House of the Wolf Man
Directed by Eben McGarr
Starring Ron Chaney
Available on DVD
The 31 Days of Halloween wraps up today with not one, not two, but three different reviews. We start with a modern “vintage” film, in the 2009 direct-to-DVD film, House of the Wolf Man. The concept is simple, take the old Universal Studios Monsters, make a new movie with them (or as close as you can legally get without paying for the rights) in classic style of black and white, mix in one Chaney family relative and instant success?

Oh if only that worked out. Normally I try not to do spoilers in reviews, but this movie isn’t good and if you’re interested in seeing it, the review will only help to guide you to the film (and possibly lower your expectations to a realistic level) and if you’re not going to see it, what do you care if I spoil it?

The plot is simple enough and the concept is actually novel, fill in the gap of the “House of” series from Universal. You see, once Universal realized they had a money making franchise on their hands with the monsters, they started putting them together to do battle. First in Wolf Man meets Frankenstein and then a series of films with “House Of” in the title. The Wolf Man never got a House film, until now.

We start out with two kids arriving at a spooky old castle. The kids are Reed and Mary Chapel, brother and sister. Reed is dressed like a 50’s high school football player and could have been an extra on Dobie Gillis. Mary has really weird and unnatural shaped hair. They’ve been summoned to the house because they might be heir to it. Once inside they meet a creepy butler and the owner, mad scientist Bela Reinhardt. We know he’s mad, because he has the outfit. Also his face never changes expression. Then again, maybe that’s just Ron Chaney’s bad acting.

The Chapels ask stupid questions while Reinhardt spouts pointless exposition in the form of character bios from the stairs. This saves time introducing us to the players and helps prevent stuff like, you know, character development. Speaking of characters..I have a real problem with Reed Chapel’s character, because he’s supposed to be a high school jock type, but he appears to come from the 50’s.

The Universal Monsters exist in a kind of strange, indistinct time period between the 1800’s and the 1930’s. In some films we see cars and in others, horse and buggy seems to be the most modern form of transportation. However, I never got any indication that the classic films took place as late as the 50’s. I suppose it could just be set later and overall it’s a moot point, but it annoyed me none the less.

Soon more people show up and they also might be heirs. There is the curvy Elmira Cray, the nerdy Conrad Sullivan and finally, Archibald Whitlock, who is a poor man’s Doc Savage. Also he brought some slaves footmen to help him.

Ron Chaney Jr. is the great grandson of of Lon Chaney and the grandson of Lon Chaney Jr. (The original Wolf Man, among others) and you’d think that maybe he’d have some acting in his blood. Unfortunately Ron Chaney Jr is the son of Ron Chaney, who wasn’t an actor. Given Ron’s performance, I’ll assume his Dad was a tree.

That is to say, his performance is wooden. Actually everyone has the acting ability of a 2×4. Honestly, perhaps that’s not fair. I’m sure Hacksaw Jim Duggan’s 2×4 has shown more real emotion. The dialogue isn’t terrible for the most part, but the actors spewing it have no realism whatsoever.

After an awkward dinner, everyone goes to their room for some more bad acting. I suspect a lot of these people have only ever done theatre, as some of their performances seem more suited for the stage. Like, this might not be as bad if it wasn’t on DVD and was instead in a high school gym somewhere. Anywho, Elmira is busy asking questions about everyone’s father… As it turns out, they’re all orphans!

Meanwhile, Archibald’s main man finds some odd tracks. He wants Whitlock to investigate and they also discover that someone is peeking into their rooms through the old picture in the wall gag.

There’s one in every room! SHOCK! HORROR! Also, the best actor in the entire film? Those eyeballs. So captivating. What is your motivation Mr. Peeper?!

Reed is quite chafed at this peeping Tom act and calls Reinhardt out on it, but he proclaims his innocence. The Scooby gang decide to cover up the pictures in everyone’s room and Reinhardt puts them on lockdown.

The next day, Whitlock and his men investigate the tracks. I assume Whitlock’s footmen are from California and not Africa as during one of their “African” exchanges between footmen they utter the word, COWABUNGA! Yes, their language is apparently, “Unga bunga, cowabunga”… Ugh. 45 minutes in, no monsters and the dialogue is now taking a nosedive. Oh and the Africans figure out that those tracks are from a werewolf. Which Whitlock promptly dismisses because he’s a dumb whitey… Not that I blame him, how trustworthy are footmen that say cowabunga?

Elsewhere, helmet-hair and the rest of the Scooby gang are growing impatient. They want answers and soon. Seriously, what’s with the Play-Doh hair?!

Elmira Cray gets 3/4s naked for no reason, but hey at this point I’m not complaining. It’s easily the best scene in the film. While she does that…

Along comes a spider and sits down beside her (okay not really) and she decides to follow the spider. The spider leads her to a secret room where a creepy old lady with no arms and legs lives.

I’m totally not kidding! She tells Elmira the dirty little family secret. They aren’t really named Reinhardt, but rather, FRANKENSTEIN! It’s a twist! Also, apparently she’s related to the original Wolf Man (Bela Lugosi’s character, not Chaney’s) and the Frankenstein and Wolf Man families are now one and the same. Wretched old limbless tells Elmira that she is in the bloodline.

Ron Chaney Bela Reinhardt Frankenstein shows up and tells Granny to hush up and sends Elmira back to her room. All will be revealed later at another dinner party.

Dinner time rolls around and we’re 100 minutes into a 117 minute movie! Bela reveals his true origins and Ron Chaney does his best acting yet by oddly tapping his fingers on the table. Then he turns into the Wolf Man!

Everybody runs and even though they’re in a giant castle, they somehow get pinned into a corner. It’s almost like the giant castle is actually a small set! The Wolf Man looks sort of cool from some angles and other times he looks like a stuffed animal. It’s also not being played by Ron Chaney anymore. You know, because the Wolf Man has emotion!

The footmen try to kill the Wolf Man with a net(?!?!) and then promptly get eaten while doing some racist Buckwheat faces. Maybe they should have used some Ninja Turtles weapons. Whitlock is saddened by the loss of his men and does his best to kill the Wolf Man.

Turns out he was pretty fond of those colored fellas. But not as fond as the Wolf Man is of eating him… Which he does rather quickly.

Oh and then the Wolf Man kills both of the Chapel siblings. I appreciate the effort here, but wouldn’t this have been more dramatic if the characters had died off one by one? Perhaps mysteriously? You know, instead of killing practically everyone in like 2 minutes?

Elmira and Conrad run to the cellar, presumably so Conrad can spout some more terrible one liners. Seriously, this guy is making bad jokes left and right, and not in a redeeming “this movie is a tongue-in-cheek parody” kind of way. While they’re there, they run into a guy in a room who tells them to go into the lab. We never learn who or what this guy is. I’ll just assume he was the peeping Tom, but I’m totally inferring that.

Before they could even make it to the lab, Frankenstein (or rather his monster) busts out of the lab. He’s pissed. SSDD for this poor guy.

Frankenstein is awesome though. He’s the best part of this movie. He’s probably like my favorite Frankenstein design ever. If they ever make a DC Frankenstein movie, I hope he looks like this.

Frankenstein and the Wolf Man start fighting, I guess because there really aren’t many auxiliary characters left to kill.

Their fight is partially epic, partially badly choreographed and I mean that in the truest sense. One scene will be awesome and then it’ll be followed right back up by a scene that looks like two kids playing WWE in their backyard. A better director would have cut these scenes and just left the wicked cool ones.

The Wolf Man even tries to rip Frankenstein’s head open, in the coolest monster fight moment ever.

Frankenstein is much more powerful than the Wolf Man.

He keeps trying to hit his finishing move, a big stomp I’m calling the Monster Mash but the Wolf Man is too quick. Seriously, Frank tries to hit this like 50 times and misses every time. He’s like Ric Flair going to the top rope, he never hits it, but damn it, he’s gonna keep trying! You can’t stop a dreamer! Shine on you crazy flat headed diamond.

More fighting… I hope this isn’t coming across more epic than it really is.

Elmira and Dickweed finally run away and get to the front of the house. Dickweed is hurt, but they’re going to be okay.

And then Dracula shows up. Totally randomly. For NO reason. Hey, 5 minutes are left in the movie… I sure hope this develops in a truly interesting and unique way. I bet they can do it! Anyway it’s Dracula!

Or maybe it’s just a drunk Harry Dean Stanton doing a Bela Lugosi impersonation? That would make as much sense and at this point anything is plausible.

Anyway, they invite Dracula in, because that’s totally what you would do if a creepy guy with a bad accent asked to be invited in while monsters romp in the basement. That turns out to be a bad move though, as Dracula’s girlfriends totally eat Dickweed.

And man are they ugly! Dracula has no taste in women.

Drac apparently gets his jollies off watching all this. Also he tells Elmira that she’s the rightful heir to the castle and the legacy. Whatever that is. I mean, Wolf Man isn’t dead, so what exactly did she win? A weekend getaway where the other guests are brutally murdered?! Not even the Price is Right gives away prizes that crappy.

Wolf Man and Frankenstein are STILL fighting. This would have been more interesting if it wasn’t like one big long redundant scene. But at least now it’s going to get interesting because Dracula is about to make this a three way dance for the Translyvania Heavyweight Championship, right? RIGHT?!

Nope, instead he says “Gentlemen” and does a “tsk, tsk” sort of thing that looks like he’s blowing kisses. ROLL CREDITS!

And that’s it. This movie is such a good concept, horribly wasted. The dialogue isn’t so badly written (with a few notable exceptions), but spoken by these stiffs it comes across horribly. You can tell the footmen were just told to adlib, which is why we got “cowabunga”. I feel like me and the Planned Banter guys could re-dub this in a night with more emotion than these people.

The fight scene between Wolf Man and Frankenstein has it’s moments, but it’s tacked onto the very end of the film and thus feels less like an epic battle and more like a cut scene from another movie. In fact, the lack of any monsters during the first 100 minutes of this movie hurts it. There’s really no point to the first 3/4s of the film.

If they would have swapped around some of the kills, skipped one of the dinner scenes and added some monsters during the middle in place of it, things would have flowed a lot better. Even with the horrible wooden acting from Ron Chaney. Wouldn’t it have been a better movie if like, Elmira discovered the old hag, Reed discovered Frankenstein, Whitlock went missing after a battle with the Wolf Man, Dracula showed up as a dinner guest and killed Conrad “Dickweed” Sullivan and this all built up to a scene where Reinhardt revealed himself and the battle began?

Then in the climax, Reed is killed saving the girls. It looks like Elmira and Mary Chapel are going to get away. Then Elmira kills Mary and accepts her heritage as the monster she truly is! See… I just made a better movie.

Maybe next year for Halloween I’ll recut the movie myself, film a couple extra scenes to fill in the gaps and release my version. I know I could do better than this.

3 Responses to Movie Review: House of the Wolf Man

Leave a Reply