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The Wolf Man

Universal Monsters
by yo go re

Okay, so after reviewing Frankenstein, we should really be doing The Mummy next, because that's the order they were released. But come on, NECA's made two werewolves recently, and you thought I wasn't going to pay off both halves of a joke?

You have to give Univesal Studios credit: when they named their monster movies, you knew exactly what you were getting. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, The Creature From the Black Lagoon... even when they started crossing over, like a 1940s Avengers, it was always just "[Monster] Meets [Other Monster]." It really helps make the brand, you know? Like, who can ever remember without stopping to think about it that that Darth Maul Lipstick Demon was the major evil force in Sinister? No one, that's who, because it was the baddie in Insidious, not Sinister, but you didn't notice because neither of those titles mean anything to you. You think that little prank would have worked if we tried it with Annabelle, the Babadook, or The Nun? No way!

This is, unsurprisingly, not the first Wolf Man action figure there's been. Somebody should keep a list, honestly. Even if we're just restricting it to Lon Chaney Jr's Wolf Man, there have been tons. And if we're being completely truthful, not a single one of them has looked like a wolf. Jack Pierce had designed the look for 1935's Werewolf of London, but star Henry Hull rejected it, demanding something that left more of his face exposed (and which would eventually inspire Wolverine's distinctive 'do). Other than the wider nose standing in for a snout, with black on the tip and nostrils, this looks more like a case of hypertrichosis than turning into a wolf; in fact, with the hairline coming all the way down to the eyebrows, it looks almost identical to Fedor Jeftichew, aka PT Barnum's "Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy," who would still have been fairly famous when Jack Pierce was a young, impressionable lad. This release includes two heads: one calm, the other with the mouth open in a bit of a snarl and the eyes glancing to the side.

Even in the 1940s, movie makeup was expensive, so this wild animal man wears his shirt buttoned all the way up to his throat, and his sleeves not even loose around his wrists. That's not even comfortable for a human, let alone a part-wolf! Right before Larry Talbot's first transformation, he's wearing a simple undershirt; by the time he gets outside, he's in a full button-up again, meaning it was the wolf who put these clotehs on and worked the buttons with its little paws. This figure was sculpted by Kyle Windrix, who did his usual great work on the clothes and fur.

As the Wolf Man, Chaney wore rubber boots that forced him into a tip-toe stance - like high heels, but without the actual heel. Suitably, the toy's feet are sculpted the same way, but that makes it very hard to stand him, so the set includes a small, simple, black disc base to plug into his foot and help provide balance. It's unobtrusive and works decently in both straightforward and dynamic poses. The action figure moves at the head, neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, thighs, knees, shins, and ankles. The shirt and top of the pants are both made from PVC, so they tend to stick together and conspire to make the waist nearly useless, sadly.

Judged by modern standards, Larry Talbot is kind of a creep: he spies on a woman in her bedroom through a telescope, then refuses to be turned down for a date with her. But the tragedy of his story is that that has nothing to do with why he gets turned into a werewolf: in fact, it's him being brave and selfless and trying to save the woman's friend that leads to him being cursed, leading him to decades of nigh-immortal unhappiness! Poor dude. This set includes pieces to turn the Wolf Man into Larry: human head, hands, and feet. Since the pantlegs are rolled up far enough to expose a more of the werewolf's legs, the feet actually swap out mid-shin (which is why there's an extra joint there), and the head also includes a human neck, so it doesn't look like he needs to shave his chest. It's the same way the old Jakks figure worked, too, just with decades' worth of improvement.

Lon Chaney Jr. was not the first choice to star in the movie: they wanted Boris Karloff, because apparently already having him be Frankenstein and the Mummy wasn't enough for them; meanwhile, Bela Lugosi wanted the role and campaigned hard for it, only to end up with a supporting cameo. The role was given to Dick Foran, who you've never heard of, but he was fired a week before filming. Finally Universal turned to Chaney, making The Wolf Man just one of the eight movies he appeared in that year. Serendipitous, since the Wolf Man is the only classic Universal Monster that was never re-cast. The portraits were sculpted by our hero Trevor Grove, who's actually made Larry look healither and less disheveled than he did in the movie.

Both Larry Talbot and the Wolf Man get an accessory. Larry has the silver-headed cane that's so important to the plot of the movie, and the wolfman has a foot trap. A fairly functional foot trap, the likes of which we haven't seen since the early days of OAFE. This one looks like aged metal, though not bloody, and the locking arm can actually notch into the pan the way it should. The packaging credits the fabrication to Roger Fernandez and Anthony Minichino, so one of them gets the credit for this being so nice. He gets trapped on the night of his second transformation: the first night, he kills the gravedigger, Richardson, and since there are wolf tracks around the body, that's what everyone assumes they're after - thus the trap. He trips it, the old Gypsy woman Maleva shows she can change him back to human, and he limps home in human form, where he finds the next morning his wound has already healed. So I guess technically the trap works for either version of the figure. The cane, though, is just for the human form, because that's the only one that has a hand shaped to hold it.

Just like with Frankenstein, NECA released both color and black-and-white versions of the Wolf Man, several weeks apart. Well, in theory: I have yet to see the color version in a real store, but the grayscale one showed up at Target during their recent collectors' event. The packaging for both is different, so you can tell at a glance if the one you're seeing on the shelf will be green or gray. The insert behind the figure is the dark forest around Llanwelly, Wales - perhaps too dark, considering how hard it is to make out any details on it. The B&W version also gets some fog on the front window.

The makeup in The Wolf Man is so good it overshadows the actual content of the movie. It's barely over an hour long, but develops several well-rounded characters, examines the psychology of parent/child relationships, discusses social morals, depicts PTSD realistically, shows a believably blossoming romance, treats marginalized people with respect, and still manages to be a solid horror movie! Plus, The Wolf Man did it all without any literary predecessor like Dracula or Frankenstein had. I was never able to get Diamond Select's Wolf Man a few years ago, but NECA's release means I don't have to worry about tracking one down on the secondary market anymore. There have been lots of Wolf Man toys before, but not any better ones.

-- 05/01/22

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