Written and Directed by: Eben McGarr
Starring: Ron Chaney, Dustin Fitzsimons, Sara Raftery, and Cheryl Rodes
Reviewed by: Brett G.
“I have business with your father…I believe he’s with an old friend, as we speak.”
The Universal Monsters were a staple of my youth, passed down to me by my father, who grew up watching them on late night movie marathons when he was a kid. One particular rental store around here housed all of the old classics, from the original Dracula all the way down to the original horror showdown, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Perhaps the greatest curiosity were the two House movies, Universal’s “monster rallies” that brought all three of their most famous monsters together, not once, but twice. However, something also perplexed me about these films; you see, we got to visit House of Frankenstein, then we were invited to the House of Dracula before all the monsters met Abbot and Costello. Despite being an equal to his two monstrous peers, The Wolf Man never received his own House movie. I assumed for years that my local store was simply missing the film, but it turns out it was never made, leaving a noticeably empty lot on the monster block. Apparently, director Eben McGarr felt the same way when he set out to film a throwback to the old classic monster movies that helped to define the horror genre; now, 60 years later, we finally have received an invitation to the House of the Wolf Man!
Five individuals have been invited to the spooky old mansion owned by Bela Reinhart (Chaney); when they arrive, the master of the house informs them that they have all been selected for a grand experiment that will determine who will become his heir. Each of the five possesses some sort of talent (intellect, cunning, physical prowess, etc.) that will enable them to survive Reinhart’s game. It doesn’t take long for a series of strange events to occur: mysterious, beastly footprints are discovered, the tenants find themselves being watched by someone hiding behind the walls, and more. As the night wears on, they begin to discover that they might not all be total strangers after all, and the monstrous secrets buried away in the house come to light once Reinhart’s connections to Old Europe are discovered.
House of the Wolf Man is a pure retro trip; everything from the writing, shooting style, dialogue, music and fashions (with the exception Cheryl Rodes’s skimpy get-up) are pulled straight out of the 1940s. Heck, there’s even a bit of a familiar name and face from the era, as Lon Chaney Jr’s grandson, Ron, assumes the mantle of his famous grandfather. From the opening title card that’s accompanied by a brassy, relentless score, this one is predicated on creating a simulation of the films that inspired it. If you didn’t know any better, you might think that someone had unearthed a long-lost Universal classic. The production is nearly as professional as those old classics, with the only blights being the acting at times: you can tell that the actors sometimes have trouble with the staged, almost stilted style of dialogue (Chaney’s droning, monotonous delivery especially grows tired at times).
Unfortunately, any sort of “Monster Rally” in this one occurs just a little bit too late in the proceedings. Nearly an hour of the running time is devoted to the build up, and that wouldn’t be a problem if the film were longer than 75 minutes long. There are some nice, creepy moments of mystery for the first half hour (complete with some nice, shadow-drenched black and white photography), but the film loses its way a bit when the mystery becomes all the more clear; around the halfway mark, you’d just wish the monsters would finally show up and do their thing. Oddly enough, this is sort of reminiscent of Universal’s two House movies in the sense that some of the monsters often felt shoe-horned into or tacked onto the films. The same thing happens here, only none of the monsters properly show up until the final fifteen minutes or so.
Admittedly, those fifteen minutes are among the most fun I’ve had with a horror film in recent years. Let’s just say we get a return match that’s been over sixty years in the making, and it’s worth the wait. The three most famous faces in horror are faithfully recreated (the Frankenstein Monster even wears his old vest, first seen in Son of Frankenstein) in an epic showdown that reminds us of why the old monster mash-ups were so intriguing in the first place. However, you sure do wish they would have been around a lot longer than they are here. It’s obvious throughout that McGarr’s heart was in the right place when crafting this loving tribute, but that love really shows through during the climax.
Indeed, while this one might not be a home-run, it’s a solid single that is probably as close to an official Universal sequel as we’re ever likely to get. If you were disappointed by Van Helsing, you might find this to be a more than adequate alternative, if only for the pure nostalgia involved. Taurus Entertainment have brought House of the Wolf Man home after a stint on the festival circuit. It’s a nice release that faithfully reproduces this retro production: the transfer is a nice, intentionally grainy full-frame presentation, and the 2.0 mono soundtrack is extremely clear. The only special features are a trailer and a slideshow, but the nice, retro cover art is a beauty to behold. Hopefully this won’t be our last visit with these familiar faces; if McGarr were willing, I’d surely be there for any future monster mashes. Fans like myself will find a lot to like in this house, but it’s probably no more than a very interesting curiosity for others. For them, one night in this house will be enough. Rent it!
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