Serial Thriller: The Wolf Man

Autumn has fallen and it’s time once more to celebrate the primal, compulsive instinct of fear. Rainestorm finishes its horror trilogy and goes to the well one last time to highlight 31 days of spooky scares that season the eerie atmosphere of Halloween. In this week’s Serial Thriller, we focus on the classic Universal Frankenstein series.

Hex cast: 1941

Is this the way to the electrolysis clinic?

The charm: The only movie in this week’s countdown not to feature the Frankenstein monster himself. Despite that, it’s an important entry as it sets up one of the more key players in the crossover monster films to follow. This is a more direct monster movie than Frankenstein. What it lacks in complexity, however, it makes up for in performances, especially Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy, Maria Ouspenskaya, and no less than Dracula himself, chameleon Bela Lugosi as Bela, the cursed gypsy fortune teller who passes his burden onto Lon Chaney, Jr.’s Lawrence Talbot. Chaney, for his part, delivers an inadvertently creepy performance as the foredoomed aristocrat. He’s meant to be an innocent, if forward, suitor for Evelyn Ankers’ Gwen Conliffe. But he shows this admiration in very smarmy ways, peeking into her bedroom window from a telescope, then visiting her shop to tell her he’d like to purchase the pair of earrings he saw her put in her jewelry box. It’s intended to be playful but it just makes Talbot look like a sleazeball. But if you can get past that, it’s a fairly nifty horror hoot, and the fog-strewn moors are custom made for spine-tingling terror.

Focal point: Cane-wielding Larry Talbot, threatening to all but beat the holy hell out of a gaggle of gossiping old ladies in defense of Gwen’s honor.

Entrancing trivia: The full moon. Let me know if you find it. That concept did not originate with this movie. It wasn’t until the sequel, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, that the full moon motif would solidify itself in werewolf folklore.

Speak the words: “You wouldn’t wanna run away with a murderer wouldja?”

Companion spell: An American Werewolf in London (1981). David Naughton is as whiny and weak in the lead role as Lon Chaney, Jr. ever was. The first half-hour is a delightfully spooky and hallucinatory trip, and Rick Baker’s werewolf transformation scene is legendary.

Cursed by: Chaney’s performance is the only thing keeping this from being a home run.