PicturePresented in full screen 1.33:1, The Wolf Man as it is seen here is taken from a restored print. Although there are still many ticks, nicks, scratches and speckles on show, the image is still very clean and strong-looking. Grain is obviously apparent but is nowhere near as detrimental as it could have been and the frames have barely a judder throughout the running time. Scene transitions hardly suffer from the wobbles, pops and contrast changes that often sabotage such vintage fare, and the grey-scale of the transfer is perfectly acceptable. Blacks may not be pitch exactly, but they are robust enough to keep the mood sustained. With a picture that is often composed of shadow and mist, the contrast does a fine job of maintaining the look and texture of the film. There are a few occasions when the image has a narrow vertical line over on the extreme right hand side - notably in the seconds just after Larry has battled Bela's wolf - but this shouldn't distract too much from what is still a very competent transfer.
Another release of The Wolf Man (again R1) actually looks a little brighter and cleaner, but I don't think the level of detail is quite as good. The moisture of the dark bark of the trees seems to glisten slightly more here, with more detail apparent on the rest of the foliage as well. The Wolf Man's whiskerage has a tad more finite separation and the oddments in the antique shop and in Sir John's extensive halls and sitting rooms appear a little sharper. Mind you, I have since sold that other copy on, so I no longer have the two to properly compare. But this is definitely better looking than the versions played out during the movie's many TV airings.
At the time of writing, I know of no plans to release The Wolf Man on HD, but I can see that time coming. Universal released some terrific and freshly-restored (again) SD transfers of Dracula and Frankenstein to celebrate their combined 75th Anniversary (see separate reviews) and the improvements were telling. So, it is a safe bet that The Wolf Man will see further restoration sometime in the future.
SoundThe Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track has also been cleaned up and there are no niggly drop-outs, pops or any overt hiss to distract. Obviously, there isn't a lot to expect from such an old track but it still provides plenty of that all-important atmosphere. Dialogue remains consistently clear and discernable, even the shouting in the village when the wolf's howling is heard. Evelyn Ankers' screaming comes across well, as do the metallic impacts of the pellets that Larry and Andrews fire at the pop-up targets.
As with a lot of vintage movies, the score can sound quite harsh and overbearing - sudden percussive passages can barrage the track and the high ends can struggle a bit. But, to be fair, there is little to the track that is off-putting.
ExtrasThe boxset contains a number of extra features but for the purposes of this review, I will concentrate purely on those for The Wolf Man.
Horror film historian Tom Weaver provides an excellent, anecdote-riddled commentary track that, for anyone already acquainted with these old school chillers, follows the familiar path of rapid-fire, fact-packed, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink chronicling. Weaver is good fun, though and very entertaining in his thousand-word-a-minute, scholarly manner. The style he adopts is affable but fast-paced and he likes to provide a huge amount of incidental detail for practically everyone seen onscreen ... or related to them. Hardly a scene goes by without a handful of stories and quotations from and about the cast, but the track is extremely warm-hearted and detailed. I like the way that he brings in elements from the original script and uses them in an attempt to make sense of narrative shortcomings and plot-holes that may have resulted in such continuity errors in the finished version, things such as Bela's wolf being four-legged whilst Larry's is a bipedal beast. He also makes reference to scenes that were altered or dropped entirely, such as the original version having Larry battle a performing bear that the gypsies have. And the fortunes of the silver wolf-headed cane prop after its services to the film get a mention, too.
Overall, this is a very good track and well worth listening to.
This DVD9 disc from the full Wolf Man boxset also contains a dire Stephen Sommers' featurette about werewolves (remember, this release was timed to coincide with the woeful Van Helsing CG-smorgasord), and the trailer for Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man. A brief, but affectionate feature entitled Monster By Moonlight can be found on the accompanying DVD18 disc, which I will talk about in the review for Werewolf Of London and She-Wolf Of London.
VerdictThe Wolf Man is still very much the black-sheep - ironically enough - of the Universal Horror pantheon, yet it remains extremely worthwhile and an expert example of an atmospheric, classy production. It served to give Lon Chaney Jnr a bankable persona and brought many of the supernatural elements of the filmic version of the legend, things that we now take for granted, to the genre. Watching it now still sends the odd shiver down the spine, but the movie definitely takes a softer approach to the material than many may expect. But those mist-shrouded woods look great though and it is wonderful to see Chaney making the role his own with such conviction and vigour. The sequels were of a much lesser quality, although I do have a soft spot for the immediate follow-on, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, which, at least, gave Larry's hairier side much more to do.
As a DVD presentation, The Wolf Man contained within this boxset is in terrific nick, but the extras could have done with being a bit more comprehensive. Weaver's commentary is excellent, and the brief documentary is nice to see, but did we really need any input from Stephen Sommers?
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