It can be almost comic to find out what science believed even a short time ago.
Although the movies aren’t exactly the best guide for that.
Wolfblood has been called the first werewolf movie. This is more or less sorta true, although not in the sense you think that should mean. It is also not what you’d think of as a horror film, although the wolf sequences at the end do have a very horror film feel to them.
In fact, this is your basic silent melodrama, one of those film categories which has never left us, despite the lack of respect it gets. Let’s face it, the emotions in everything are overamped these days, it’s just rare to find anything that matches the purity and simplicity of the melodramas of the silent era. After all, when you have to tell a story without words, exaggerating the players’ emotions is a big help. You might not hear what they’re saying, but if its overdone enough you can tell how they feel.
That’s definitely on display here: we have a timber war between two logging companies, the brave foreman of one of them and the young flapper who owns the company and has come out the the big woods with her doctor fiancee to help the men wounded by the bad guys. Throw in a vindictive halfbreed bootlegger; a drunken old reprobate as the hero’s sidekick; and a lengthy jazz age party before the girl leaves home and you’ve got the general idea.
We’re almost two-thirds of the way through the film before we get to that wolf. The hero is injured and needs a transfusion, and the only available donor is…a wolf!
Okay, you saw that one coming.
Now we get a glimpse of a page from a medical book, on transfusions of animal blood, with the note that it had not yet been established whether the recipient would take on some of the donor’s animalistic tendencies. And sure enough, the men at the camp start thinking that he’s become decidedly wolfish. The villain is found with his throat torn out and the hero starts having visions of the wolf pack calling to him.
Now animal to human transfusions have been experimented with since the Seventeenth Century. The results were mixed, thanks to the failure to understand the problems of typing blood, but it can be done quite successfully with pigs the best match. I haven’t been able to verify whether, in the 1920s, anyone thought that it would potentially confer animal traits on the patient, but I’ll concede it does sound suspiciously like a lot of Nineteenth Century Natural Science.
The irony here is that we now believe that neurochemicals are responsible for all of our mental characteristics so I have a sneaking suspicion that this is one of those bits of outdated psuedoscience which might yet inspire new research. After all, our blood not only carries oxygen and immune cells but a variety of hormones and other chemicals.
You never know, they might decide we are better off using sweet tempered hogs.
If you’re watching closely, you may also note how much of the footage is recycled, or where the same short clip of lumbermen at work on the same tree is divided up and used several times. This is also obvious in the wolf sequences where the same clips of a few wolves get turned into a whole pack and then recycled. But then, cheap films still do this all the time.
Obviously, this is the sort of film that will be most interesting to those of you who have a love of silent film. It may be a bit of a culture shock otherwise. There are other silent films that would serve as a better introduction to the era before sound. However, it’s short enough to be reasonably entertaining, even if it doesn’t seem as short as it is. One does wish that they’d spent a lot more time on the wolf fantasies — they are quite well done in a minimal sort of way and fairly impressive. Impressive enough that one has more than enough ammo if you want to argue with the film critics about whether this one is a horror film or not.
But, if they had spend more time on that werewolf story, this might be remembered as a minor horror classic, rather than just a footnote.
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