Traumafession:: Eric D. on Wolfman (1979) and Hugo’s Video Store

I was a child in the early 90’s and there were two things I loved; werewolves and the video store. A combination which got along together like peanut butter and jelly. Werewolves had been my favorite monster since I had been shown The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney Jr. by my father. The other side of this match made in horror heaven, the video store was where I acquired my love of film and indulged my imagination.

In short, the video store was my salvation. I loved everything about it, going there and seeing all the strange box covers promising entry into a strange, fantastic and often terrifying world where all the rules and limitations of mundane reality no longer applied. Werewolves, vampires, unstoppable indestructible undead maniacs and monsters of every description were not only very much real but out to get you; you were in their world now. It was simply the biggest thrill in my life. The first video store that I ever frequented was Hugo’s video store.

It was a small independent operation run by none other than the man himself, the eponymous; Hugo. The place had wooden shelves upon which sat all the box covers. I was compulsively drawn to the horror section because I adored the genre more than any other due to an early introduction given me by my father of all the old Universal Monster movies of the 1930’s and 40’s. Now one box in particular stood out and scared me, positively sent shivers down my spine. It featured a werewolf with what appeared to be bluish-blackish hair, an off white or light tan dress shirt, bearing his fangs and staring down from the shelf with the most terrifying look my young eyes had ever seen. My heart skipped a beat looking up at that face and made me feel as though my stomach dropped out.

My father rented it for me, I got it home, put the tape into the VCR and by the end, I was captivated, frightened and utterly distraught. It was the saddest movie my young self had ever seen. Many years past, Hugo’s video store packed up and moved to another location in the neighborhood for a short while and then eventually went out of business. Other video stores opened up at the same time as or shortly after Hugo’s and they in turn went defunct as the decade gave way to the millennium and the rise of the internet sounded the death knell of these emporiums of my adolescent phantasmagorical celluloid neuroses.

For years I could not remember the name of the film. Maybe I never knew it. I could only remember bits and pieces of it, certain pictures. A priest walking in the autumn woods, pensively traipsing over orange, yellow and brown leaves. A werewolf pierced by a mystical dagger falling to his death followed by an end credit crawl. I had forgotten the name of the movie but these images stayed with me.

The feeling the movie gave me stayed with me. I tried to find it on the internet but could not. I only remembered the box cover with that face and the ‘Thorn/EMI’ logo I had become familiar with through encounter of it on numerous other films I had rented over the course of many years. Then finally one day a year or two ago, I succeeded in rediscovering for myself this terror archetype long submerged and obscured yet nonetheless looming mightily in my subconscious memory.

There it was staring at me from my luminescent laptop screen opened to Google images. It was a recherche little title from 1979 called “WolfMan“, starring Earl Owensby. Elation took hold of me, I had finally satisfied the nagging question from my youth; “what was that movie called?”. I flew to Ebay immediately and purchased a copy for my collection immediately. The tape arrived in the mail several days later and on a warm summer’s night in the icy cold dark of an air conditioned bedroom, much like the one in my childhood on which I first saw the film, I watched WolfMan.

One thing was different however this time around; the movie was not good. Apparently time and maturity instill in one things lacking in the adolescent; namely taste and discernment. Not to say the movie was entirely without merit nor held any enjoyment, for there is something to be said for the sets and camera work which are quite well done. However, the acting is simply subpar and laughably wooden especially from the star, Mr. Owensby, who also produced the film. The story is typical for a werewolf movie involving a family curse and a tragic love angle, nothing to write home about.

What this did for me was to deepen my appreciation for the wide gulf which exists between the perceptions we have of something as a child or in the form of a memory and the reality of the thing in itself as it actually is when perceived through the lens of adulthood and a sense of discernment. I will always cherish WolfMan for the emotions it stirred in me and the memories I had of it as I experienced it in childhood, but it isn’t a good movie.

I can see why Earl Owensby is not as well known and consequently has not developed the same sort of following as have fellow producers of southern-fried horror such as Charles B. Pierce with his well crafted and thoroughly enjoyable films Legend of Boggy Creek and The Town that Dreaded Sundown. Though this be the case, I don’t think he should go unmentioned entirely as he seems to because despite the lack of quality dialogue and general dullness of his movies, you can tell that Mr. Owensby is truly passionate about film and has had quite a career outside of acting, building a successful film studio in North Carolina and has contributed to movies such as James Cameron‘s The Abyss.

Wolfman by MargaliMorwentari

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7 years ago

This was a wonderful post, thanks for sharing Eric! I too have wonderful video store memories of all the frightening, yet enticing box art.