★★★★ out of ★★★★★
An engaging look at lycanthrope cinema from its earliest days to recent years, Mark of the Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf is a fun celebration of werewolf makeup effects, the actors who portrayed these usually sympathetic creatures, and much more.
Directed by Daniel Griffith
Made as an extra for Arrow’s Blu-ray release of An American Werewolf In London, Mark of the Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf should absolutely appeal to cinematic lycanthropic lore aficionados of all stripes. Covering everything from the 1935 Werewolf of London to the 2010 The Wolfman reboot, the documentary takes a thorough look at the studio’s hirsute horror icon.
Director Daniel Griffith presents interviews with such luminaries as An American Werewolf in London director John Landis and star David Naughton, The Howling director Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Craig Reardon, Steve Johnson, and C. Courtney Joyner. Starting off with the literary and folklore traditions of werewolves throughout history, and then spending a good deal of time discussing the genre’s special effects throughout the decades, Mark of the Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf also takes a fond look at Universal’s horror icons Lon Chaney, Jr., Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi. Some of the interviewees discuss how Chaney, Jr. conveyed the perfect amount of sadness for protagonist Larry Talbot, and how Oliver Reed most closely approached that feeling in Hammer Studio’s 1961 Curse of the Werewolf.
Landis and Naughton get perhaps most of the screen time among the talking heads, because of this being shot for the An American Werewolf in London Blu-ray. That film gets a lot of attention,too, especially regarding the practical effects work and how it — along with The Howling at the same time — raised the bar for werewolf transformations in cinema. Modern special effects experts also sing the praises of the early Universal werewolf and Wolf Man makeup appliances and effects.
Some of the more fascinating points for me were that Curt Siodmak pretty much created what horror enthusiasts know as werewolf movie tropes from whole cloth with his 1941 script for The Wolf Man by mixing folklore and his own original ideas — borrowing a bit from vampire stories — but that several of the genre’s chestnuts actually came from its sequels, not the original film.
Long-time creature feature fans may have heard or read about a lot of the information in Mark of the Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf before, but they should certainly enjoy reliving it here. On a related note, there’s even a monster kid segment that would bring tears to the eyes of lycanthropes of a certain age. Newer fans of monster movies should find this documentary to be a terrific primer.
Mark of the Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf screens on November 17 at 4:00 at Buried Alive Film Festival, which runs at 7 Stages Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, from November 13–17.