Directed by Fred F. Sears and produced by Sam Katzman, The Werewolf begins when an unnamed man enters a dive bar somewhere in a small town called Wintercrest. Something is off with him, he seems dazed, as if he's suffering from amnesia, and this makes him easy prey for a tough guy who sees him as a mark. He tries to mug the stranger for what little cash he has but this soon proves to have been a bad idea when he turns into a werewolf. After his kill, he takes off into the woods as the local police give chase, led by Sheriff Jack Haines (Don Megowan). Meanwhile a pair of scientists, Doctor Morgan Chambers (George Lynn) and Doctor Emery Forrest (S. John Launer), shows up and tries to figure out where the man has gone off to.
As the mystery behind all of this begins to unravel, it turns out that the man in question is Duncan Marsh (Steven Ritch) and that not all that long ago he was driving along in his car when he got into a wreck that just so happened to be near the scientists' lab. They took him in and did some experiments on him and injected his veins with wolf's blood that they had treated with radiation. Since then, he's turned into a werewolf not when the moon is full but when he's angry. As he's been missing for some time, Duncan's wife, Helen (Eleanor Tanin) and son Chris (Kim Charney) show up looking for him. But those scientists? They've got some explaining to do if anyone finds Duncan alive, and so they'd rather just be rid of him all together than take the blame for what they've done to him…
This is a quickly paced film that tosses the whole ‘full moon' theory out the window in favor of a slightly more plausible medical anomaly as the reason for our werewolf's transformation. Given that this was made in the mid-fifties this was likely an attempt to seem timely and topical and it's interesting to see the concept given a scientific explanation in place of the traditional supernatural take on lycanthropy. The film starts off pretty strongly and manages to keep things tense and exciting throughout the duration, running a brisk eighty minutes and probably not really needing to have been any longer. We get some nice location photography that shows off some interesting small town atmosphere and which does a pretty effective job of making the woods look quite foreboding, and the cast do a fine job with the material.
The best performance in the movie, not surprisingly, comes from Steven Ritch. His Duncan Marsh is a pretty sympathetic character, he's struggling not only with the after effects of the experiments for which he was unwittingly made the guinea pig, but also with the confusion stemming from the condition caused by his accident. By throwing his family into the story, we're able to feel for the guy. Yes, when he transforms he is a horrible killing machine but underneath the snarling and the growling and the drooling, somewhere there is still a man.
The effects are a product of their time and while they look a bit dated, if you enjoy older horror movies this obviously won't be an issue. The werewolf in the movie does actually look pretty intense, ferocious even. More animal than man, that's for certain. This gives the movie a bit more intensity as you do, towards the end at least, pick up on a sense of unpredictability, that maybe this won't end well. We won't spoil the finale in this review but let it suffice to say that, low budget or not, The Werewolf works really well as an enjoyable and well-made slice of vintage horror with some interesting Cold War reflections and sci-fi trappings.
The 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this MOD DVD-R appears to be the same as the one that was included in Sony's Icons Of Horror: Sam Katzman boxed set that came out a few years ago and included a few other films. Oddly enough, that set sells for less than this MOD DVD-R does. Go figure. At any rate, the picture quality here isn't bad at all. Detail is decent for a standard definition presentation of an older low budget movie and contrast looks decent. Black levels are okay and the source material used here was obviously in reasonably good shape. This won't blow you away, but it looks good.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track is fine. Clarity is decent and while the range is limited by the source materials, the track is clean and free of any noticeable hiss or distortion. Dialogue is easy to understand and the levels are properly balanced throughout playback. There are no alternate language or subtitle options provided on this disc.
Extras? No. Not even a menu screen, let alone any extras.
The Werewolf is a good movie, a horror picture worth seeing that attempts and generally succeeds in doing something a little bit different with a lycanthrope character. Sony's MOD DVD-R release looks and sounds just fine and would come recommended… if it weren't readily available in the same presentation in a boxed set with three other movies for less money. So… what to do? It's not fair to say skip it, as the movie and transfer are good, but it's not fair to recommend it when there's a better way to own it. Guess that leaves the ‘rent it' option so we'll go with that.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.