I’m a fan of all of the Universal classic monsters. I’ve seen Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man multiple times and they’re all great films for various reasons. None of them, though, had an impact on me like The Wolf Man. I love the character of the werewolf; in whatever form or incarnation it’s in, whether it is a film, book or even a short story. One of my favorite movies of all time is An American Werewolf in London. For this reason, I was incredibly excited to watch Mark of the Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf...
...Mark of the Beast, which played at the Buried Alive Film Festival 2019, is a documentary that spans the history of the werewolf movies, from The Wolf Man in 1941 all the way up to The Wolfman in 2010. Clocking in at just an hour and seventeen minutes, the feature makes the most of its time. It covers a lot of ground impressively, giving ample attention to each film it focuses on. There’s no doubt that this film provides a respectable dose of insight into the technical aspects and background information of each production.
Providing this insight is a wealth of contributors featuring directors, writers, makeup artists and historians. Names like John Landis (director of An American Werewolf in London) and Joe Dante (director of The Howling) discuss their love for the early Universal films, giving us a peek into the inspiration for the pictures they would eventually go on to make. I really appreciated how all of the interviewees analyzed and dissected the makeup of each film iteration of the werewolf, analyzing how the makeup looked compared to others, how it was applied and even how the transformations were filmed.
You can truly tell that these contributors do have a genuine love for this legendary sub-genre. They’re not just there to spout facts that are being fed to them. They are knowledgeable about this topic and they’re thrilled to talk about it. Any viewer of this feature will be able to clearly see their passion. As somebody who already loves werewolves, I was drawn in even more by their thoughts and opinions. I imagine even casual viewers would be drawn in also.
Being that this feature was seemingly developed for Arrow Video’s recent Blu-ray special edition release of An American Werewolf in London (see our review of the disc here), that film gets the most coverage here. Being a fan of that film, I had no problem with it. Especially because by the time the feature gets around to An American Werewolf in London, the viewer has been treated to so much discussion about werewolf legacy and lore that you have even more of an appreciation for the film and how it was both a love letter to werewolf films and a landmark reinvention of them.
John Landis gives a wonderful look into the production of An American Werewolf in London, as well as talking about the years before the production, including how he got the idea, how he developed it and how long it took for him to get support for it. Even I, a fan of the film, was surprised at how long it took for the film to finally get made. There’s also discussion about An American Werewolf in London vs. The Howling, which were both famously released in the same year and what happened when legendary makeup and effects artist Rick Baker agreed to do both films.
The presentation of the documentary is fantastic, spreading still images, clips and posters of all of the films being discussed across the feature. A very cool detail is that all of the contributors are shot in black and white when they’re on camera. It’s a minute detail, but something I thought gave the presentation a different look from other features of this type.
Overall, whether you’re a fan of werewolves, a film buff or just like documentaries in general, this is a very well done piece and there’s a lot to enjoy about it. It doesn’t cover every single werewolf movie ever, as that would be impossible, but it does provide lots of information, respect and straight analysis of the films that it does choose to feature. Werewolf fans, especially, will not be disappointed. It’s not earth shattering, but it’s an entertaining watch. I highly recommend checking out Mark of the Beast: The Legacy of the Universal Werewolf.
By Billy Smith