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- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
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- English SDH
- Audio Commentary
- Still Gallery
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The Wolf Man (1941) (Blu-ray)
Universal Studios / 1941 / 70 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: October 02, 2012
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Reviewed by M. Enois Duarte
Sunday, September 30, 2012
This review is part of our extensive coverage of 'Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection.'
One aspect Universal Studios is best remembered and remains highly regarded for is their collection of monster features. Their immense impact and influence in the horror film genre is virtually irrefutable. More than any other movie production company, the studio has left an indelible mark in the cinema of horror, pretty much becoming synonymous with the genre and creating some of the most iconic figures in all the history of film. Who can deny the faces of Dracula, Frankenstein's monster or his Bride are not permanently etched into our collective memories when thinking of a scary movie or every year Halloween season rolls around. Even if you've never watched a single one of these films, you're already familiar with the names of the characters, their haunting images or the actors who portrayed them.
Universal's legacy dates are far back as the silent era when Carl Laemmle first founded the company, initially producing a variety of melodramas, westerns and serials. Thanks to the amazing work done by character actor Lon Chaney, the studio starting making a name for itself with horror hits 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) and 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925). Three years later, Carl passed the business down to his son Carl Laemmle Jr. on his 21st birthday, who quickly went to work on converting future production to include sound. He proved himself to nervous shareholders when the massively expensive war epic 'All Quiet on the Western Front' went on to become an Academy Award winner. It's during these years that company produced many prominent motion pictures which continue to be admired and are affectionately known as Universal Horror.
With the Laemmle family out of the picture, it would seem Universal took a break from the horror business, placing their efforts instead on melodramas, comedies, musicals, westerns and the serials of The Dead End Kids and Little Tough Guys. They also placed attention on producing several sequels to their previous horror hits. It wouldn't be until the release and popularity of 'The Wolf Man' that the studio once again gained prominence as the forerunner of the genre.
Like prior efforts, the film was a risky gamble because the last time the company tried to adapt the werewolf legend for the silver screen (1935's 'Werewolf in London' starring Henry Hull and directed by Stuart Walker — and during Carl Laemmle Jr.'s reign), it was a major disappointment. Nonetheless, six years later, an original script by Curt Siodmak proved a box-office smash for the studio and established a long-time movie interest with the mythological lycanthrope.
Starring Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy and Lon Chaney Jr., a name already cemented with the genre, the movie features a wonderfully inventive story that not only came with a memorable poem but also introduced the distinct concepts of silver bullets and the full moon being directly associated with the transformation from man to beast. To keep costs down, many of the same sets were reused from other films, most notably the Court of Miracles from 'Frankenstein' and make-up artist Jack Pierce recycling much of the work he originally developed for 'Werewolf in London.'
In one possibly juicy moment of meta, the George Waggner-directed film also sees Bela Lugosi suggestively passing the torch, so to speak, to Chaney and Universal's return to the genre. The surprise success of 'The Wolf Man' led to a string of other low-budget B-horror movies and several quirky sequels, none of which were particularly as successful but at least returned a profit. Today, the film proudly stands alongside its predecessors as an influential and dearly beloved classic of the genre.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings the 'Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection' to Blu-ray in an attractive and elegantly sturdy eight-disc box set. The package is a familiar one which opens much like a book with each shiny page showing poster artwork, a brief entry on the film and disc contents. Those same pages also serve as sleeves for each disc which slide out by placing some slight pressure to the top and bottom, widening the mouth only a little. The inside is smooth and glossy to prevent the discs from scratching.
All eight films are contained on separate Region Free, BD50 discs and found inside one of the pages, respective of the order in which they were theatrically released. The package comes with a 46-page book that features a lengthy essay by Universal Horrors author Tom Weaver, entitled "A Legacy in Horror." The rest is a collection of photos and artwork with interesting blurbs and trivia on each film, the filmmakers, the actors, and on the special effects and make-up work. The side-sliding slipcover is made of a hard cardboard material with beautiful artwork and lightly embossed. At startup, each disc goes straight to a main menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
Howling with another AVC-encoded winner is this splendid presentation of 'The Wolf Man.' The picture displays great balance in the contrast, giving the movie a lovely, rejuvenated pop. Blacks are opulent and penetrating, providing excellent depth to the image. Definition and resolution are outstanding, often jaw-dropping and gorgeous. Every detail in the village, the surrounding foggy marshlands and the interior architecture of the Talbot mansion is plainly visible, even in sequences immersed in ghostly shadows. One unfortunate aspect is the presence of mild edge enhancement and artificial sharpening, and a slight boost in contrast creates a bit of ringing around the edges of many objects. It can be somewhat distracting at times, bringing the video down a notch from what could have been near demo-worthy. The overall presentation, however, remains highly impressive, sure to make fans wag their tails joyously.
The lycanthrope classic also howls at the moon with a fantastic lossless mix in glorious mono. The DTS-HD MA soundtrack displays crystal-clear vocals in the center while the music plays evenly wide, giving the film a beautifully wide image. The smallest little clinks, clacks, whacks, thumps or growl in the action and movement of characters can be perfectly heard with resounding clarity and realism. The mid-range is detailed and balanced, exhibiting some impressive range during certain scenes, while the appropriate amount of bass can also be appreciated in the design. Except for maybe one or two negligible moments with mild distortion, likely resulting from a limitation in the source, there is no distracting noise or hissing to be heard and even the loudest segments have a clean, even response.
- Audio Commentary — Another single commentary by a noted film historian, this time from Tom Weaver. Like those before him, the conversation has a rather academic approach but thoroughly informative and instructive nonetheless. While sharing endless comments about the cast and production, which is at times surprising Weaver knows so much, he also make several great observations of the on-screen action and provides several excellent anecdotes.
- Monster by Moonlight (SD, 33 min) — An absolutely terrific and excellent short doc hosted by John Landis, giving fans a quick glimpse of the mythological werewolf in movies. The main focus is, of course, on 'The Wolf Man,' its production and lasting legacy. Several interviews interspersed with lots of cool footage makes this a great watch.
- The Wolf Man: From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth (SD, 10 min) — A cool look and discussion on Curt Siodmak script and how he invented many of the legends surrounding werewolves.
- Pure in Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney, Jr. (SD, 37 min) — Another simply terrific short doc that takes a closer look at the life and career of Lon Chaney Jr., whose real name is Creighton Tull Chaney. It's at times a bit heartbreaking but also rather inspiring, something fans will surely want to watch.
- He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce (SD, 25 min) — A loving tribute to the highly-respected, well-known and legendary make-up artist Jack Pierce, exploring his career and lasting influence to horror cinema.
- The Wolf Man Archives (SD) — A collection of poster artwork, marketing stills and other photos from the set.
- Trailers (SD) — Original theatrical previews for 'Werewolf of London,' 'The Wolf Man,' 'Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man,' 'House of Frankenstein,' 'House of Dracula' and 'She-Wolf of London.'
This Blu-ray edition of 'The Wolf Man (1941)' arrives with one high-def exclusives.
- 100 Years of Universal: The Lot (HD, 9 min) — A short featurette discussing the studio's plans to restore several classic film in commemoration of the company's 100th anniversary.
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Universal Studios' impact and influence in the cinema of horror is virtually irrefutable, responsible for popularizing the genre and for creating some of the most iconic figures in film history. Their indelible mark is fairly obvious and most felt every year around the Halloween season, and the faces of these monsters are permanently etched into our collective cultural memories when thinking of horror. They are a part of our lives, yet many have probably never even seen these classics all the way through. Now, they can be enjoyed on Blu-ray for the first time in this elegant eight-disc box set, featuring the main creatures often associated with Universal Horror. Each comes with excellent audio and video presentations, bringing these icons of the genre as close as possible to their former glory. And they have never looked as beautiful as they do here. Many of the supplements from previous special edition DVDs are preserved here as well, making this an exhaustive must-own for horror fans and cinephiles everywhere.
You can read more about the complete set and order it here!
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