of lycanthropic violence.
Resurgence for the wolf genre came in the '80s with a number of popular revitalizing entries such as The Howling (1981), An American Werewolf in London (1981), The Company of Wolves (1984) and Silver Bullet (1985). With the notable exception of Jack Nicholson's vehicle Wolf (1994), the genre went quiet until the turn of the Millennium, when the werewolf picture howled anew, unleashing a stream of titles such as Ginger Snaps (2000), Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001), Dog Soldiers (2002), Underworld (2003), Wes Craven's Cursed (2005), Skinwalkers (2006), Blood and Chocolate (2007) and, eventually, the 2010 reboot of Universal Studios's original Wolf Man.
The Wolfman (2010)
The first attempt at rebooting the classic monsters of Universal Studios was not as successful as fans would have liked, with The Wolfman (2010) and Dracula Untold (2014) drawing mixed reviews from critics. However, The Mummy (1999) became a massive international franchise with three sequels, and Van Helsing (2004) remains a fan favorite to this day. Casting rugged hunk Benicio Del Toro as the Wolf Man was well received, however, and the 2010 Wolfman did pull in a well-deserved Oscar for Best Makeup.
Who should play our new Wolf Man for 2018? Should the Universal monsters be resurrected at all? Do you want them to play the movies straight and dark — as seen in 2010's Wolfman — or would you rather see another fun-filled action romp such as The Mummy (also due for reboot, led by Tom Cruise, in 2017).