At the turn of the century, the people of London are on edge after a man is badly mauled in a local park. The victim claims that his attacker was a woman and rumors begin to spread that she also may have been a werewolf, which Scotland Yard detective Inspector Pierce writes off as nonsense. At the same time, lovely young Phyllis Allenby, who lives in her family's mansion with her Aunt Martha, cousin Carol, and housemaid Hannah, is engaged to be married to wealthy lawyer Barry Lanfield. However, Phyllis is disturbed when she overhears the police investigating the site of the murder while out for a morning horse-ride with Barry, as well as other strange incidents like one of the mansion's guard dogs acting vicious towards her and their constant howling at night. When she awakens the morning after such a night, she finds dried blood on her hands, mud on her shoes, and the hem of her dress wet. Carol then reads in the newspaper that a young boy was found mangled to death in the park, which is not far from the mansion, making Phyllis believe that she was the one who did it. Her aunt and cousin try to convince her that she did no such thing but Phyllis becomes more and more reclusive, especially when it comes to Barry, whom she refuses to see day after day, although he's undeterred and intends to find out what's going on. Following the murder of one of the main detectives, who claims that it was the "wolf-woman" before he dies, Phyllis is convinced that she's fallen under the fabled "Curse of the Allenbys," one that stems from legends that her family was ruled by wolves. When she tells him of this, Barry decides to figure out for himself whether Phyllis is becoming a blood-thirsty "she-wolf" or if there's something much more down to Earth going on.
It's a shame that this film is ultimately revealed to have been a cheat at the end because it tantalizes you with two potential mysteries: whether or not Phyllis is a werewolf and the possibility that someone else in the house might be. There are scenes where you see a hooded, feminine figure leave and arrive at the Allenby mansion, as well as prowling around the park and stalking people, and you never see the face, letting your imagination picture what could possibly underneath the hood. And whenever the "she-wolf" attacks somebody, you hear her snarling viciously and rapidly, which would make you believe that it is indeed an animal person, be it a creature that's almost entirely wolf-like or one that's mostly human with animalistic features, like a lot of hair, sharp teeth, a snout, and such. In addition, there's the suggestion that this is the latest form of an ancient curse that's haunted the Allenby family for centuries, with Phyllis saying that she's often dreamt of being a wolf, making it akin to the curse that the character of Irena Dubrovna fears she is afflicted with in Cat People rather than the typical scenario of someone being bitten by a werewolf. That would have made for an interesting and different type of creature, one that apparently doesn't transform as a result of the full moon, since it's never mentioned or seen at all, but rather at complete random during some nights. Plus, if the filmmakers wanted to throw a curveball at the audience, one idea would be to have Martha Winthrop really be a werewolf, either because she lied to Carol in order to protect her from the truth and that the both of them are related to the Allenby family or because it's her family that has the ancient curse and she told Phyllis that it was the Allenbys after the death of her parents so she could have a scapegoat of some type should the curse ever hit her. You could have even gone with the plot-point of Martha planting evidence to make Phyllis think it was her and had it really be the aftermath of her nightly activities that she was trying to force onto her. Her motivation in the actual film of wanting to ensure that she and Carol are able to remain living at the mansion could remain the same, as she's trying to pass Phyllis off as a woman who's potentially insane not only to get her committed but also to keep Carol from learning that her own mother is a bloodthirsty werewolf who's killed innocent people. It may have made the movie more complicated but I think it would have also been nice to throw the viewer a bone and give them what the title promises.
When you think back on the movie upon learning that the truth, there are a number of things that don't make sense. First, when Martha is giving her long-winded explanation of her plot to Phyllis at the end of the movie, she says that her first victim was the young boy who was found murdered in the park... but when the film begins, there's already been an attack and the man claims that it was an animal-like woman who did it. Phyllis' hearing about this and her reaction to other strange things like one of the mansion's guard dogs acting aggressive towards her and the constant howling of the others at night seems to be what inspired Martha to come up with her plan. So, what attacked that guy at the beginning? Was he actually attacked by a vicious dog, as Inspector Pierce believes, and was either so drunk or otherwise somehow imagined it to have been a wolf-woman, which then sparked the rumors of a werewolf being the culprit? Second, the dogs. Why was that one dog acting so vicious towards Phyllis? At first, it's meant to make you think that there's something sinister about her that the dog can sense, like there was Dr. Glendon's cat hissed at him when he was starting to change in Werewolf of London or when Frank Andrews' dog barked at Larry Talbot in The Wolf Man, but when that's revealed to have not been the case, I can only assume that maybe Martha trained the dog to act like that to further Phyllis' paranoia. But then, Martha says that dog has always been like that towards Phyllis, so maybe he just has a bad attitude, meaning it was a mere coincidence, as Phyllis' strange, wolf-like dreams apparently were(how anticlimactic). Plus, why were the dogs constantly howling and barking at night? Again, did Martha train them to do that to keep Phyllis on edge or did they just know that there was somebody doing bad things who was lurking around? And why were those dogs following that one cloaked figure around? I assumed originally that Martha had them follow her and she would maybe let them attack the victims to make it look more like the work of an animal of some sort but since we see her attack people herself, I'm guessing that it was Carol sneaking off to meet Dwight Severn and the dogs were just following her. And third, think of how impractical and potentially unsafe Martha's methods were. She's going around the park and attacking people, using only a hood, the dark, and fog to keep her face hidden. She's really lucky that the one person who survived, Dwight Severn, was so preoccupied with defending himself that he didn't get a good look at her face. What if she didn't kill someone who did see her face? She would've been screwed then... or maybe not, since Det. Latham called her the "wolf-woman" when he talked to the other officers before he succumbed to the neck wound she inflicted upon him, and Severn said she howled, which she didn't, and commented that she was quite strong for a woman. And if she really is tearing people's throats out with her teeth, how is she able to cause the type of damage and severance that's making everyone believe it's the work of an animal? She either must be even more crazy than I originally thought or it's just more newspaper hype (probably a combination of the two).
The one major compliment that I can give the movie is that is well-made on the technical side. The production design of the large Allenby mansion looks pretty good, although I don't think it was built for this movie, which had a small budget, but was instead a standing set on the Universal lot they reused (according to IMDB, this set had been used before in the studio's low budget westerns). Either way, it looks good and is a little bit eerie when the outside is photographed at night. Speaking of which, the best moments of art direction are in the exterior nighttime scenes, where you have long stretches of streets lit by gas-lights and shrouded in thick fog, which completely covers the park when the she-wolf attack scenes occur, and you have the bobbies patrolling the place, making it akin to a film on Jack the Ripper (I'm surprised they didn't make mention of that, since the film takes place around that same time). It brings to mind the fog-covered forests in The Wolf Man, although not quite as memorable or atmospheric, and is kind of sad in retrospect since this is one of the last times, if not the last, where you would see such images from Universal. I also like the touches of the image of Phyllis hanging a lantern outside her window to ward off evil spirits and the sounds of the howling and barking dogs, which does add another touch to it, although I still wouldn't call it eerie. And finally, during the last part of the movie when Martha gives Phyllis the drugged warm milk in order to murder her, Jean Yarbrough shoots the scene at a tilted angle from the beginning, letting you know that something isn't right, and also puts in some blurry, fuzzy optical effects for Phyllis' point of view when the drug begins to take effect. (This whole scene, right down to the shot of Martha walking up the stairs with the glass of milk, is akin to the similar situation with Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion.) But, like I said, that's about the only standout aspects of the movie that I can name.
Much like The Return of the Vampire, I don't have much to say about the movie's score, which is another composed by future cartoon composer, William Lava. As with the movie itself, the music is serviceable but hardly special and there are few parts of it that stand out. I remember the main title theme being okay but I couldn't tell you what it sounded like other than it was generic; however, I can recall a low, kind of eerie-sounding sustained chord that plays whenever someone is about to be attacked by the "she-wolf." In all honesty, the one piece of the music that I can't stop thinking about is this very inappropriate, saccharine-sounding bit that plays when Carol is walking to the police station after Phyllis tells her to and we see that both Barry and Dwight Severn are following her. I don't know what compelled Lava to score this bit in that way but, then again, as I said when I talked about him before, I've never been the biggest fan of his music anyway.