I’ve always wondered, what “The Wolf Man” would have been like if the powers at Universal had honored Curt Siodmak’s original concept. He had apparently envisioned a psychological thriller in which the viewer would never know for sure whether Larry Talbot was literally sprouting hair and fangs, or was merely believing himself to be undergoing a physical transformation. Apparently Siodmak only wanted the wolf-man to be viewed fleetingly when Talbot glimpses himself in a pond. It sounds a lot closer to Jacques Tourneur’s “The Cat People” than the film we are all so familiar with. On the other hand when Hammer Films tried a similar concept with “Demons of the Mind,” the results were disappointing.
The werewolf is one of those archetypes who crops up in folklore the world over. Of course he doesn’t have to be a wolf. He can, for instance, be a tiger. It’s the “were-” part that matters. The notion here is that a person can literally throw off the mantle of humanity and take on the characteristics of a beast. It represents a total loss of control–a concept actually realized quite nicely in “I Was a Teenage Werewolf.” Tony Rivers has a control problem when he’s “just a kid.” When sudden loud noises trigger his regression, he becomes completely wild, out of control. He becomes a werewolf.
In a sense the werewolf is the flip side of the vampire. The vampire represents stillness and control. After all, the vampire is dead–but continues to live a sort of half-life by siphoning off the vitality of those around it. The werewolf is all action, all the time. It lives to hunt and to kill. Now Universal softened the traditional werewolf concept by making both of their werewolves–Henry Hull’s Dr. Wilfred Glendon and Lon Chaney Jr.’s Larry Talbot–feel deep remorse for the deeds that they commit in their bestial state. They are repeatedly asking to be restrained, locked-up or, in extremis, even put to death. The traditional werewolf either didn’t remember what it had done in beast form, or simply didn’t care.
By humanizing the werewolf it sadly became a less interesting character.