Universal Studios’ first attempt at a werewolf film, Werewolf of London, celebrates its 79th birthday today, having been first debuted on May 13, 1935. Many people online incorrectly call Werewolf of London the earliest werewolf film made, and while it is certainly one of the older ones, there are several films that predate it. That being said, Werewolf of London is still unique in its werewolf design, though, as it is the first werewolf movie to make use of a bipedal werewolf rather than a trained dog or wolf.
The star of this film is the lesser-known Henry Hull, with makeup done by the famous Jack Pierce. Pierce’s original design was rejected by Hull, who insisted on a less hairy, more stylized design. Pierce then created the sinister, devilish werewolf design for Hull instead. This wound up being to Hull’s discredit, though; Pierce did have the chance to reuse his original werewolf design six years later on Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolf Man—ultimately it is that design that is remembered instead.
Unlike its successor, almost none of the mythology of Werewolf of London remained in werewolf dogma in later films. Only two parts, in fact, wound up finding their way into later werewolf cinema: the werewolf transforming during the full moon, and the werewolf’s tendency to kill “the thing it loves best.”
Despite its relatively lesser fame, as both the first film featuring a bipedal werewolf and the earliest surviving werewolf film distributed by Universal Studios it holds a particular place in werewolf film history. Kick back and give Werewolf of London a watch today in honor of this nearly 80-year-old film.