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Why Universal's First Werewolf Movie Is Probably Lost Forever


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The Werewolf is cited as the first werewolf movie ever made; the 1913 film, from Universal studios, is probably lost forever. While this lost footage means that the werewolf sub-genre of horror movies had to take a different route, it's interesting to consider it as a new source for how these movie could have evolved. Here's what happened to the first werewolf movie, and why it'll likely never re-emerge.

Universal’s The Wolf Man (1941) with Lon Chaney Jr. is often viewed as the studio's first and primary piece of werewolf cinema. The Wolf Man appropriately got things rolling on the werewolf sub-genre of horror, but Universal actually had another werewolf movie that predates The Wolf Man by nearly three decades, and has since become unavailable. While The Wolf Man was not the second werewolf movie ever made, it was Universal's second attempt at bringing the werewolf to the big screen, and preceded by other films in the '20s and '30s.

The Werewolf is a 1913 film by Henry MacRae that tells the story of a Navajo witch who bestows her daughter with the power to transform into a wolf to help protect their land from colonialism. The werewolf daughter, Watuma, lives for hundreds of years to enact her revenge. It’s a story that actually sounds similar to Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning. The Werewolf might sound like it has a lengthy, complicated narrative, but it's allegedly only 18 minutes long. Unfortunately, it can’t be watched because all copies of the film have been destroyed on the premises of Universal Studios — here's what happened.

 

It’s devastating when media gets lost forever; this is a more common occurrence with film from earlier generations that aren’t backed up on a gigantic server. Universal Studios has historically been prone to a number of fires of various degrees of severity, usually with electrical issues being cited the problem. Several fires struck Universal Studios in the 1920s; it's been reported that one in 1924 destroyed the copies of The Werewolf. Universal Studios also destroyed the majority of the negatives for their silent films in 1948, so any remaining copies of the picture would have been taken out then. This means that The Werewolf is truly lost; The Wolf Man was able to replace it as the formative werewolf movie for both Universal Studios and pop culture history.

It's fair to say that Universal's The Wolf Man happened much later than Universal Studios’ other experiments with Dracula or Frankenstein's Monster, but there were still other films from the 1920s like Le Loup Garou and Wolf Blood: A Tale of the Forest that cover comparable material. The time it takes for Universal to turn out a proper werewolf movie likely has more to do with how the degree of make-up and prosthetics for a transformation is more intense with a werewolf than any other classic monster. The common themes between The Werewolf and The Wolf Man are present, but it's significant to point out that The Werewolf features two female werewolves and makes lycanthropy an extension of witchcraft.

If these ideas had persevered, then it's very possible that the werewolf movies that came out of Universal could have been very different. It's unfortunate that The Werewolf has become a lost piece of media, but the short story upon which it's based, The Werewolves, is still available for adaptation.

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