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Werewolf Films: 1950-1959

Perhaps because no one likes thinking about basic human unpleasantness, and everyone had had quite enough of that thanks very much, the werewolf film and its themes saw a repression in the 1950s. The rise of the teenager in Britain and America was a cause of much social anxiety in the post-War period, while older people struggled through repressed trauma and clawed back a sense of conservative ‘normalcy’ against which their offspring (who had not really lived through the War) rebelled and developed their own culture and subcultures.

Teenager culture arguably developed in the 1920s (though the term ‘teenagers’ or ‘teens’ wasn’t used very much at this time despite being coined in the 1900s), but the 1950s was when it really took off. So it’s unsurprising that although there were few werewolf films in the 1950s, the one that became a cult classic was I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957) starring Michael Landon and Whit Bissell. It’s interesting that this one captured the imagination more than its counterpart (also starring Whit Bissell), I Was A Teenage Frankenstein (1957).

1950s

In 1953, Haram Alek was released, the Egyptian remake of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Made during the Golden Age of Egyptian cinema, this horror-comedy was black and white, in Arabic with English subtitles. In this remake, the Frankenstein monster is more like a mummy, and the vampire is the uncle of a girl whose love interest has been turned into a werewolf. One reviewer noted that in this version, lycanthropy is talked about as if it’s a form of epilepsy.

The Werewolf (1956) was a Sci-Fi medical horror in the Jekyll and Hyde/mad scientist vein, where an amnesiac man has been injected with “irradiated wolf serum” (your guess is as good as mine) by unscrupulous doctors and transforms when under emotional stress. This was the first of three American-made werewolf films that came out in this decade.

Following up this science fiction creature feature was The Daughter of Dr Jekyll (1957), a black and white horror film thematically related to Stephenson’s novella, it made Dr Jekyll’s alter-ego a werewolf, and suggested that this was inheritable. While this is all pretty implausible, it does make this another film where the werewolf is both explicitly linked to the savage alter-ego of man, and is something that can be created through drugs and unscrupulous medical trials.

Vaccines were a growing concern for the American public, where the Cutter Incident in 1955 had undermined public faith in them to an extent. Cutter Laboratories had accidentally produced polio vaccines containing the live polio virus, leaving some people paralysed. The incident led to the creation of a better regulatory system and government oversight of vaccines. It is not surprising that medical horror involving vaccinations and drugs began to capture the attention of the public in this way.

The cult film, I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957), was also a type of medical horror, but this time it’s the combination of an angry, volatile teenager and an unscrupulous doctor who practices hypnotherapy that creates the monster. As Tony Rivers (played by Michael Landon) has his sessions with the psychotherapist, he is experimented upon with a serum which helps people regress to their baser, most primitive instincts. The companion piece, Blood of Dracula (1957) also features a problem teenager (this time a teenage girl) and a mad scientist (the chemistry teacher), and also features hypnosis and the power of suggestion. In both cases, the teenagers are the victims of the adults, but they are already ‘outside’ the norms of society by their behaviour. Had they not acted out, neither would have been put in their respective situations, and in their transformations they both hurt and kill innocent people, leaving them with greater dilemmas about the nature of their (inherent?) monstrosity.

How To Make A Monster (1958) is not technically a werewolf film: it’s another psychological crime horror that gets a bit meta. In it, a make-up artist is fired and gets revenge by hypnotising the actors playing, respectively, a teenage werewolf and a teenage Frankenstein’s monster, who unwittingly become his pawns and kill the new managers under hypnotic suggestion.

There was also a Mexican horror film that came out in 1958, El castillo de los monstruos, where a couple are forced to stay in a creepy castle full of monsters, including a werewolf and a vampire.


NEXT TIME:

I was going to do a 1960s list in this post too, but there was an explosion of werewolf films in that decade, so I’ll save it for another post! Unsurprisingly, from this point, we get into the kind of werewolf films where everyone’s naked, so I’ll take one for the team and enjoy researching those for you. Sleep well.

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