Lycanthropy isn’t the Wolf Man’s Only Problem

The 1941 Universal Classic The Wolf Man tells the tragic story of Larry Talbot, who is the heir to the Talbot Estate, suffers from Lycanthropy, and is a peeping tom. For every man who is pure of heart and says his prayers at night, he can still be prosecuted when the autumn moon is bright.

Don’t Look at People in Windows with Telescopes

Larry Talbot discovered his love interest Gwen Conliffee in a way normal only for a horror movie: with a telescope watching her put on earrings. Larry then ventured to Gwen’s haberdashery for a mix of stalking and shopping in the hopes of getting a date with Gwen. This is the creepiest scene in the movie.

Watching another person with a telescope through a window would be the classic definition of being a “peeping tom.” Most states specifically prohibit this conduct, some even naming the laws “Peeping Tom” statues.

Georgia has a traditional legal definition of “Peeping Tom”: a person who peeps through windows or doors, or other like places, on or about the premises of another for the purpose of spying upon or invading the privacy of the persons spied upon and the doing of any other acts of a similar nature which invade the privacy of such persons. Ga. Code Ann. § 16-11-61(b).

Louisiana’s definition of “Peeping Tom,” includes drones, which generally means this was a problem the legislature had to respond to with a new law: “[O]ne who peeps through windows or doors, or other like places, situated on or about the premises of another or uses an unmanned aircraft system for the purpose of spying upon or invading the privacy of persons spied upon without the consent of the persons spied upon. It is not a necessary element of this offense that the “Peeping Tom” be upon the premises of the person being spied upon.” La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14:284.

The great state of Mississippi is even more specific with its law:

(1)  (a) Any person who enters upon real property, whether the original entry is legal or not, and thereafter pries or peeps through a window or other opening in a dwelling or other building structure for the lewd, licentious and indecent purpose of spying upon the occupants thereof, shall be guilty of a felonious trespass.

(b) Any person who looks through a window, hole or opening, or otherwise views by means of any instrumentality, including, but not limited to, a periscope, telescope, binoculars, drones, camera, motion-picture camera, camcorder or mobile phone, into the interior of a bedroom, bathroom, changing room, fitting room, dressing room, spa, massage room or therapy room or tanning booth, or the interior of any other area in which the occupant has a reasonable expectation of privacy, with the intent to invade the privacy of a person or persons inside and without the consent or knowledge of every person present, for the lewd, licentious and indecent purpose of spying upon the occupant or occupants thereof, shall be guilty of a felony.

Miss. Code Ann. § 97-29-61.

California does not use the phrase “Peeping Tom,” but does have laws designed to protect a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy:

A person who looks through a hole or opening, into, or otherwise views, by means of any instrumentality, including, but not limited to, a periscope, telescope, binoculars, camera, motion picture camera, camcorder, or mobile phone, the interior of a bedroom, bathroom, changing room, fitting room, dressing room, or tanning booth, or the interior of any other area in which the occupant has a reasonable expectation of privacy, with the intent to invade the privacy of a person or persons inside. This subdivision does not apply to those areas of a private business used to count currency or other negotiable instruments.

Cal. Penal Code § 647(j)(1).

Larry Talbot might not have originally intended to be a Peeping Tom, but he certainly became one when he spied on Gwen Conliffee. Talbot could be prosecuted for invading on Gwen’s privacy by watching her with his high powered telescope. Moreover, if Larry had not sought out Gwen for a date, Bela the Werewolf would have never bitten Larry.

Duty to Warn Future Victims of Werewolf Attacks

Humans suffering from the curse of the werewolf can see a pentagram on the palm of their next victim. This gives the human knowledge of who will be harmed when they next turn into a werewolf.

The California Supreme Court has held in cases with inmates being released, that there is no duty to warn the public of violent inmates where the inmate has made nonspecific threats of harm directed at nonspecific victims. Thompson v. Cty. of Alameda, 27 Cal. 3d 741, 754 (1980). As such, this means there has to be a specific threat against a specific person in order for there to be a duty to warn.

The human suffering from the curse of the werewolf has specific knowledge of who will be harmed by the werewolf with the specific harm of death. This knowledge would put someone like Larry Talbot in a special relationship with a future victim, because Larry would need to control the actions of the wolf in order to prevent harm, and with direct knowledge of the foreseeable victim of the wolf’s conduct. See, generally, Ewing v. Northridge Hosp. Med. Ctr., 120 Cal. App. 4th 1289, 1297, (2004), for a discussion of Tarasoff v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 17 Cal. 3d 425 (1976).

Larry Talbot had direct knowledge that Gwen was going to be his next victim. As such, Larry owed Gwen a duty to warn her that the wolf was going to kill her. Moreover, Larry could have taken preventative measures to protect Gwen from the wolf, such as changing himself up, locking himself in a cell, or some other means to keep the wolf from leaving the Talbot Estate.

Insanity Defense for Unknown Victims

Larry Talbot could argue that he was not responsible for deaths caused by the Wolf Man, because he was not in control of his actions because he turned into a wolf.

The insanity defense applies when a defendant 1) had a mental disease when they committed a crime; and 2) they did not understand the nature and quality of their actions or understand that the act was legally wrong. See, 2007-3400 CALCRIM Archive 3450 (2017).

Larry Talbot clearly had the medical condition of Lycanthropy, where he looked and behaved like a wild animal. Talbot’s attorneys with expert witnesses could prove 1) Talbot had a mental disease when he killed people; and 2) Talbot did not understand the wrongfulness of his actions.

The problem for Larry Talbot is he knew he turned into the Wolf Man. Talbot at first was in denial, refused the amulet from gypsy that would have protected him, and took no preventative measures to imprison the wolf. While there is a clear argument for the insanity defense, it ignores the fact Talbot knew he would transform into a killing machine.

Bad Moon Rising

Larry Talbot is a tragic character who turns into a beast after trying to save Jenny Williams from Bela the Werewolf. That being said, Larry Talbot should not have invaded the privacy of Gwen Conliffee. The chain of events that followed resulted in Larry’s own father having to kill him, after Larry’s final transformation into a wolf. If Larry had respected the privacy rights of others, he would have never fallen to the Cruse of the Werewolf.

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