The Werewolf (1956 film)
The Werewolf is a 1956, independently made, American low-budget science fiction horror film, produced by Sam Katzman and directed by Fred F. Sears, from a screenplay by Robert E. Kent and James B. Gordon. It stars Steven Ritch, Don Megowan, and Joyce Holden. The film score was composed by Mischa Bakaleinikoff.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Fred F. Sears|
|Produced by||Sam Katzman|
|Written by||Robert E. Kent|
|Starring||Steven Ritch, Don Megowan, Joyce Holden|
|Narrated by||Fred F. Sears|
|Music by||Mischa Bakaleinikoff|
|Edited by||Harold White|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
Set in contemporary times (i.e. the 1950s), the storyline follows an amnesiac man who, after being injected with "irradiated wolf serum" by unscrupulous doctors, transforms into a werewolf when under emotional stress. The film "marks precisely the point in which horror, which had been a dormant genre in the early '50s, began to take over from science fiction", and is the first of only three werewolf films made in the US during that decade, preceding Daughter of Dr. Jekyll and I Was a Teenage Werewolf (both 1957). The Werewolf was released theatrically in the US as the bottom half of a double feature with Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956).
A disheveled man in a suit (Ritch) wanders uncertainly down the main street of the small, rural town of Mountaincrest on a winter's night. Looking out of place and confused, he goes into a bar, where he tells the bartender that he doesn't know who or where he is. As he leaves, local thug Joe Mitchell (Charles Horvath) follows and demands his money. As the two men struggle in an alleyway, Ma Everett (Jean Harvey), who is passing, stops. She sees only four legs sticking out onto the sidewalk during the fight, but hears an animal snarling. Then two of the legs suddenly go limp. Someone — or something — steps out of the alley and looks Ma in the face. She screams in terror and it runs off into the darkness.
Sheriff Jack Haines (Megowan) takes Joe's body to Dr. Jonas Gilchrist (Ken Christy) and nurse Amy Standish (Holden). Gilchrist notes that the wounds look as if they were inflicted by a wild animal, but Ma described not an animal but "a thing." Jack organizes a posse to find the creature.
Later that night, Jack brings Deputy Ben Clovey (Harry Lauter) to Gilchrist's office with severe arm lacerations. Ben has been attacked by "the thing." He describes it haltingly to Jack: "Maybe it had hands covered with hair ... or maybe it had paws like a wolf ... but it wasn't all wolf ... I didn't have much time to see". Jack declares that Ben was attacked by a werewolf. After Jack and Ben leave, Gilchrist and Amy discuss Ben's and Joe's injuries and conclude that Jack is correct.
The disheveled man arrives at Gilchrist's medical office. All he can recall is having been taken to two doctors - he doesn't know who or where they are - after an automobile accident. He's tormented by what's happening to him, although he doesn't explain what that is. The man says he killed Joe. But he flees in fear when Amy attempts to give him a sedative, exclaiming, "Those other doctors did something to me!" After he runs off, Amy phones the sheriff.
The posse begins a more extensive manhunt. At about the same time, the two doctors, Morgan Chambers (George Lynn) and Emery Forrest (S. John Launer), discuss the man they'd treated after his car crash. They had injected him with "irradiated wolf serum", which they had never before used on humans. The doctors believe that the serum, when perfected, will allow "a select minority of people" — chosen by them — to survive the unavoidable nuclear holocaust that's coming. Lycanthropy, however, is an unfortunate side effect. But then Helen Marsh (Eleanor Tanin), the amnesiac man's wife, and their preteen son Chris (Kim Charney), show up at the doctor's laboratory. She identifies the man as Duncan Marsh. The doctors head to Mountaincrest, hoping to avoid blame by killing Duncan the werewolf themselves.
Chambers and Forrest search for Duncan. Forrest corners Duncan in a mineshaft. Looking at his rifle, Duncan pleads, "You're going to shoot me? Why? What have I ever done to you?" He suddenly transforms into the werewolf and attacks Forrest, but is driven off by shots fired by Chambers.
Helen and Chris also drive to Mountaincrest. After talking with them, Amy convinces Jack to try to take Duncan alive, and volunteers to help with first aid, as Duncan had been injured when he stepped into a bear trap laid for him when he was a werewolf. Helen says that she and Chris also want to go along. Jack reluctantly agrees and they, accompanied by Ben, set out to find Duncan.
Helen uses Jack's megaphone to call Duncan. Human again, he comes out of hiding and tearfully embraces Helen and Chris, but tells Amy to take them away as he fears he might turn into a werewolf again and harm them.
They put Duncan in a jail cell. Chambers and Forrest gain entry to the jail under false pretenses, render Ben and another deputy (Don C. Hardy) unconscious, and try to inject Duncan with something deadly. But Duncan has unexpectedly changed into a werewolf. He kills them both and again escapes into the woods.
The posse and the werewolf inevitably meet. Trapped on a bridge, the werewolf makes a desperate attempt to flee, but is shot dead by members of the posse. As the werewolf dies, it reverts to being Duncan again.
- Steven Ritch as Duncan Marsh
- Don Megowan as Sheriff Jack Haines
- Joyce Holden as Amy Standish
- Eleanore Tanin as Helen Marsh
- Kim Charney as Chris Marsh
- Harry Lauter as Deputy Ben Clovey
- Larry J. Blake as Hank Durgis
- Ken Christy as Dr. Jonas Gilchrist
- James Gavin as Mack Fanning
- S. John Launer as Dr. Emery Forrest
- George Lynn as Dr. Morgan Chambers
- George Cisar as Hoxie
- Charles Horvath as Joe Mitchell
- Jean Harvey as Ma Everett
- Jean Charney as Cora
- Marjorie Stapp as Min
- Don C. Harvey as Deputy
- Ford Stevens as First Reporter
- Bill Clark as Townsperson
- Leonard P. Geer as Townsperson
- Rudy Germain as Townsperson
- Ernesto Molinari as Townsperson
- Sol Murgi as Townsperson
- Ron Nyman as Townsperson
- Joe Phillips as Townsperson
- Ann Kunde as Townsperson
- Fred F. Sears as Narrator
The film was shot on location in the San Bernardino National Forest in California. Although most modern sources agree that Mountaincrest is actually the town of Big Bear Lake, located on Big Bear Lake itself, film historian John Johnson places the location as Fawnskin, also on Big Bear Lake.
According to the American Film Institute, filming took place between December 10 and 20, 1955. Although the on-screen credits read "introducing Steven Ritch", according to AFI, he had appeared in "several films" before The Werewolf.
Variety wrote that the film "seldom rises above a plodding monotone and won't create much reaction in the minor program market for which it is headed". The Monthly Film Bulletin had a more favorable opinion, saying that "the film in general and the performance of Steven Ritch in particular are slightly superior to previous efforts in this genre, and the photography in the 'transformation' close-ups is reasonably convincing". Harrison's Reports wrote, "The picture offers little that is original, either in story or in treatment, but it may prove acceptable to the horror fans since it is the first 'wolfman' type of film to reach the screen in years".
In the US, The Werewolf premiered in Los Angeles on June 13, 1956 and went into general release in July as the second feature on a double bill with Earth vs the Flying Saucers. It was the first feature on a UK double bill with Creature with the Atom Brain. The film was given an X-certificate by the British Board of Film Censors, clearing it for distribution in the UK but prohibiting it from being exhibited to persons under age 16. After opening in UK theaters in August 1956, it was released in the Netherlands in 1957 and Argentina in 1958, then at unspecified dates in France, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Finland, the Soviet Union, Spain, Portugal and Italy. Columbia Pictures distributed the film theatrically in the US, UK and the Netherlands.
Excerpts from the film were featured in the 1991 documentary Wolfman Chronicles, as well as in the 2010 documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape. The Werewolf also inspired the 2015 short film Wolf Mother: Hunted.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the film on DVD in October 2007 as part of the two-disc, four-film set Icons of Horror Collection: Sam Katzman, along with three other films produced by Katzman (Creature with the Atom Brain, The Giant Claw and Zombies of Mora Tau).
- Hardy, ed., Phil (1995). The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction. Woodstock NY: The Overlook Press. p. 164. ISBN 0879516267.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
- Senn, Bryan (2017). The Werewolf Filmography: 300+ Movies. Jefferson NC: McFarland & Co. Inc. pp. 223–225. ISBN 9780786479108.
- "Location". Internet Movie Data Base.
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- Johnson, John "J.J." (1996). Cheap Tricks and Class Acts: Special Effects, Makeup, and Stunts from the Films of the Fantastic Fifties. Jefferson NC: McFarland & Co. Inc. p. 353. ISBN 0786400935.
- "The Werewolf". Variety: 6. June 13, 1956.
- "The Werewolf". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 23 (271): 108. August 1956.
- "'The Werewolf' with Don Megowan". Harrison's Reports: 87. June 2, 1956.
- "Saucers Fly on Screens". Los Angeles Times: B10. June 14, 1956.
...Steven Ritch gives a touching portrayal as a kill-crazy werewolf in the companion feature...
- Warren, Bill (2016). Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, the 21st Century Edition. Jefferson NC: McFarland & Co. Inc. p. 893. ISBN 9781476666181.
- Heffernan, Kevin (2004). Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold: Horror Films and the American Movie Business, 1953-1968. Durham NC: Duke University Press. p. 93. ISBN 0822332159.
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- Phelan, Laurence (12 July 2014). "Film censorship: How moral panic led to a mass ban of 'video nasties'". The Independent.
- "Film Locations". Internet Movie Data Base.
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