Everyone knows about werewolves: they transform during the full moon and can only be injured by silver. Anyone bitten by a werewolf inherits the curse. And then there's the old gypsy folk saying:
Even a man who's pure in heart
And says his prayers by night,
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright.
All that, historically speaking, is utter crap. It's also the invention of one man, Curt Siodmak. A German reporter, Siodmak had his first brush with the movies when, while trying to interview Fritz Lang, the director cast him as an extra in the seminal silent film Metropolis. He moved to Hollywood in 1937 and soon had a host of writing credits to his name.
As a writer, Siodmak was quite the innovator, in the realm of science fiction as well as fantasy. He was one of the first authors to switch back and forth with ease between both print and film, and was instrumental in introducing hard science fiction to both movies and television. After the Wolf Man, his most famous creation came in the 1942 novel Donovan's Brain, in which a scientist, unable to save the life of a wealthy tycoon, preserves his living brain. It may seem ubiquitous now, but Siodmak invented the "brain in a jar" genre.
Given a title, a list of castmembers and seven weeks, Siodmak wrote The Wolf Man at a rate of $400 per week. The ties to the full moon, the vulnerability to silver, the transmission by bite and even the quatrain are all his creations, and are now all but inseparable from the werewolf legend.
When Jakks Pacific (yes, they of the wrestling figures) nabbed the license for Universal's upcoming Van Helsing film, they also got the rights to the classic monsters. There have been quite a few Universal Monsters toys in recent years, but they were mostly display pieces aimed at collectors, nothing fun. Finally, we're getting somewhere.
This 6" figure is a great representation of the Wolf Man - he's wearing the muted green shirt and brown pants that Universal always uses to portray the character (even though he was apparently dressed in black for the actual shoot) and is wonderfully furry - his head, hands and feet are all sculpted with great detail to capture the famous makeup, which was made from yak hair and stranded kelp.
For the film's ambitious transformation scene, Lon Chaney Jr. had to arrive at the studio at 2 am. Once he was in position, his hands were nailed in place (really) and a plaster mold was built on the back of his head, all to keep him from moving. There were even targets for him to focus his eyes on. The drapes in the scenery behind him were severely starched and the camera was weighted so that it wouldn't be disturbed by anyone walking past.
At this point, five or ten frames of film were shot - less than half a second. The film was sent to the lab to be developed and makeup man Jack Pierce got to work. Stripping off the work he'd already done, he began work on a new piece that was a little closer to human. When that was finished, they'd put new film in the camera, make sure everything was in the proper position and shoot another five or ten frames before starting the whole process over again. There were 21 makeup changes in 22 hours, all for only a few moments of film.
Of course, that's Lon Chaney's story, and he was never one to shy away from making a good story even better. The real story was similar, but less demanding and used a clever camera triangulation system.
In any case, you will have a much easier time - this set includes alternate head, hands and feet to turn the Wolf Man back into Larry Talbot. The face is a fairly good likeness of Chaney - he does look a bit too puffy, but it's still recognizably him. The pieces all pop in and out with little effort, but they are tight enough to stay in place when you move him. In both forms, Talbot moves at the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, knees and ankles.
Actually, the name Talbot goes to show just how clever Siodmak was as a writer: "Talbot," in medieval England, was as generic and typical a dog name as "Rover" or "Spot" are today.
Each of the three Universal Monsters sets comes with a large display base - the Wolf Man's is the spooky, fogbound forest around his ancestral home in Llanwelly, Wales. 7" wide, 8" tall and 6" deep, the base is very nice. It's got a big gnarled tree, a tombstone and an open grave, which are taken from the Wolf Man's first kill, the gravedigger Richardson.
The box claims that the moon changes from half to full, but really the sky changes from cloudy to clear. A dial on the back of the set turns the moons at your command. It's a pretty nifty feature, and suits the Wolf Man well. The set includes two accessories: a fairly nice lantern and a shovel that, like most of the accessories Jakks makes for its wrestling figures, is oversized and cartoony. There are two pegs on the exposed coffin lid to support the figure.
The Wolf Man is the daddy of the modern werewolves, and it's great that Jakks' terrible Van Helsing line has had the unexpected bonus of helping us track down this great figure of the original.
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