Saturday, July 22, 2017
A Werewolf Remembers -- The Talbot saga
Review by Doug Gibson
To get an even better overview of genre scholar Frank Dello Stritto's new book, "A Werewolf Remembers: The Testament of Lawrence Stewart Talbot," I urge readers to go to our Plan9Crunch interview with Frank about six weeks ago. Then read this review.
The book, as well as others by Dello Stritto, is published at Cult Movies Press. You can also buy it at Amazon.
Readers, particularly genre fans, will be awed by the knowledge the author possesses of both the Universal horror films of the 1930s and 40s as well as the other studios' -- small and large -- offerings during that golden period. There are dozens of films that have reference in this mock testament of cursed Wolfman Larry Talbot, as well as a observational chapters from his biographer researcher narrator.
"Condemned to Live," the Frankenstein films, the Dracula films, "Return of the Vampire," any film with Lawrence Talbot, of course, "Werewolf of London," films from PRC and Monogram, "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," even characters from "Bride of the Monster," "The Alligator People" and "Thriller" TV series flit through this unique book.
What Dello Stritto has managed to do is provide a continuity to the films that involve Dracula, the Wolfman and the Frankenstein monster. This is not an easy task as these monsters continually die and are continually (inexplicably) resurrected. In Talbot's testament, he describes a deep non-living stage, a stagnant location on the path the deceased take to eternal life. There, unable to move on, exist Talbot, the Frankenstein monster and Dracula. Talbot and Frankenstein's monster are victims. Dracula represents evil. Periodically the trio are returned to an earthly existence.
Genre fans, and hard-core enthusiasts will enjoy this book the most, but even the casual viewer of several Universal horrors would enjoy "A Werewolf Remembers." Lon Chaney's Talbot eventually became the central character of the Universal horror films and in his final appearance, "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," he goes after his major nemesis, Count Dracula. This film serves as the climax of "A Werewolf Remembers." What drives Talbot on his pursuit to destroy Dracula I'll leave for readers to discover.
Some characters are explored in more detail than others. Dr. Yogami, who Warner Oland played in "Werewolf of London," is an altruistic man trying hard to cure Talbot with the tmariphasa plant. That fails and Talbot infects Yogami. Another hero of Talbot's testament is Dr. Edelmann of "House of Dracula," who sacrifices his sanity and life to provide relief, albeit temporary, to Talbot. It's nice to see Talbot's gypsy protector, Maleva, have a dignified end to her life in the book.
But the book goes beyond the horror genre. Dello Stritto has created a family line of the Talbots and familial customs. In order to make good use of the many, many photo stills that serve as historical records, he has created news services, city and town archives, police photos, entertainment photos and an even a Talbot historical society that remains in the family home. In the book, Lawrence, not a first-born son, is exiled, per tradition, to America in the late 19th century, where he spends time in the Alaska gold fields and eventually California. He rubs shoulders with, among others, Jack London and the characters from several films, including "King Kong," Murders In the Zoo," The Most Dangerous Game," "Mad Monster," "Jungle Woman" and "Return of the Ape Man."
(The time frame is necessary to fit Talbot's presence in the many different films and time periods. As he explains in his testament, he ages very slowly.)
I need to mention that Lawrence Talbot is considered a "Red Talbot," more nomadic and wild. There are "White Talbots," who stay home and are more studious. Dello Stritto's conception of Lawrence Talbot is faithful to his movie portrayals as a man who seeks death and deeply suffers over his affliction, which makes him eagerly attack, kill and eat human prey. If he fails to do that when the moon is full, he suffers. He is tortured with regret.
The final chapters, where Talbot, in pursuit of "Dracula," interviews his past victims, including characters played by Helen Chandler and Nina Foch, are fascinating reading. The ending is appropriately open. But there is unspoken hope, as its apparent that no sightings of Talbot or the other monsters have appeared since the late 1940s. Maybe he gained peace after grabbing "Dracula" at the end of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein."
The book is structured well. It is told in fast-paced sections within larger chapters, some lasting only a few to several paragraphs. Also, the testament, followed by the narrator's observations provide agreeable change of pace.
As mentioned, the author's knowledge of nearly a half century of research, dozens of essays and several published books provide the continuity and knowledge necessary to create a mock documentary that sticks to the genre facts and makes it a real treasure for readers. Trust me, you'll be amazed by the tale(s) the author has weaved throughout this book. Only reading the book can do it justice.
At Plan9Crunch, we have articles on Dello Stritto's writing and observations here, here, here, including a review of the remarkable, well-researched book, co-authored with Andi Brooks, Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain.