Dr Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) is a botanist on an expedition into the wilds of Tibet, but the locals helping him out as bearers are reluctant to go any further into a valley in the mountains which they believe is cursed. They flee when the catch sight of a figure riding over the brow of a hill, but Glendon and his assistant are made of sterner stuff and walk up to meet the man, a guru who has not seen another white person for forty years. He tells them that the flower they seek is indeed in the valley, but they would be foolish to continue... and how right he is.
This is because there's more than rare flowers in that valley as the duo soon find out to their cost. Werewolf of London was Universal's first werewolf movie, scripted by John Colton from Robert Harris' story, and it's interesting to see how many of the conventions of the genre were already in place. The better known Lon Chaney JrWolf Man from the early forties really set them in stone with silver the only thing capable of killing a werewolf, but otherwise these two films have a lot in common as far as their horror aspects go.
Once Glendon finds his flower, he no sooner is taking a sample than notices that he is being watched by a hairy shadow looming over the nearby rocks. Going closer for a better look (perhaps he is foolish as the guru said) the botanist is suddenly attacked, receiving a nasty bite before he can fend off the creature with a dagger. His fate is sealed from then on, as we move forward to his return to London where he is tinkering around in his laboratory with his new discovery and trying to make it bloom under artificial moonlight.
The most glaring part of the whole film is the contrast between Glendon's prim and proper upper class life and the animal savagery he is reduced to by his curse. There's an awful lot of the film given over to his wife Lisa (Valerie Hobson, Dr Frankenstein's bride from the same year) and her friends and relations, including twittery Spring Byington as Aunt Ettie who almost becomes a victim of the werewoilf. But then there's the new arrival of the mysterious Japanese Dr Yogami (Warner Oland, better known as Charlie Chan) who knows all about the properties of the flower and Glendon's curse.
However, Yogami isn't letting on as he needs the flower himself because he suffers the curse as well and it's implied he's the one who bit Glendon in the first place. Then the full moon is upon them and the unfortunate scientist gets furrier and, erm, fangier and feels the urge to kill - can he avoid murdering Lisa? There's a bizarre bit of comic relief on offer from a pair of Cockney landladies who vie for Glendon's business when he's looking for somewhere to lock himself up (watch for the way they knock each other out!), but largely Werewolf of London is sombre through and through, with tragedy looming in the way that it would in wolfman movies for decades to come. Still, it's interesting more than entertaining even if its transformation sequence is impressive for the day. Music by Karl Hajos.