Tue
Nov 24 2009 12:27pm

Ancient Rockets: Wolf Blood

Fix the health care system? Why?

After Universal Studios failed to copyright their  1925 Phantom of the Opera, they realized that the horror films  were cinematic gold, and they swiftly proceeded to capitalize on Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman and other denizens of the Laemmle ranch. Those images were merchandised as model kits, Halloween costumes, and lunch boxes. And, of course, as  perpetual remakes.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the trend was to reference the stories’ literary sources: Bram Stoker’s Dracula; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. There was an Arthur Conan Doyle’s Mummy, but it was a bit of a weasel job—rather than the immortal Karloff classic we all know and love, it merely referred to a Conan Doyle short story about a mummy that happened to reside in a university dorm room.  When The Mummy was eventually remade, it was full of so much special effects flash and period costuming that most people didn’t notice or mind how little it resembled the original film. Appropriately enough, there is no Ur-text for The Mummy.

No real effort was made to do a full-out werewolf remake. Curt Siodmak, who wrote the screenplay for 1945’s Wolfman, supposedly based it on one of his own short stories, after all. It bore little resemblance to 1939’s Werewolf of London, and even less to the granddaddy of all werewolf films:  1929’s Wolf Blood.

If you don’t recognize Wolf Blood as a horror classic, that’s because it isn’t exactly horror. It’s science fiction, based on bad—albeit cutting edge for the time—science. It has a love triangle, a Horatio Alger-esque hero, and stunning outdoor photography of the Canadian wilderness: there was a strange American fad at this time for stories set among lumberjacks and lumber camps. In Canada. Go figure.

The film features actor/director George Chesebro as Dick Bannister (and isn’t that a two-fisted, Boys’ Own Stories name?) Dick is the handsome young manager of Ford’s Lumber camp; he communicates with his boss long-distance by letter, but the boss has been lagging in correspondence lately. Stalwart Dick struggles on, shipping off felled trees, building a field hospital for the lumberjacks constantly being shot by the enemy Consolidated Lumber camp across the river, and thwarting the schemes of the villainous half-breed bootlegger, Jacques LeBeq: whose best customer is Ford’s own night watchman.

There is a reason why Boss Ford has been remiss in answering letters: he’s dead. The company is now being managed in absentia by his Jazz baby daughter, Edith—a Charleston-till-you-drop girl for whom life is a long joke. This being the Roaring Twenties, Edith’s parties are what America felt led to certain moral decay—tuxedoed boys distracting the butler in order to empty their pocket flasks of bathtub gin into the punch bowl. I wonder what they would have made of Reefer Madness?

Edith is a happy party girl. Life is one gay, mad whirl, she tells her fiance. The fiance is Dr. Eugene Horton, and he looks like one, what with his weedy moustache, permanent bad hair day, and being much older than Edith. If you think he and Edith are not going to last long as a couple, you are very observant.

The Charleston comes to a stop when Dick’s latest plaintive letter arrives. Edith reads it and is moved: perhaps life is not a joke after all. And, Say! This would be a great opportunity for Eugene to  build a hospital of his own—even though he has made it plain that he is a trust funder and would rather do research than practice medicine.

Edith decides to go check out Daddy’s lumber camp, and Dick is thunderstruck when he meets her. I thought I was  writing to some crusty old bird, he says, and instead it’s a right purty gal! Golly gee, Miss Ford, you really have It! Edith dimples appreciatively; she can’t take her eyes off Dick, either. Sure, he wears too much white pancake and Harold Lloyd black eyeliner, but he’s just heaps dreamier than Eugene.

The two of them circle around one another, making goo goo eyes. Edith is entranced. Maybe it’s the cute forest animals Dick shows her on wagon rides through the woods. Maybe it’s the purty wildflowers he sends her anonymously via  Pop Hadley, the drunken night watchman.  Poor Eugene watches wretchedly, but he knows no hanky-panky is going on: Edith is a girl on the up and up.

At this point, I was tapping my feet and wondering when the werewolves were going to arrive.

One day, Dick is riding out alone, doing manly things, and he discovers that the bad boys of Consolidated Lumber are building a dam across the river. The river is the only outlet for shipping out Ford’s lumber to market. Dag nab it! exclaims Dick—another gentleman’s agreement broken! Those durned Consolidated guys! When he confronts the Consolidated boss, Jules Devereux, the blackguard sets his bullies on valiant Dick and beat him to a pulp. Dick then proceeds to wander around the forest for hours bleeding from an open artery, before being found by Dr. Eugene.

Eugene having noticed that open artery (he is a trained physician) determines that the only thing that can save Dick’s life is a blood transfusion. Unfortunately, the only nearby dwelling is the sordid cabin residence of Jacques Lebeq, the bootlegger who already has ample reason to hate Dick. When pressed to donate blood, he cruelly declines, and says that if Dick needs blood, he can have some from Lebeq’s pet she-wolf out back.

Let’s glance over why Lebeq keeps a she-wolf in the first place (just how small is the dating pool in the Canadian Rockies?).

One would think Dr. Eugene would indignantly refuse this bizarre offer and maybe donate some blood himself. But maybe the researcher in him triumphs over his Hippocratic oath (or maybe he’s just really tired of all those woodsy wagon rides and anonymous posies). For whatever reason, he pumps poor Dick full of—you guessed it—wolf blood!

And it works! Apparently the Van Helsing principle prevents aptosis. Dick recovers. He staggers around weakly, attempting to carry on with the job, but news travels fast in a logging camp. Lumberjacks are a superstitious lot, it appears, and they don’t rightly know as how they take working for a man who’s been contaminated with wolf blood. Suddenly Dick is getting the cold shoulder. No one will let him play in any lumberjack games.

At this point, Jules Devereux is abruptly ambushed by wolves and torn to bits. Coincidence? The men of the lumber camps think not. Dick, who has been battling bouts of delirium and high fever (and small wonder), doesn’t know whether he’s responsible for Devereux’s murder or not. Only Edith believes Dick is innocent: until Dr. Eugene does some out and out lying about the transfer of wolfish personality traits through the transfusion of blood. Meanwhile, hordes of spectral wolves lead Dick through the forests on a nightmare journey. Well? Is he a werewolf or not?

You’ll have to watch Wolf Blood to find out, but suffice to say this is not really a film to watch if you’re into dark and stormy nights. To my knowledge, the only place you can view Wolf Blood is as the second feature on the Alpha Videos release of Haunted Castle, reviewed here last week.

Next week: well, the pumpkins have all collapsed into themselves and over the ruffling of turkey feathers  can be heard the faint insistent chime of those damned sleigh bells. Time to move on to something a bit more seasonal, yes?


Kage Baker is a writer of science fiction and fantasy, as well as a regular blogger for Tor.com. She apologizes for turning this article in late, but is recovering from surgery and waiting breathlessly to see if her blood transfusions will turn her into a werewolf.

3 comments
Rick Rutherford
1. rutherfordr
Faint insistent chime? You must be living somewhere far away from a city... it has been a yammering clangor for quite a while now here in Washington DC...
Mary Arrrr
2. Mary Arrrr
Actually, the adding of the author's name to films in the 90s was to get around the MPAAs Title Registration program. Just like the studios voluntarily abide by the ratings system, they also maintain a title registry, with members agreeing not to poach titles from each other (I think each studio gets 100, but that may have changed). Adding Mary Shelley's to Frankenstein is apparently enough to get around the rule (and Universal's hold on the Frankenstein title).
Mary Arrrr
3. Sihaya
"Kage Baker is a writer of science fiction and fantasy, as well as a regular blogger for Tor.com. She apologizes for turning this article in late, but is recovering from surgery and waiting breathlessly to see if her blood transfusions will turn her into a werewolf."

Nah, spiders are all the rage in the mad scientific community these days.

Get well soon!

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